Fun_People Archive
1 Oct
Spider Robinson on the Book Biz

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed,  1 Oct 97 16:22:55 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: Spider Robinson on the Book Biz

Forwarded-by: Nick Scholtz <>

I'd appreciate it a great deal if you would post, forward, link, and/or
otherwise disseminate the following screed to all those at alt.callahans,
#callahansIRC, the Compuserve SFLIT Forum, AOL's Callahan's Forum, and/or
any related sites you can dig up or swing up out de jungle:

                      "Squeegee That Monitor For You, Sir?"


My toast tonight is, "To writers--may the saints add preservatives to them.
And FAST!"


This is something I swore I would never do.

But I'm too worried not to. The horse I ride on--the publishing industry,
never exactly a thoroughbred--has just begun to stumble and cough up blood.
Suddenly I need your help too badly NOT to pull on your coat-tail.

You alt.callahans folk and related accomplices owe me nothing. You have made
YOUR Callahan's Place all by yourselves, with no help from me, and I think
it is in many ways a better, finer creation than my own--one in its way more
wonderful than I COULD HAVE imagined. I'm not trying to call in some
nonexistent marker--just asking for a minute  of your time. I promise I'll
play you out with a song when I'm done, at least, like the last time we
spoke. Okay?

Let me try and give you an idea of HOW worried I am:

I have recently given serious thought to what else I might do for a living,
besides write books.

No, really. I have even...God, this is hard...I have even contemplated
honest work. Of some kind. There must be some trade you can pick up at age

As concise a statement of the problem as I can provide:

The publishing business has, in slow stages over the twenty-five years I've
been writing, essentially been captured by the same kind of vampires that
ruined Hollywood. Freebooters, parasites, looters...oh, come out and say
it: SHAREHOLDERS, and their chieftains and goons...who want only to milk
the industry--ANY industry--for the maximum possible  short-term return,
and don't mind at ALL if they bleed it dead in the process, so long as they
personally get sufficient advance warning of the crunch.  People who--for
reasons I will NEVER comprehend--actually WANT to be Very Rich. (People, in
other words, who either don't know or don't care whether they themselves
are happy or long as they have all the marbles.)

They have the same swing-for-the-fences mentality that is screwing up
cinema. All we want here are zillion-dollar superstar blockbusters...and a
few "little" pictures in which to groom the superstars of tomorrow.  Nothing
in between; no second features. In like manner, many of the people making
decisions in publishing today would like to have a list consisting of
nothing but Clancys and Parkers...and a handful of talented newcomers who
might be the NEXT Clancy or Parker, but meanwhile are willing to work for
first-novel prices. (I hasten to add that I mean no slightest disrespect to
either Tom Clancy or Robert Parker; I picked them because I respect them
both highly, and buy their new books on sight.) This isn't the editors and
publishers themselves I'm talking about, either. Many if not most of them
love good books, even  now. But their policies are being made for them by
the conglomerates that swallowed them up in the last decade or so. Men and
women who got into the business for the fundamental purpose of publishing
(at least some) books they were proud of, are now working for people whose
ONLY guiding principle is the mantra, "Place yourself between the talent
and the money." The ultimate, industry-shaping decisions are being made, as
in Hollywood, by people who don't give a toasted DAMN about the PRODUCT,
much less the producer-slaves. What they want is simple: HUGE profits, NOW.
Blockbusters...and good first novels, or hacks who are willing to work REAL

What they DON'T much want anymore are MID-LIST writers. Quirky scribblers.
Ones with faithful but not mammoth audiences. Ones difficult to sum up to
a salesman in Paducah with a one-sentence soundbite. Ones PEOPLE magazine
isn't talking about. Ones whose books haven't been a sma-shit (no, that's
not misspelled) movie yet. Ones whose works not only reward, but REQUIRE a
high-school education and some imagination. Ones who sell well...but not
VERY well--or not all in one big lump, but over time.

They'll keep a few around, for show...but only if they're willing to accept
a little serious downsizing.

I'm not the only one squawking. At least one colleague recently circulated
an urgent open letter similar to this one, triggered when he learned that
after over 25 years of award-winning publishing, he can literally no longer
sell a book in New York--even to editors who like his work. The sales
figures for his last book (and ONLY his last book) just weren't good enough...

Upon reading this, I suddenly became very interested in things I'd never
paid any attention to, like my own sales figures and print runs. I was
fairly cheered by what few numbers I could find, lurking under concealment
on assorted "royalty statements"; my printruns were routinely well over
100,000 copies, always sold well enough to call for at least a second
printing, always hit the Locus sf Best Seller list.  The rent always got
paid--often on time. But lately there has been all sorts of Bad News in the
publishing biz, talk of "cutbacks," so I resolved to keep a weather eye out,
or peeled, or whatever it is you're supposed to do with a weather eye...

Guess what I just found out? Tor, citing "industry retrenchment," only
printed up less than ONE QUARTER AS MANY copies as usual of the latest
Callahan paperback, CALLAHAN'S LEGACY.

That's right, a book which carries in it printed acknowledgment of all
60,000+ of you alt.callahans members out there plus all the related forums,
channels and groups was not printed in sufficient numbers for HALF of you
to buy a copy, should you be so inclined.

They will only go back to press if most of those sell out. Those pitifully
few copies, like ALL paperbacks, have a maximum shelf-life of about a month.
Tops. In some venues, a week. (If they GET to the shelf at all...)

So here at last is what I'm saying: if you were by any chance thinking of
picking up a copy of Spider Robinson's new one -- or the new one by ANY
author you care about who isn't already a blockbuster superstar -- for the
love of God, PLEASE DON'T PUT IT OFF! This chance may not come again.  If
it's not on the shelf, ORDER it....FAST, before they pulp the returns and
unshipped copies...

Times have changed. If you love books, you must now start to change your
thinking, and come to see them as precious, evanescent fireflies, which
flicker briefly and then are no more. If you do not stay alert for them,
and grab them on sight, they will probably never be reprinted: the concept
of backlist is on its way to the ash-heap. All of us who put words in a row
for your enjoyment are in serious no-shit danger, and we need your help and
support. I know *I* do .

How much? Let me give you a clue: I LEARNED the above information about my
most recent print-run while trying to get an explanation for why the
proposal I had submitted to Tor for my NEXT book about Jake Stonebender and
his family and friends (working title: CALLAHAN'S KEY) had, after months of
puzzling silence, just brought back an offer  of...60 percent of what they
paid me for the last one. (In devalued dollars.)

Cousins, I was just barely making it at the OLD rates. Until a month ago,
when a miracle occurred, I was composing my books--all my work--on a
computer which I just saw advertised in MacWorld for US$49 plus shipping.
I can't TAKE a 40% pay cut and pay my rent. And at 48, I just haven't got
the stamina to go back on the road as a musician; it's a young man's game.

The ONLY lever I can hope to apply is to show a LARGE sell-through for that
miserable first printing...and the next (dear God let there BE a next)...and
the next...and hope that eventually one of those illiterate but NOT
innumerate bean-counters way up on the corporate ladder of unknown strangers
who tell the publishers what to do will see numbers he or she likes, and
decide that there just might be room for me somewhere on one of the bottom
rungs of the Star section. "Knock that cat a living wage..." rather than
"Throw a statue where that cat blew..."  as Lord Buckley might have it. THEN
I'll be able to write you all the next Callahan book...

(And again, I'm not trying to put a knock on Tor. They've showed strong
commitment to the Callahan series; this must be the best they can do for
me, the way things are these days.)

Christmas will be here all too soon. Why not get your shopping done
early...down at the bookstore? They happen to have, or should have, THREE
Spider Robinson paperbacks on the shelves at once, just now--another of
those wizardly publisher decisions--con taining a total of SIX complete
Spider Robinson novels between their six covers. (See my website for
details-- A Sixpack of Spider (and Jeanne)--for
under US$22/CAN$30!

And trust me: they won't be there long...

(The combined ad and promo for all three volumes, from two different
publishers, has been far less than I'm used to seeing for a single novel in
the past. I guess they now want to wait and see how the books sell, before
deciding if it's worth advertising them...see what I mean? Typical Hollywood

As Homer and Jethro used to say at the end of every number, "Thanks for your
sympathy." I appreciate your listening, and appreciate any help you may be
able to throw my way. So--just like the last time I wrote to all you
folks--I'm going to play you out with a  song, to thank you for letting me
jingle my cup.

I was sitting here in my office one night 'round midnight, last month,
pecking away, and Jeanne was two open doors away, invisible to me, lying on
the couch in the livingroom reading a Zen book...and all of a sudden for no
particular reason I looked up and smiled and called out, softly, "I'm aware
of you."

And she purred, and stretched on the couch, and called back, "That's a song
title." So when I got dressed again and got back to the computer, I wrote
it, and by the next day I had the tune right.

Slow ballad, attempted Ray Charles flavor, key of A. It goes:

I'm Aware of You, Jeanne

(c) 1997 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved

I'm aware of you

When I'm busy at my work and you are humming in the parlor

I'm aware of you

We don't have to say a word, I never need any reminder

I'm aware of you

And I care for you

     I will be there for you


You're aware of me

You give me what I need most times before I know I need it

You're aware of me

I don't have to slay a dragon just to come to your attention

You're aware of me

And you care for me

     You've been there for me

     And this house is alive when you're home

     When you're gone, it's a pleasant hotel

     I don't ask if you're home as I come through the door

     I can tell

          I can tell...


I'm aware of you

While my mind is chasing characters across the Galaxy

I am aware of you

When I'm rapt at my computer playing poker with myself

I am aware of you

And I care for you

     I know you know I do...

     You know I know you do...

'Cause I'm aware of you



Well, okay, it IS...but it's a funny DISASTER, for our whole species.

And certainly for

--Spider Robinson Vancouver, BC

15 September 1997

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