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Parts 1, 2, & 3 of THE PUBLISHING DEATH SPIRAL as a single document

Parts 1, 2, & 3 of THE PUBLISHING DEATH SPIRAL as a single document

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Published by Norman Spinrad
This is the complete text of THE PUBLISHING DEATH SPIRAL from my blog NORMAN SPINRAD AT LARGE,, originally written in three parts. http://normanspinradatlarge.blogspot.com/
This is the complete text of THE PUBLISHING DEATH SPIRAL from my blog NORMAN SPINRAD AT LARGE,, originally written in three parts. http://normanspinradatlarge.blogspot.com/

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Published by: Norman Spinrad on Aug 12, 2010
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01/28/2013

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THE PUBLISHING DEATH SPIRALpart one--The Cold EquationsI know I’m going to make an enemy or two or more with this, many writers in the same position have kept their mouths shut about it publicly for fear of being blackballed. ButI’m approaching 70, after 4 decades and over 20 books as a published novelist, I haven’t been able to find an American publisher for MEXICA, a best-seller in Mexico, or OSAMA THE GUN, just published in a major way in France by my major French publisher Fayard, so I don’t have much fear left since I’ve already been screwed in theUnited States by the Death Spiral. And I just at least temporarily slammed death’s door into the Grim Reaper’s face, which does give you a kind of fatalistic existential courage,and I’m the guy who put the words into Julius Caesar’s mouth in THE DRUID KING:“We’ve made an enemy of someone who it would have been much better to have had as afriend.”And so you have. And if you don’t yet know who you are, you soon will. So fuck it,and on to the barricades!###Among themselves, writers already have a term for what corporate conglomerate publishing in conjunction with the major bookstore chains, all two of them, andsomething called BookScan, which not at all incidentally is an arm of the Nielsencorporation which runs the TV rating service, has done to writers, readers, and theliterary culture and biz as a whole in the United States.We call it the Death Spiral.Here is some recent correspondence between me an an editor who I have very goodreason to believe is being totally sincere and honest about POLICE STATE, a longtreatment for a novel of no projected great length.
“Norman-Thanks for sending the attached, which is a tremendous piece of writing. In anhonest world, I could publish Police State in a second and the NY Times type criticswould line up to rave about the book’s virtues.In this world, I’m afraid it’s just not a book I could get support for, so with muchregret, I’m going to have to pass. Like He Walked, via the French publication andyour online avenues, the Police State will gain its audience regardless and someonein the US will eventually find a way to champion the novel as it deserves.In the meantime, thanks very much for the read which again, is truly impressive.”
I’ve made this treatment freely available on the Net, but here is the URL again on my blogsite NORMAN SPINRAD AT LARGE so that you can judge for yourself whether hewas whistling Dixie or not:http://www.scribd.com/doc/33883271/POLICE-STATE-
 
I'd be curious to know how such a positive and apparently sincerely praisingopinion ends up as a rejection. In other words, what gives in this current publishingworld that results in such a paradox? The knowledge of what the hell is going onmight prove useful in the future. Or the present.Regards,Norman”
 Not having been born yesterday, and having been three term President of the ScienceFiction and Fantasy Writers of America, having written a book about the business end of writing called perhaps excessively hopefully STAYIN’ ALIVE, I pretty much knew whatthe answer would be, but also being a sometime journalist, I wanted confirmation from anindependent source.######
Norman-The problem really lies with your sales track. The books, unfortunately includingHe Walked, just aren’t selling. Thus, at this point, the only way a book like PoliceState could be published effectively is if the absolute head of a publishing companytook a personal interest, and elected to spend the 10’s of thousands of dollars in co-op money it would take to get a decent number of copies into the marketplace. I’mafraid that’s not going to happen here.I wish I could help. Power in this day and age in terms of “cutting edge” fiction has(as I’m sure you’re aware) largely left the hands of conventional publishers. Rather,the guys who are making it now are doing so off of their web presence, havingestablished themselves as counter-culture figures at large on the net.”
In other words, here is an acquisitions editor displaying passionate literary enthusiasm for a novel proposal he is not only being forced to reject but is self-censoring himself by noteven bothering to try to get it through the publishing machinery, in part because he knowshe will fail, and too many failed efforts to champion books on literary grounds that don’tmake it through the cold equations will damage his credibility with the publishingcommittee and/or the aforementioned honcho or honcha if there actually is one and inthe end might cost him his job.What cold equations?The cold equations of the Death Spiral.Here’s how it works. Barnes and Noble and Borders, the major bookstore chains, control
 
the lion’s share of retail book sales. They order centrally for all their outlets together, for instance there is a single buyer for all science fiction, all mysteries, etc. How, you maywell ask, can these buyers read and pass judgement on, for example, the over 1000 SFtitles published in a year?Of course the answer is they can’t. Instead, an equation makes the buys of most of the books on the racks or blackballs the ones that don’t make it that far. It’s called “order tonet.”Let’s say that some chain has ordered 10,000 copies of a novel, sold 8000 copies, andreturned 2000, a really excellent sell-through of 80%. So they order to net on theauthor’s next novel, meaning 8000 copies. And let’s even say they still have an 80% sell-through of 6400 books, so they order 6400 copies of the next book, and sell 5120....You see where this mathematical regression is going, don’t you? Sooner or later rightdown the willy-hole to an unpublishablity that has nothing at all to do with the literaryquality of a writer’s work, or the loyalty of a reasonable body of would-be readers, or even the passionate support of an editor below the very top of the corporate pyramid.And there’s a further wrinkle to it because what significant independent bookstores thatstill survive and the non-speciality outlets like WalMart subscribe to BookScan and haveaccess to the Death Spiral numbers too and act accordingly. If there’s a book to order atall, because in many cases if the chains’ order to net equation zeros out and they don’torder at all, the book in question doesn’t get published. Back in the day, I knew of novelsthat were commissioned, accepted, and paid for but never published because the chainsdidn’t order. Today BookScan prevents such expensive mistakes from happening byaborting them at the acquisition stage.Voila, the Death Spiral. And I too am in it.The aforementioned HE WALKED AMONG US only finally snake-danced its waythrough the Death Spiral machineries in the US after years of trying thanks to the mojo of my formidable French publisher, Fayard. But despite the great enthusiasm of theacquisition editor, thanks to the Death Spiral numbers which guaranteed it minimalsupport by its American publisher, the cold equations condemned it to a self-fulfilling prophecy, which in large part has made it currently impossible for me to find anAmerican for the next novel I wrote, OSAMA THE GUN, published in French with panache and corporate enthusiasm.Read the first third of the novel and judge for yourself whether the French knew whatthey were doing:http://www.scribd.com/doc/326098/OSAMA-THE-GUNnovel-portion-Voila, the Death Spiral.

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