In a posting yesterday on the Small-Pub Yahoo Group, founder Marilyn Ross was embarrassed by the publishing industry for the first time. The new book by O.J. Simpson, which may or may not be fictional, has thoroughly disgusted Ross. The reason? She sees it as greed triumphing common decency.
Not surprisingly, Regan Books is the publisher. Regan seems willing to touch books no one else will. (I thought of contacting them but they only accept submissions through an agent and thatâ€™s a whole process I didnâ€™t want to get into.) I donâ€™t like the idea of this book but Iâ€™m not going to say that O.J. doesnâ€™t have the right to publish his thoughts on his own personal history.
Ross ended her posting by saying:
Oh, I hear some of you screaming “First Amendment Rights” already. But really think about it: How would you feel if this were personally happening to your family?
A humane argument; but the First Amendment is there for a reason and protecting the feelings of someone else is not that reason.
Little does Ross know that the self and small publishing industry she helped bring to the mainstream is not a believer in free speech. Sure, there are organizations who purport to support free speech and booksellers who belong to these organizations. (Everyone gets to put a little button on their Web site and feel proud of themselves.) There are libraries, booksellers and authors who celebrate Banned Books Week (in September). But what Iâ€™ve experienced leads me to believe that the only free speech they wish to protect is speech that they agree with. The banned or dangerous books they defend are usually older than I am or have been around so long theyâ€™re already considered classics. Cutting-edge thinking indeed.
why i care
Iâ€™m searching for a new and more reliable fulfillment company. I began looking for fulfillment companies in January 2005. Iâ€™ve been turned down (sometimes twice) by every small publisher fulfillment house in the US. Really. Of the very few places Iâ€™ve discovered since then, theyâ€™ve all said no. Mention one to me and I can show you the e-mail rejection. (Or the total lack of response to my query.)
One who recently rejected me wished me lots of luck. I donâ€™t need luck. What I need is someone willing to do business with me. Luck should not have to be a part of my game plan. Iâ€™m not trying to harm or defraud anyone. But everyone gets on their moral high-horse when they see my book. They stop thinking like a businessperson and start feeling like a defender of children and lost puppies.
I read complaints all the time from small publishers about not being able to get enough attention or sell enough books. (There are those who are doing just fine in their niches.) But the small publishing industry, as a whole, seems unwilling to take a chance on a â€œriskyâ€ book. You know, a book that isnâ€™t about family, children, cats, church, fiction, memoirs or yoga. They believe in the concept of free speech, as long as they arenâ€™t required to do anything about it.
On the other hand, theyâ€™re insanely jealous of the profits and notoriety reaped by major publishers, such as Regan Books, who sometimes publish subjects small publishers wonâ€™t touch. (Of course, Iâ€™ve been soundly rejected by mainstream publishers. But their rejections were based on their idea of the market, not as a personal judgment.) One wonders when the small publishing industry will put two and two together.
Iâ€™ve found a number of fringe publishers in the small pub world. They publish about guns, military, off-beat politics, drugs and things along these lines. Iâ€™m not really their style. Iâ€™m too soft and mainstream for them. (This topic was discussed in a previous post. Nothing has changed.) But somehow they have their selling infrastructure set up. Iâ€™ve thought of writing a couple of them and asking for advice.
I know that the legal adult industry tops $12 billion a year. They produce and distribute printed material, but I canâ€™t find who they get to do that. (Then again, they may not want to touch me either because my material might taint the legal aspects of their business.)
Every bit of book promotion information I read talks about playing up controversy or creating it yourself. Sex sells. As does controversy. But nobody has any answers for a book thatâ€™s too hot for anyone to touch. I canâ€™t promote it mainstream because I donâ€™t have the support services in case someone actually wants to buy the book. The controversy that I see is the fact that no one is willing to do business with me. Itâ€™s a different matter altogether than the woman who complained about the controversy her book created when a female blogger took issue with it (the book was about alternative childbirth methods). Yeah, thatâ€™s a really gripping storm of controversy; sure to garner national attention.
When I conceived and started this project, I had no idea that what was going to cause me the most problems was the small publishing industry itself. For example, I didnâ€™t forsee that fulfillment companies would really care about the books they fulfilled orders for. Business is business. I donâ€™t know many customers who judge a fulfillment company because of the books they take orders for (or how many even take the time to look at the full catalog of books offered). Maybe Iâ€™m wrong but I doubt it.
I turned down more clients than I accepted when I was an escort. Because I was going to have a deeply personal interaction with these men, I had to be picky. But Iâ€™m not asking for anyone in the small pub industry to become my buddy, my lover or my friend. I just want a business-minded company. I thought, out here in the â€œrealâ€ world, that isnâ€™t too much to ask.
back to the beginning
Some of the responses to Rossâ€™s post argue that although O.J. has a right to say what he wants, he doesnâ€™t have the right to be heard. True enough. But if there is no way to broadcast the message, then there is no reason to pretend we have freedom of speech. Someone muttering in their house isnâ€™t expressing their rights, theyâ€™re just crazy. Someone printing and selling an unlikely book is expressing their rights. At least, thatâ€™s how I see it.
According to a publisherâ€™s newsletter, the book has touched off controversy in bookstores as well. Many booksellers are planning on selling the book, but not promoting it, and donating the proceeds to various charities. A noble thing to do. Theyâ€™re allowing O.J. to exercise his rights while expressing their reactions in an unmistakable way. Although they lose a bit of money on this (they still have to pay the publisher for the books sold), everyone ends up happy and the First Amendment gets to do what itâ€™s supposed to do.
Still, one bookseller says that she didnâ€™t like to be put in the position of selling a book that book raised ethical questions (for her). As Iâ€™ve discovered over the past year, the small publishing industry only wants to deal with safe books that donâ€™t challenge any assumptions anyone might have. That way, they donâ€™t have to look the First Amendment in the eye and decide where they stand. That way they canâ€™t be accused of â€œdoing it for the money.â€ That way they can sleep at night, dreaming sugar-plum dreams.
Ross misses it entirely. She should have been embarrassed to be part of publishing long ago. Not because of the dreck that gets published but because people like her feel the First Amendment requires selective application.