Permission to Succeed

In November 2013, I completed the Brooklyn Marathon in 3:30:44—a satisfactory time made more so by the fact that I’d run the New York City Marathon in 3:30:38 only two weeks before. I was receiving the congratulations of my peers in the South Brooklyn Running Club (SBRC) for my stamina and consistency, when Graham—a sub-3:00 marathoner in the group—suggested that I was looking too good. “You should be running faster,” he said.

Naturally, I scoffed at the idea. After two disastrous marathons in 2011 at which I’d run headlong into The Wall and crawled in at 3:50-plus, the fact that I was consistently turning in 3:30 or thereabouts was, for me, a triumph. I’d decided my ongoing running strategy was to stay at an 8:00-minute-per-mile pace and grow old disgracefully. Plus, I thought, at just shy of fifty, I was sixteen years older than Graham, with considerably less talent. If I perhaps improved by a minute or two, then I might get a chance to qualify for Boston again (as I had in 2012 under the old dispensation of sub-3:30 for 45–49-year olds). As far as I was concerned, I’d done pretty darned well considering my age and ability.

Yet as I hobbled out of Prospect Park, I thought more deeply about Graham’s comment. It was true that I was a reliable and steady runner, but why wasn’t I leaving it all on the course? Why was I spending so much effort to caretake times in multiple marathons rather than putting everything on the line in one. Was I that scared of failure and bonking? Or did I fear what success might cost me in time and commitment? And just what did he mean by faster? When in April I ran 3:31:26 into a headwind in New Jersey, I couldn’t help but wonder what Graham saw in my running. “You should be getting 3:23 into your head,” was his response.

Something about that specific time, and coming from a respected colleague, stuck in my mind. Over the spring and summer, I concentrated on track work, strength and core training, and plyometric exercises with SBRC. I ran my usual four 18+ long runs, but approached them with purpose rather than as a chore, and adopted different strategies with each, so that I felt energized at the end of them rather than checking them off my to-do list. I completed my Yasso 800s with verve, adhering to a 3:23/3:24 timeframe until I didn’t have to look at my watch to know my speed.

I decided to run Chicago again: site of one of my ignominous 3:50s in 2011 and a redemptive 3:34 in 2012. As I stood in the corral, I considered my options and inevitably settled on a slow-and-steady 7:55-per-mile pace to 13.1 before deciding whether to speed up. I had 3:27 in my head. Yet as the early miles ticked by and, without any effort, I failed to run slow enough for 7:55, I realized I’d have to review the situation. By half-way, I was only thirty seconds shy of a pace that would bring me in at 3:25, and I changed my plan again. I’d no longer look at my watch and attempt to calculate each mile, but just run in a zone that felt good. As it turned out, that zone was a 7:48-per-minute mile. I came through 30K at 2:26 and 35K at 2:49, and crossed the finish line at 3:24:09: a four-minute PR, and a BQ for 2016.

It’s possible that, a year on from that Brooklyn Marathon, I’d simply trained more efficiently, given much needed variety to my workouts, and become stronger and fitter. It’s also true that the weather in Chicago was perfect, the crowd support terrific, and the course as flat as ever. But I’m inclined to believe that my improvement was also due to being allowed not to self-sabotage. I’d internalized Graham’s remark in such a way that it undermined my own strategic caution on the day, just as my own notion of steadiness and consistency had, in fact, held me back from running with more risk and, yes, more freely. That such an observation had come from someone else perhaps enabled me to solidify a story I’d told myself but hadn’t believed, precisely because it came from inside me: I can run faster than 3:30.

I joined a running club because I was tired of slogging around New York City’s byways by myself and wanted a community that would support my efforts, no matter how weak they might be. What I hadn’t truly appreciated, however, was that support can entail someone telling you that you could be better and giving you the permission to set goals you yourself might never have envisioned. It might seem obnoxious at the time, but it can change everything. And you know what? I can run faster than 3:24.

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The Great Long Training Run

After several years of plowing my way through New York City’s streets, I decided to join a local running group—the South Brooklyn Running Club (SBRC)—to provide me with company, friendship, inspiration, and conversation. We’ve run the length of Manhattan, traversed Brooklyn, and criss-crossed the bridges that knit the city together. Although I’ve been with them for fewer than three years, it’s hard for me to remember what it was like to run alone.

But a 20-mile training run stubbornly remains 20 miles no matter the company, and when Birgit, a friend in the group, suggested that we try a 5-4-3-2-1 workout that she’d seen posted on the Intertubes, we approached it with some trepidation—not least because the write-up called it “one of the most demanding race-specific workouts a marathoner can do.” What the run entailed was a slow first and/or second mile, followed by five miles at marathon pace; then another slow mile, followed by four at marathon pace; a further slow mile and then three at marathon pace; another slow mile and then two at half-marathon pace; and, finally, a slow mile and another at half-marathon pace. We’d run a total of 21 miles—of which 15 would be at or faster than our marathon pace.

I offered to try out a shorter version of the workout (5-4-3-2) in New York Road Runners’ 18-mile Marathon Tune-Up a week before our scheduled exercise, with only one slow initial mile, and no final slow and half-marathon-pace mile. I’d not been particularly impressed, especially since the year before I’d completed the 18-mile Tune-Up five minutes faster than the 5-4-3-2 afforded. But I agreed to give it another go.

Birgit and I set off from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, and timed our two slow miles (9:30 minutes per mile) so that we were facing the downward slope of the Brooklyn Bridge when we kicked on. Our marathon pace would be 8:00 minutes per mile and our half-marathon 7:30 minutes per mile, as we ran up the West Side of Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge and back. We had our hiccups along the way: Birgit’s running belt caused chafing that needed to be addressed, and I failed to put enough vaseline on my nipples, with the inevitable bleeding. I pushed a little too hard on some of the marathon-pace miles, but when I mentioned to Birgit at mile 16 that it wouldn’t be terrible if we didn’t run the final stages at half-marathon pace, she made it very clear that she hadn’t come all that way to slow down or give up.

By the time we ended our run in Battery Park City we were tired, bloody, sore, and elated. Mario Fraioli, the trainer who’d posted the 5-4-3-2-1 regimen, mentioned that the workout would provide “a huge fitness boost and will give you the confidence that you’re ready to tackle your marathon goal,” and he wasn’t kidding. Although we’d completed many long runs between us, the precision, discipline, and cameraderie of doing it together made it nothing less than exhilarating. Something, we knew, had shifted inside us, and when we both completed October marathons with PRs and BQs, we independently thanked the other in our Facebook posts for that long run. It wasn’t just that the 5-4-3-2-1 showed us that we were fit enough and capable enough, or that it gave us the confidence to succeed. It was important that we did it together—a public acknowledgment of the other’s readiness that was a deeper validation than any private accomplishment.

And that’s perhaps why being part of a club matters. When I’d undertaken the shortened version, I’d been doing it alone, albeit surrounded by thousands of others circling Central Park. Even though I was with only one other person a week later, I needed a mirror-companion to check in with and to join me, bloodied but unbowed, in the whoop that the Garmin’s beep at 21 miles let loose. In the long run, that’s what might be what really matters.

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Running, Eating, Thinking

1590563484_cf200As I related in a previous post, two particular passions of mine—running and book publishing—coincided recently with the launch of Lantern’s Running, Eating, Thinking: A Vegan Anthology (edited by yours truly) at BookCourt in Brooklyn. I was delighted that so many of my associates at the South Brooklyn Running Club chose to come to the launch. It made me think that I should really spend a little more time reflecting on running (which I actually do a lot of) and less time on cricket and baseball (which I don’t play at all). Anyway, consider this the beginning of a beautiful friendship between running and sententiae of varying lengths about the “thinking” of “running.”

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The Right Book for the Right Publisher

It's the right book in the right place.

It’s the right book in the right place.

Sometimes this whole crazy business of publishing works: the stars align, the players remember their words, and the right person wins. Here’s an example of when things go right.

About three years ago, I was contacted by Robert Kopecky, a writer and illustrator. He lived in the neighborhood and was looking for a publisher for a book he’d written on near-death experiences (NDEs). He wondered if he might come by and talk to me about it. I’m a little leery of such requests, since, although I don’t like the wall that keeps would-be authors from potential editors and publishers, one wants to protect oneself from being forced into making promises or commitments you can’t keep. Nonetheless, I said yes, and we met, discovered we had more friends and interests in common,  and I agreed to take a look at his manuscript.

Robert wasn’t wrong to try Lantern. We’ve published some books by esoteric authors and had brought out in 2001 a book on NDEs by Gracia Fay Ellwood, entitled The Uttermost Deep. What impressed me about Ellwood’s work was that it catalogued NDEs that hadn’t been a welcoming into the light before a turning back into one’s revived body, but had been fraught with terror and alienation, some accompanied by an experience not of heaven but of hell. Perhaps overly influenced by Ellwood’s work and its poor sales, I told Robert that I was going to reject his work. Lantern, I said, hadn’t really done well with its “New Age” titles (more a perception in the marketplace than the quality of the works themselves). Furthermore, I felt that his manuscript—charming, engaging, and resolutely upbeat as it was about his own NDEs—failed to acknowledge that some people’s end of life experiences involved distress, discomfort, and great physical suffering, and Robert needed to honor that.

Robert took this advice in stride, amended his manuscript, and sent it to me again. I admired his commitment but said that, as much as I saw the marketability of this book (Robert had illustrated the work delightfully), he needed to find a publisher that would be able to fit the title comfortably into its stable. I thought about it for a while, and then recommended that he send the manuscript to Jan Johnson, the publisher at Conari Red Wheel Weiser, based in San Francisco. I’d known Jan and Conari for a while; Lantern had even maintained their website. Conari (which focused on human potential books), Red Wheel (a Buddhist concern), and Weiser (the granddaddy of American esoteric publishing) had combined a few years back, and offered a kind of three-in-one perfect alignment for Robert’s book.

On Robert’s behalf I wrote to Jan and told her that I thought How to Survive Life (and Death) would be perfect for Conari, and that she should take a look. She demurred in the way that most publishers do: she loved the book, she admitted, but she was concerned that Robert didn’t have enough of a “platform.” I insisted that she think some more about it. To cut a long story short, Conari eventually came to their senses and published it, and now it’s available from a publisher that will know exactly how to promote it to an audience that understands what to expect from a Conari book.

There are several lessons to take away from this particular story:

  1. Rejection is not the end of everything. I could see that Robert’s book had potential; it simply wasn’t right for our company. He didn’t take my no personally; he took it professionally. That kept him focused and helped move him forward.
  2. Your task as an author is to find the right publisher for your book: not someone in the neighborhood, or a friend or acquaintance. You need to make sure your book fits the publisher’s program, and that the team will know how to promote the book and place it in the marketplace.
  3. Listen to your editor. Robert took my observations to heart, and made the manuscript much more honest, much tighter, and much more saleable. Reputation to the contrary, editors and publishers actually want you to succeed. Sometimes it’s appropriate to listen to them.
  4. Your book will eventually find its way to the right publisher as long as you’re both persistent and flexible. One without the other will usually mean failure.
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Reflections on a Fifteenth Anniversary

Lantern 15th AnniversaryIn September 2014, my colleague Gene Gollogly and I celebrated fifteen years since we founded our publishing company, Lantern Books. We organized a party at our favorite local bookstore, BookCourt in Brooklyn, and combined the festivities with a launch of one of our recent titles: Running, Eating, Thinking: A Vegan Anthology. Before the contributors to the anthology spoke, I gave a short speech describing our company, an excerpt from which I thought I’d share with you.

* * *

Thank you for coming out tonight and joining us in our celebration of fifteen years of being in, what is loosely called, the publishing business. When Gene and I began this venture in 1999, we had only an inkling of the seismic changes the book world would undergo in the next decade and a half. Individuals now have more choices than ever on how they garner information or are entertained; readers can now access more text from more sources and read it through more media than was once imaginable (except perhaps to Jorge Luis Borges!); and how much folks are willing to pay—if anything—for that data remains a contested issue among purchasers, retailers, producers, and consumers.

Through these years, Gene, Kara Davis, Evander Lomke, and I have tried to focus on the fundamentals: producing works that will inspire and challenge our readers while ensuring that our small, independent company sets a fair course through the turbulent waters of the book trade. I’m pleased to say that not only have we published over 250 titles (and distributed hundreds more), but we’ve paid our bills, royalties, salaries, and health insurance, and we’re not in hock to a bank or a venture capitalist. We’ve also maintained our commitment to the environment, by using certified and recycled paper and print-on-demand technology, sourcing our office energy from windpower, and composting our food scraps.

We’ve also relied on our authors to promote their work, and I’m delighted to say that the great majority of our authors have now fully recovered from the injuries they sustained during the production process. And we’ve depended on you, our readers. Without you, we would literally not exist.

If there’s been a theme that coheres our publishing program it has been a commitment to alleviating suffering and reducing violence. It may be the alienation experienced by teenagers in dysfunctional families and the violence of bullying at school. It may be the stress and trauma undergone by peace officers in the line of duty, who then act out against civilians or themselves. It may be the work of monastics and other religious reaching across sectarian, denominational, or doctrinal divides to combat violence, misunderstanding, and hatred. It may be the violence meted out on our own bodies through diet, addiction, or psychological distress. It may be the violence of the state as it quashes dissent, expands its definition of terrorism, and locks up the innocent and the mentally ill within the prison-industrial complex. And it may be the routine and overlooked violence inflicted on nonhuman animals in factory farms, vivisection laboratories, and places of “entertainment.”

Whatever the issue, Lantern has sought to address it in a manner that contributes in some way to a lessening of the infliction of harm upon the animate body and the body politic. That we’re still here is a testament to you, our readers and supporters, and to the need for our work to continue.

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Poverty and the Writer

Thomas Chatterton

L’Ecriteur Maudit: Thomas Chatterton reflecting on where his next meal’s coming from.

News, via the Guardian today, that authors in the UK are now earning beneath the poverty line:

According to a survey of almost 2,500 working writers – the first comprehensive study of author earnings in the UK since 2005 – the median income of the professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (£15,450 if adjusted for inflation), and well below the £16,850 figure the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to achieve a minimum standard of living. The typical median income of all writers was even less: £4,000 in 2013, compared to £5,012 in real terms in 2005, and £8,810 in 2000.

Shock horror! I hear you cry. Why is this news? Isn’t our image of the author that of the perennial hungry hack, scribbling away in a garrett, forced to turn his hand to penny dreadfuls, pulp fiction, and other sources of income to feed himself as he dreams of composing the Great [Insert Country Here] Novel? It’s as true of Thomas Chatterton (admittedly a poet), as it’s true today. And it’s not just the case in the UK. I happened to read a book called Literary Brooklyn the other day, in which the likes of W. H. Auden, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Hart CraneThomas Wolfe, et al. slum it in the borough (dreaming of the bright lights Manhattan), and complain about their rent and the paucity of their royalties. Their main concern was putting food on the table; literary greatness wasn’t (yet) feeding the electricity meter.
It’s a fact that all of us in this industry have to face: authors have very rarely made a decent living from their work. Professional writers (who may or may not be “authors”)—can earn money from magazine articles, ghostwriting, copywriting, freelance editing, and teaching to supplement their meager royalties. Some authors, like Wallace Stevens, worked in other careers; most now work at universities. All of which means that those scribblers who are foregoing food, not paying their bills, and avoiding life and its pleasures awaiting their huge advances and hefty checks are deluding themselves if they (a) believe that this is a viable way to conduct a career or (b) that it was somehow easier in the past.

The moral of the story? Don’t give up your day job until you’re assured of a sound income.


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Marketing Your Book

It’s a common complaint among authors that their publisher doesn’t do enough publicity for their book: the book tour is too short, if it exists at all; the advertising is too spare, if there is any; the reviews are too few, if any are published. Now, I’ve been in this business long enough to see both ends of the spectrum: books with million-dollar-plus advertising lavished on them that have sold miserably; those with nary a penny laid out for promotion flourishing in the marketplace. Conclusion: marketing, publicity, and advertising don’t necessarily mean sales. So how does one go about marketing one’s book?

First of all, the author needs to understand that if she doesn’t know who the right audience for her book is, and how to reach them, then her publisher won’t either. She needs to ask her contacts to support her work, and not rely on a third party (unknown to the contact) to do the heavy lifting, since it’s much easier for the contact to screen out a third-party pitcher than the contact’s friend or associate who happens to be the author. It’s might make your skin crawl, but you can’t be shy.

Secondly, the author must realize that he needs to take charge of the process. This is true whether he’s published by a big house or a small concern. He needs to make the follow-up calls, book the venues, call in the favors. He does this because he cares and because he can, and not because the publishers are lazy. The author is the best voice for the work: own it.

Thirdly, think of the book as much more than a collection of words. It’s a calling card, a ticket to tenure or speaking engagements, a repository of articles for magazines and blogs that need to be mined and refined for the right audience. Instead of waiting for the sparse royalty checks to come in, use your book in a dynamic and multivalent way. You then have many roads available to you rather than one narrow and potentially potholed pathway to success.

Finally, use social media. This can be difficult. My author Kim Stallwood has written a wonderful, evocative, and telling memoir (called Growl) that talks about the life and strategic lessons he’s learned in forty years of animal advocacy. Yet precisely because of those four decades of work, he doesn’t have much money. He lives in the U.K. and is trying to raise cash on Indiegogo to come to the States to speak: you buy the book and/or a perk or two, and he gets the dough.

I think it would be fair to say that the campaign is not going as well as might be hoped—because (I suspect) people somehow assume that (a) publishers have a lot of money, (b) they should be the ones paying for the tour, and (c) because they’re donating to a charity rather than getting something in return. Fundamentally, everyone—readers, authors, and publishers—needs to get out of the mindset that books have a value only when all the sunk costs (the time and money it takes to write, produce, publicize, and sell the title) have somehow been magically absorbed by a mysterious force, leaving only the retail price behind.

In other words, we need to start paying in advance, which means coughing up cash for your favorite author to produce your content and take it to the world. So, buy Kim’s book! It’s going to take some time to change that mindset, but it is happening. It’s my hope that that reimagining of the author–reader relationship may just save the industry, and make publicity woes such as the above a thing of the past.

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How Do I Get My Book Published?

Once a week (at least) I receive an email from a friend who has a friend who’s written a book, and has no idea how to get it published. Can I help them? my friend asks. They don’t know what to do. Now, I like to help people; I like to assist them in reaching their goals. And I know quite a bit about publishing. But I’m baffled how anyone, in this day and age, is clueless about what to do. This is why—to save me and any would-be correspondents some time—I’m writing out some suggestions for any putative author.

1. Use bibliographies
If you wrote a non-fiction manuscript, it’s likely that you did research and read some books. Who published those books? Given that you used their titles to write your own, it’s at least somewhat likely that they might be interested in taking a look at yours. Perhaps you were inspired to write your book having agreed or disagreed with an author or theorist or set of ideas. There must be books associated with that author, theorist, or set of ideas. Look them up on Amazon, in a bookstore, or in a library, and see who published those. Look at the bibliographies and resources at the back of their books. See any publishers who constantly pop up? Try them. What you’re attempting to do is find companies who publish in your field. If you’re so clueless about your own field’s range of literature, then I have a more fundamental question for you: If you haven’t any idea of who’s written in your area, then why is anyone going to bother to read or publish you?

2. Use the Internet
I had a work colleague throughout the first decade of this century who never asked any questions of us. I’d ask her if anything was wrong, and she’d tell me that everything was fine. She always seemed to know what to do. When I finally expressed wonderment at how she never seemed to have questions or problems, she looked at me in bafflement and told me that she simply went to the Internet. There was always a chat-room, or FAQ page, or wiki that contained an answer to any technical or informational problem or question she encountered. The key was using Google’s search engine efficiently and following links. So, when looking for answers to publishing, use the web diligently. I simply typed in “How to get your book published” on Google, and came up with the following. I’ve chosen the first three I came across:

1. Jane Friedman
2. Writer’s Digest (1) 
3. Writer’s Digest (2)

These three sites (out of hundreds) contain a huge amount of useful information that will get you well on the way to understanding what you’ll need to do to propel your book project forward. They have names and links that will take you to other places as well. You are not the first to be clueless about publishing. Fortunately for you, others have gone before you and have an enormous amount of wisdom to share with you. And it’s only a few clicks away.

3. Understand the industry
The publishing industry is undergoing seismic shifts because of new technology, the breakdown of the old systems of producing and delivering books to consumers, and people’s changing reading habits. Authors have options that were unavailable a decade ago, and the challenges facing publishers are now greater: more product, more forms of entertainment, more “noise” running interference on your book and author trying to get attention. Again, Google here is your friend. The more you learn, the more choices and opportunities you give yourself, and the more likely it is you’ll find the right path for you.

4. Do the work
Finally, you need to do the work. There’s a chance—vanishingly slim, I know—that you’ve asked your friend this question because you consider yourself too important to be bothered with the whole messy business of writing and publishing. You’re a creative genius, after all. It’s up to the drones of this world to bring your essential, revelatory, and unique book to the world. Well, guess what? The writing’s the easy part. If you genuinely want to be an author, you have to labor: you have to build up a network of folks to buy your book; you have to become a shameless self-publicist; and you have to keep your day job, because very few people ever made enough money to earn a living from their writing. By doing the work, you’ll save yourself, your friends, and any publisher you may come across in the future a lot of grief.

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A Berryful of Berry

I’m quite proud that everyone I’ve published at Lantern Books is still talking to me (when they haven’t died, that is), isn’t badmouthing the company (at least, not so I know—thank you, authors, for your discretion!), and receives royalties and/or statements twice a year as contractually promised. Our company has always provided health insurance to our employees and severance pay for those we’ve had to let go, and created an office environment and work space (decent hours, natural light, plants) that fosters the soul rather than sucks it dry.

I reflect on this following receipt of a letter that the late Rynn Berry—author of Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, among other classic works—sent to Panjandrum Books on May 27, 1992. I came into possession of this magnificent epistle through Mark Mathew Braunstein, author of Radical Vegetarianism, who was (like Rynn) an author at Panjandrum, before (like Rynn) branching out on his own, until he arrived (unlike Rynn) at Lantern. Mark, a man of sharp wit himself, thought I might appreciate Rynn’s verbal pyrotechnics—especially since I’d never received such a letter from Rynn, or Mark, or (thankfully) anyone in fifteen years of owning my own company. I only hope it stays that way.

The unfortunate publisher in question, Dennis Koran (surely a name that should have boded well for a person of the book) operated out of North Hollywood, admittedly an unpromising venue for a world of words. Clearly, Dennis was unhappy with Rynn’s previous correspondence, as our hero makes clear in his opening salvo.

My attorney . . . has forwarded your letter dated April 10, 1992. I think it says a good deal about the low esteem in which you hold your authors—the one or two who still remain under contract with Panjandrum—that I have never received more than a few hastily scrawled notes from you in the ten years that I have been a Panjandrum author; whereas, you freely delivered yourself of a three-page, closely worded diatribe denouncing me to my attorney.

Beyond that, the whole tone of the letter is condescending and evinces a thinly concealed contempt for me; what’s more, most of it is blatantly untrue.

Now that, my friends, is how to begin a letter! Stephen King is on record as despising the adverb. And yet, where would Rynn’s prose—reaching a high pitch of dudgeon faster than an Ariel Atom gets to 60 m.p.h.—be without the precision of “hastily”, “freely”, “closely,” “thinly”? I love the parenthetical backhanded insult in the first paragraph, which serves deliciously to emphasize Rynn’s beleagueredness at the same time as it highlights Koran’s failure to build his company. And “evinces” emerges from the lips with a contemptuous vehemence that is almost onomatopoeic. But Rynn is merely warming to his theme:

Before I begin answering your charges point-by-point, I should like to ask you why you composed your letter on Panjandrum stationery that still bears the address of the offices from which you were evicted for non-payment of rent in 1987? Don’t you think it’s about time that you invested in some new stationery? It presents a very negative appearance—especially as you have used a magic marker to cross out the old address with an ugly black streak on each of the three pages. It is symptomatic of the slipshod manner in which you run your publishing business that your stationery looks so unsightly (as well as being five years out-of-date!). No wonder you are having trouble finding distributors for your books!!

One of the joys of rhetoric is what we might call inversion, diversion, and subversion. The diversion here is Rynn’s immediately going “meta”—critiquing the stationery of all things—and then using it to slip from beneath the cloak of apparent concern the verbal dagger that is Panjandrum’s eviction for non-payment of rent, before rubbing salt in the wound by reinforcing Panjandrum’s incompetence as a company set up to communicate.  And so it goes on:

In your opening paragraph, you point out that you are the publisher of another vegetarian book whose author does not concern himself with the publication, distribution and promotion of his book so much as I do. I happen to be a good friend of the author to whom you are referring—Mark Braunstein; so I know the true story “from the inside”, as it were. . . . Mark has regaled me with countless horror stories about his experiences with you. For instance, to test the efficiency of your fulfillment operation, he has had friends on numerous occasions order books (his book) directly from you; his friends waited and waited and waited; their orders languished in your office; their cheques were never cashed, their orders doubtless lying in slush piles of unopened letters and parcels on your office floor. On one of his visits to California, Mark peered into your offices just prior to your being evicted, and saw cartons of his books gathering dust on your floor, while orders for them were going unfulfilled. [. . . .]

Mark, who sent me the letter, has indicated that Rynn was hyperbolic and inaccurate here, but that scarcely matters. What is far more important is that the reader is presented with an image of Dickensian fustiness: a Bleak House of Publishing. That house is built, at least partially, on the finely balanced mortises and tenons of semi-colons that balance each story of invective piled on invective. He continues:

In your next paragraph, you fault me for taking an excessive interest in the publication, promotion, and distribution of my book. Any sane publisher would be tickled pink to have an author take such a personal interest in these matters; it can only redound to the publisher’s credit, to say nothing of his bank balance—to have an author beating the drum for him. Fact is, I have arranged 99 per cent of all the book reviews of FV myself. Furthermore, on my own initiative, I have called the store managers of more than 50 key bookstores throughout the country, and persuaded them to stock the book. What thanks have I received from you?

Ah, the rhetorical question! The zeugma lurking within the verb “redound”!

You claim that you are well-versed in the methods of book promotion and distribution; this makes it all the more inexcusable that you have been so derelict in distributing, promoting, and marketing my book.

Rynn then goes on to detail a lament common to all authors and that remains all-too-true (perhaps even truer) today: how little his publisher does to support the book. Rynn catalogues how much outreach he himself is forced to make to bookstores, asking distributors to stock his books (in the days when you could actually get through to an actual person, and more than a handful of distributors existed because there were more than a handful of bookstores to shelve their products), and being told that his publisher has made no effort to resupply either. Rynn then switches back to the publisher himself, offering more rhetorical subversion:

On more than one occasion you have confessed to me that you were given to suffering periods of catatonic depression that left you paralyzed, unable to open an envelope, or rise from your chair and cross the room. Orders for books, and other urgent correspondence, pile up on your desk while you fritter away your time chasing the blues. Dennis, I [am] truly compassionate [for] your condition, and I firmly believe that you should seek help; but don’t you think it’s a little unfair to subject your authors to your psychological vicissitudes?

By the way, you allege that I have vilified you to other Panjandrum authors, former and current. On the contrary, I have called a number of your former authors (nearly all Panjandrum authors are “former Panjandrum authors”) because I was concerned that perhaps I was being singled out for mistreatment. Was anyone else going through same hellish ordeal that I was? Sure enough, every single Panjandrum author that I talked to denounced you with a stream of invective without my having to say a word against you. Lionel Rolfe [author of Last Train North], who authored two books for Panjandrum, called you so many unprintable names that I dare not repeat them for fear of sounding excessively vituperative.

Rynn returns to the failures of the publisher to pay his printers’ bills or remunerate his typesetter. The publisher, we read, even lets the book “languish” for two years mid-typeset. Rynn finally reaches the climax of his rhetorical tour-de-force:

Did you then take the typeset page proofs to the printer to be printed and bound? No! Not a bit of it! You had to be wheedled and cajoled and finally sued before you would bestir yourself to find a printer. Legal papers were served on you in October of 1989, and a lawsuit was commenced in Santa Monica Court. In early January of 1990, when a judgment was about to be entered against you, you shook off your lethargy and called Russell Clampitt, and begged to be given one more chance. (“I’m committed to the publication of this book! I’ve invested $16,000 and seven years of my life to it!”)

I should have known better! For now, as a result of your shoddy business practices, my book is no longer available in the premiere [sic] market for books in the United States—the bookstores of New York City.

Unfortunately, like British comedian Tony Hancock with Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, I am left without the last page of Rynn’s opus. Nonetheless, we have enough evidence to deduce that Rynn was as baffled by his publisher’s unwillingness to make back his investment ($16,000!) as many authors are.

So, why don’t we put more of an effort into marketing and promotion, when we’ve spent so much on an advance, and the editorial, design, and printing? The simple truth is that Panjandrum, like virtually every publisher then and most now, had a model that is  technically known as Throw Everything Against the Wall and See What Sticks method of publishing. We publishers really have no idea what will sell, and so we produce as much as possible and then, if a title begins to move, throw money at it to turn it from a good seller into a bestseller and then into a megaseller. The remaining books may take off, or they may not. But it’s rarely got anything to do with money. It’s basically luck, word of mouth, the author’s willingness to promote him- or herself, and some kind of zeitgeist kismet that makes a title a success. Honestly, most publicity and promotion is a waste of dough.

These days, risks can be shared, non-bookstore outlets have proliferated, and publishing is now a much less arcane business than in Panjandrum’s day (although our industry still has its fair share of characters and shady dealers). Rynn’s letter is, in some ways, an echo of the good-old-bad-old days, and both he and it are missed. What I also miss, however, is that nobody writes this way anymore: typed out on paper and delivered by snail-mail; rhetoric burnished like a sword glinting in the sun; grievance and gratuitous insult masked by the velvet tone of wounded pride, faux solicitousness, and a disingenuous astonishment. No letters please.

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The Rights and Wrongs of Translation

Authors contact us at Lantern Books frequently because a devotee in another country has either offered to translate their book or has already done so and is looking for a publisher. What should we do? the authors ask. Consider this post our response to that question—and if it should happen to you.

Among our tasks as publishers is to protect the copyright of our authors. That means no unauthorized reproduction or use of an author’s work without our permission or paying fees to us and the author—who after all put time, effort, and money into the book in the first place. That, of course, applies to translation. The best way to secure copyright protection is for one publisher to contract with another to translate, publish, and distribute the book in that country, and for that publisher to have exclusive rights to do those things. Without that surety, an author cannot guarantee that he or she will receive royalties, that the translation will be accurate, and that the book itself will be produced and distributed professionally.

So, if you’re an author, and a kindly Croatian claims kinship or a friendly Finn fans you on Facebook and wants your book to be available in their language, do the following:

  1. Thank your fan very much, and ask them to find a publisher in their country who’s willing to publish the book.
  2. Ask them to tell the publisher to contact your publisher.
  3. Indicate to the kindly Croatian or friendly Finn that the publisher may not choose them to be the translator.
  4. Discourage the devotee from photocopying their translation and disseminating it. That’s theft, and you’ve no idea of whether they’ve a minimum grasp of your language.

Of course, the devotee may find it hard to find that publisher, which is why Lantern has its own rights manager trying to do it for the authors and us. But, as slow and frustrating as the process is, it offers some chance that one’s work won’t be pirated.

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