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Books, Selling and New Authors   Most of my adult life, the publishing world has presented a bit of a paradox: it changes by remaining the same.  In the days of the Civil Rights movement (of the 60s) and Vietnam war protests, lots of small presses formed at lots of books with progressive and activist messages were published. Some of these were essentially self-publishers with that proposed new ways of thinking about a lot of subjects, such as Paul Rosenfels’s books on psychological polarity.  Independent bookstores often did well. I can recall in the early 1970s that some members of the ultra-leftist People’s Party formed a “Make Up Your Mind Bookstore” in a northern New Jersey suburb.

  In the 1980s and the Reagan era, conservatives came back with a similar movement of their own. The AIDS epidemic generated a wide range of ideological books, including some extremist books from small fundamentalist and religious presses. But, gradually social policy debate started to take hold with mainstream book publishing in the 1980s, even a mainstream publishing houses started to consolidate and chain book stores grew.   Conservatives were starting to produce a number of books with ideological complaints about the decline of the American family. Many of them really did not take root, but, for example, George Gilder, with his Men and Marriage (a sequel to Sexual Suicide), developed the idea that marriage was the main way to socialize and tame most men and make their lives productive.

 In the Clinton years, starting in the 1990s, social policy books and memoirs created a lot of buzz as some “radical” debates, especially in the GLBT area, took hold. The debate over gays in the military produced a series of personal life stories, a few of them quite moving. For example, there was former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s Honor Bound from Viking in 1992, James Holobaugh’s Torn Allegiances in 1993, and Greta Cammermeyer’s Serving in Silence, which would become a television movie. Gay marriage and domestic partnership was producing a number of books by Andrew Sullivan, William Eskridge, and Baird/Rosenbaum. Gay legal rights in general produced a number of academic treatises, such as Wintemute’s.

 At the same time, policy books about the meaning of the family began to accelerate the debate.    By the late 90s the argument over family values was becoming more focused, particularly on the cultural tension in our society between traditional families with children, and childless people, including many singles and gays. Eleanor Burkett wrote The Baby Boon: How Family Friendly America Cheats the Childless. (2000, the Free Press).   But social conservatives came up with books that argued that families are under unprecedented competition from cultural forces and people that do not share family responsibility. For example, Ann Crittenden wrote The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued (2000, Henry Holt). Jennifer Roback Morse wrote Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001, Spence – this book comes from Bible Belt Dallas, not New York).  In time, conservatives would start to see that they could build up more pressure from the eldercare situation by pointing out the demographic problems associated with an aging population and a lower birth rate. Philip Longman wrote The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It (2004, Basic).

  Particularly on family values issues, a pattern started to appear in book publishing. Major houses tended to keep books short and simple, and liked to promote well known celebrity authors – particularly because bottom line Wall Street pressures were chasing them now --- so what the authors said in these books tended to become dated quickly, and sales would often drop quickly for much non-fiction, especially memoirs. A few memoirs, though, like Colin Powell’s (My American Dream, 1995) and Bill Clinton’s My Life sold spectacularly, and in these cases sometimes the writers made interesting insider comments about various issues that they had dealt with.

   By now, the process of selling books was changing. Online stores like Amazon (which took over Borders online) and BN competed with physical stores, and big chain stores tended to pressure individual small booksellers, with large discounts.  Chain stores tended to offer larger selections of “how-to” books, cookbooks, computer texts, and so on, as well as literary works, public policy, and fiction – and often offered refreshment and social facilities, even for events like chess tournaments.

  Writers conferences around the country would invite literary agents and owners of small presses to come and speak and they would report increasing pressure from publishers to generate financial results in what was becoming a numbers-driven world. Midlist authors were having a harder time keeping their careers going, and literary gurus would tote out advice like Donald Maass Writing the Breakout Novel (2001, Writer’s Digest).

 The consumer was experimenting with other forms of purchasing. E-book devices were offered, connected to PC’s with downloads and software packages like Softlock. These did not do particularly well, as people tend to like physical books when they move around (like on the beach). Authors like Stephen King experimented with publishing novels in installments online, and this did not work particularly well either.

 Authors were doing more self-publishing and desktop publishing, and soon discovered print on demand. Several companies set up systems for authors to submit book texts electronically, with printing to occur only when a customer ordered the book online. Amazon and BN included print-on-demand. R.R. Bowker Books in Print did not list POD in its library stack catalogues but did included them in paid subscriptions available at all libraries.    I used this new paradigm, with a book Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back (1997), which first had one print run, and was followed by print-on-demand in 2000.  With the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy as a fulcrum, I covered a much wider range of issues than usual for public policy and personal narrative books. To keep the material from becoming dated, I developed a website to keep up all of the policy material up to date. I made the books browsable free online to attract visitors through search engines. In time, Amazon and Google would develop legally controversial programs to make book contents available and searchable. Authors could opt out, and some did, as they felt such practices would undermined sales of those who had established themselves the old way. But new authors were likely to benefit from the exposure that such technology offered.

 The World Wide Web gives any person practically “free entry” to publish his/her literature in a manner that it can be found (with the help of search engines like Google) by anyone on the planet. This situation has been around for only a dozen years or so, and it creates unprecedented legal and ethical workplace issues that are still ambiguous and often poorly understood. Some of the books and websites, especially those dealing with GLBT issues, tended to become very candid and personal; in an era of instant electronic publicity, this nature of the writings could affect how the authors and those associated with them were perceived by others, such as potential employers.

New pedagogical concepts, such as distinguishing mere conversation from literature, and speech from publication, and judging speech in a context as well as on its literal content, need to be developed. A number of books on the law and the Internet have appeared, as one by Lawrence Lessig (CODE and the Other Laws of Cyberspace) and Judith Levine; but only recently have the potential ramifications of attention-getting possible from blogging started to reach professional books, such as Nancy Flynn and Blog Rules.      








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