OK, so there’s no cure for DVDs that keep freezing. Either that, or I’m the only person left who watches DVDs any more. Or possibly other people do watch them, and have no more idea than I do how to stop them from freezing.
Or maybe I just shouldn’t buy cut-price DVDs.
Moving forward... Has anyone else had the experience of returning to a town which used to be so familiar you could walk round it blindfold – and finding it had changed so much that it could have been a completely different place? This happened to the town where I spent my formative years – well, most of my childhood and adolescence anyway – and I have a strong suspicion that the same has happened to the different town where I have spent most of my adult life.
I mention it because, although it’s a little less than four and half years since I stopped being a publisher, when I look at the publishing world as it is now, I hardly recognize it.
It changed a lot in the years I was involved, especially if you count a couple of decades trying to get a succession of not-very-good (and a couple of OK) novels published. For instance, when I started out, the slush pile was alive and well, but it was strictly against the rules to attempt to join more than one slush pile at a time. Six weeks was regarded as the acceptable response time, and most publishers seemed to manage that. Handwritten manuscripts were frowned on, so 80,000 words plus had to be laboriously typed, with a carbon copy just in case the original went missing in the mail. And when a book finally made it into print, the price you paid was the one printed on the cover, no matter where you bought it.
The mail. Oh, nostalgia.
The image of the publisher’s office, even the larger ones, in most people’s minds was of a cramped room up two flights of stairs, lined with shelves which almost collapsed under the weight of boxes filled with unread manuscripts. The publisher himself – the top guys were usually guys – wore one of those tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, and probably smoked a pipe. Everyone smoked in those days. The only one I visited way back then conformed to the image. Then, a few years ago, I visited another, and stepped into a whole different world. A fierce receptionist who insisted I wore a visitor badge; a smooth-running lift (elevator) with soft muzak; and when I finally reached the office, rows of modern pale wood desks, shiny computer screens, the only paper a proof copy of someone’s cover. There were stacks of books in the reception area, (this was a few years ago after all), but I didn’t spot a single manuscript.
Even then, when major league publishing had long since ceased to be run by people who loved books and become big business in which marketing and balance sheets were at least as important as words, it was still publishing. And four and some years ago when I decided it was time to pull out, it was still about real paper books, and commissioning editors deciding what to present to whoever made the final decision, and high street booksellers (including a generous sprinkling of independents) negotiating the best discount, and agents fighting for the best deal for the authors. Not necessarily in that order.
And now... No one wants paper manuscripts any more; if you can’t e-mail your work, forget it. Ebooks outsell hardbacks, and are making serious inroads into paperback sales. The books at the top of the bestseller lists are the ones with a marketing budget which would feed a small African country for a week (and what does that say about the world’s priorities?). Facebook, Twitter and various online gizmos I probably haven’t even heard of are essential marketing tools. And don’t get me started on A*****. This probably means that getting a novel published, which used to be top of my bucket list, isn’t going to happen for me.
Despite this, I’m not saying all the change is for the bad. I’d have to say my attitude to some of things, like the explosion of self-publishing, has adjusted to fit prevailing conditions. A few years ago I would never have dreamed of suggesting an author attempt to publish his or her own work, and not only because the ones which used to land on my own desk were never exactly the bestseller material their authors fervently believed. I’ve been proved wrong on that count so many times (though in my defence, not by any of the ones I rejected) that my view of what makes a bestseller is clearly flawed. Heck, if it wasn’t, I’d either still be running an indie publishing house or relaxing by my 20-metre pool in the Caribbean villa I bought with the proceeds of its sale.
All the same, all that used to be my world, but I don’t recognize the place any more. All I can do is keep a hold on my own tiny corner of it, and wish the rest well.