You Mean I Have To Sell T-Shirts?: Richard Nash, The Candide of Publishing, and the Glorious Future Ahead

Reading IS fun!!!

By: Michael James Greenwald

Welcome to the Sunday confession on PLC, People!

This week, we’re talking about self-publishing.

YIKES!

I know.

To be honest, I know very little about the industry of publishing.  My wealth of knowledge may eclipse some of you out there, but more than likely most of you are more versed than I.

You might be thinking: great, Doofus, so how did you get a blog, again?

And the answer would be: I paid Amy Nichols 500 buckeroos!

This morning, I was made aware that Bob Edwards, of “Bob Edwards Weekend” on NPR, was doing a three-part series called: The Future of Book Publishing.  In the first part of the series, Bob interviews Richard Nash, former publisher of the independent Soft Skull Press from 2001-2009 and founder of the new social publishing house Cursor.

The Candide of Publishing

I just finished listening to the interview, and have to say, I’ve never felt more excited about the future of publishing!

I urge you to purchase for $2.95 the interview in it’s entirety here.

But I’ll provide the Sportscenter, news-crawl highlights.

Nash’s platform for the future of publishing (and his rationale for the publishing industry’s decline) centers on what he refers to as the writer-reader connection business, which is analogous to the publishing version of eharmony.

“Books are…tremendously idiosyncratic,” Nash says.  “Unlike a half hour sitcom where everybody laughs at the same three jokes, they’re fifteen hours of one other person’s voice inside your head.  [Publishers] need to have a fine tune sense of the idiosyncrasies of a writer and the idiosyncrasies of a reader to make that matchmaking.”

That's Borders and B&N on the top. Bye, bye!

This week, my fellow confessioners have been talking about self-publishing.  Nash’s vision of the future publishing marketplace involves an annihilation of the out-of-touch, dystopian publishing structure that exists now; a hammering away and eventually chipping off of the top tier of the publishing industry pyramid.  This begins (or has already begun) with the failed state of chain retail book-sellers.

“Borders and Barnes and Noble,” Nash says, “basically they’re going to go out of business.  The Internet is going kill the chains, because all the chains offer is selection and the Internet can offer selection.  And that will create the space…for the Independent booksellers.”

Nash’s vision of the futurama publishing industry involves boutique booksellers in your neighborhood being, “really, really good at what they do.”

And what that consists of is, “not just selling books published by publishers, but running literary workshops, running cooking workshops centered around cookbooks and as with the case of a couple interesting booksellers, becoming publishers themselves, offering marketing resources to self-published authors.”

His vision does center around the Internet.

“The Internet in a certain sense,” he says, “is getting rid of the very kind of narrow, uniform, blockbuster, mass-market aspect of things, giving us the opportunity to restore a more artisanal and idiosyncratic way of connecting with one another.”

The prime example of this idea is his online social publishing website Cursor, which could become the Facebook for writers and readers (Bookface, anyone?), creating communities of writers and readers.

“The book is a conversation,” Nash says.  “And that conversation creates an enormous amount of cultural value, and what [Cursor] is focused on is trying to gather all that value for the writer.”

Nash says he foresees the publishing industry copying the model laid out by Hollywood studios, where the big publishers, the ones that remain after some of the Big Six Publishers are lopped off the pyramid, will publish very few books, 200-500 a year, and they’ll focus all their budgets on marketing those books.  It stands to reason that most of the 2-500 will be established authors, like James Patterson, Stephen King, Jodi Piccoult, due to the fact it costs precipitously less to market existing authors than new.

The positive of this though, is that Nash expects the whole rest of the market to be made up of hundreds of thousands of small presses, who will publish,”a much more interesting and diverse set of writers.  The people who are referred to as mid-list writers that may only sell five or ten thousand copies, maybe only sell two thousand copies, but change the lives of the people who read their books.  [Writers] who are also teaching…who can connect in the future with their readers in ways that…look a little bit more like singer-songwriters.”

Nash says many writers approach him, throw their hands in the air, and complain,

Wait, you mean I have to sell t-shirts?!?

And those writers, Nash points out, will be, like sing-songwriters have been since inception, required, in some sense, to sing for their supper.

But he does provide us with five songs to sing.

1) Participate in your community

2) Publish in literary journals

3) Go to readings

4) Hang out in bookstores

5) Get to know other writers

About his five suggestions, Nash realizes writers will, “do them in part for the sake of serendipity, because maybe you’ll meet an agent or an editor through that particular process.”

But then he zeroes in on the future reality of publishing, and it’s not a type of publishing, self or POD or traditional, it’s a mindset, a philosophy, that needs to be changed; because after so many years of publishing the same way, top-down, the writer solely responsible for creating the widget for the big publisher to publish, package, ship, and market, writers must realize we’ve been conditioned to think a certain way, which sacrifices our individuality and sheds our artifice in the face of the pressure to push units, to sell.  In the end, books and reading is about connectivity, expression–a story-telling instinct that has been a part of the human fabric before paper and pens.

“The real reason you’re doing,” Nash explains, “is that it will make your happier to be part of the community of writers and serious readers.  That’s the end.  We’re looking to be read, to be recognized, to connect to people. Figuring out how to “monopize” that is the second part of that.  But if you can figure out how to be happy, that’s what really counts.”

I wish good words to y’all.

–MJG

When not clinging to every damn word that comes from Richard Nash’s lips, Michael James Greenwald is a student at Story Studio Chicago, applying for a Ragdale Residency in the fall, and considering allowing UT, Austin a second chance at deliverance (Corporate-sponsored education institutions here I come!!!), by accepting him into their MFA program for 2011 (HOOK ‘EM HORNS!!).

For now, he works in his family business of owning and operating bowling alleys in the South Suburbs of Chicago. He is also a fiction writer, with a short story collection Stories from a Bowling Alley and a novel The Rainbow Child due to be published in the next several years. You can read his blogs at sleepsunshine and his confessions every Sunday on his group blog at parkinglotconfessional.com. Venture to his Facebook page or feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions for further topics, or if you had any interest in being a guest blogger on either one of his sites.

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