Friday, 4 November 2011



I once had a very good friend who was a publisher. In fact, I have had several friends who were. But the one I am thinking of in particular liked to tell a particular joke which illustrated how hard done by authors often felt at the hands of publishers. The joke is about a voracious New York publisher who says with a manipulative gleam in his eye: ‘Why buy the girl from the country a mink coat when a pair of silk stockings will do?’

As an author, I have been called far worse things than a naïve country bumpkin – but not by publishers. In fact, I have never come across a genuinely greedy one. Of course, they are astute – they need to be to stay in business – and they are naturally suspicious of authors’ views of the book trade. I have worked with six different commercial publishers in my time, and I must admit that none has offered me a mink coat. Nevertheless, I have liked them all. As I say, one or two of them became good friends. After all, a pair of silk stockings is better than bare-legged obscurity.

I think the world is changing quite rapidly for conventional publishers, and for book shops as well. Technology is seeing to that. Change is always a bit unnerving. For myself, I’ll miss browsing in shops, especially those dusty second-hand ones. Doing so on the Internet isn’t quite the same. And switching on one’s Kindle will never, for me, replace that sense of tactile relish of opening a new book for the first time.

There is one thing in particular that the current revolution will bring to publishing. Thanks to the increasing ease of production, in print as well as in electronic formats, the volume of published books will increase, as will the size of the total pie that will have to be labelled ‘mediocre’ or worse. On the up side, however, will be the ability of writers (and publishers) to more readily disengage themselves from economics, and to write what they feel the most urgently.

Doris Lessing seems to be talking about precisely this when she says: ‘In an age of committee art and public art (and international best sellers) people may begin to feel again a need for the small personal voice; and this will feed confidence into writers; and with the confidence of being needed will come the warmth and humanity and love of people which is essential for a great age of literature.’

My ideal publishing house should be concerned with such things – warmth, humanity, love of people, literature, the small personal voice – while at the same time caring sufficiently about economics to remain solvent. A bankrupt publishing house is of no use to anyone. These perceptions certainly lie very close to the heart of Porcupine Press, which I part own, and through which I have published for the past few years.

David Robbins.

 David’s latest book, Searching Africa, is to be launched on 29 November 2011 in Johannesburg!!!
(See right hand toolbar for details)
Come and meet this well-known South African writer, author of 19 books, and chat to Clare-Rose Julius, general manager of Porcupine Press.

"Happy Writing!"
Caryl Moll
(Blog Administrator and author of MAXDOG)

No comments:

Post a comment

Thank you for commenting. We appreciate your feedback.