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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Seventeen: Book One

As an author, what scares me the most?

      Actually, what used to scare me most about the writing profession isn’t necessarily true anymore.  

      When I was in graduate school at the University of Chicago, we had industry professionals coming in to tell us about getting published. I met agents and publishers, and we all went through the process of submitting our work for practice. We were encouraged to do our own research to find agents and publishers who had handled books like ours in the past, since they would be best able to sell our work to the big publishing companies.

What I discovered was that publishers don’t care how good your book is. Publishing houses are for-profit corporations. This means they want only one thing: a predictable seller, so they can tell their shareholders they made a safe bet. You might think that a good book would be the same as a predictable seller, but it’s not. A book is a predictable sale when it very closely resembles one that sold well before, varying just enough from the original to avoid copyright violations. Publishers, chasing the market, were telling agents what kinds of books they would consider, and agents were telling authors what to write if they wanted to be represented.

The more I understood the publishing industry, the clearer it became: I was watching a death spiral of creativity. Books are not commodities, they are ideas; no company that analyzes new work as it would soybean futures or pork bellies can accept a book with a truly original, unproven premise. 

      Print-on-demand and e-book formats now let authors take their message directly to readers without subjecting it to all that, which is great, mostly. However, it does mean that anyone who wants to produce a book will do so, regardless of its quality. Right now, some people still believe we need big publishers for their alleged “screening function,” but in truth this service is now being performed much more effectively by bloggers and their readers. Books now reach the public without corporations excluding the most original ideas, and dedicated readers in the blogosphere pick the diamonds from the dirt.

      Here’s the future of publishing: The big publishers will survive these changes by relying on royalties from the huge back catalogs they’ve assembled over the past hundred years. If they are then able to provide any value to the marketplace at all, it will be through their marketing expertise and their distribution networks. That is, authors will gain control over what they’re producing, and will only be picked up by the major publishers once they’ve proven themselves to have a market.            

      There has never been a better time for new and original ideas to become books. Authors are connecting with readers through blogs and websites and other social media, and that’s what’s making the market work. The risk is on the author, now, not the publisher, so there’s little money up front but there’s no market-chasing censorship, either.  In the cases where an idea resonates with a sizeable number of readers, the major publishers will come in and make a deal to market and distribute the book in exchange for a percentage of its profits. Ideas, as novels, are more accessible, because of the dialogue we’re creating through blogs like this.

Mark Diehl


Most of the world's seventeen billion people are unconscious, perpetually serving their employers as part of massive brain trusts. The ecosystem has collapsed, and corporations control all of the world's resources and governments. A bedraggled alcoholic known as the Prophet predicts nineteen year-old waitress Eadie will lead a revolution, but how can she prevail when hunted by a giant corporation and the Federal Angels it directs?


   The mist was clearing. Brian found himself standing in the street outside the bar he had entered earlier. Half a dozen battered and bleeding men stood surrounding him, and at least as many more lay on the gravel, seriously wounded or out cold.

The attack had come from somewhere in the mist, from all directions at once. His head and torso ached and throbbed. He locked his shaking knees to keep them from buckling. Every muscle in his body seemed to be lengthening, pouring downward like water. His eyelids drooped.

One of the standing men took a step toward him, fists raised. Brian tried to turn away from him, his arm flopping behind his back like a fish.

Behind his back! His eyes opened a little wider. He straightened and forced his arm to function, whipping out his revolver and aiming it around at the circle of attackers.

He tried to pull back the hammer but too many of his knuckles were broken. He ended up simply pointing it at the closest one, who backed away cautiously. Once past him, Brian walked backwards, still aiming the gun as long as he could see them. Then he turned, moving as fast as he could manage, back toward Dok’s place.

Mark D. Diehl writes novels about power dynamics and the way people and organizations influence each other. He believes that obedience and conformity are becoming humanity’s most important survival skills, and that we are thus evolving into a corporate species.
Diehl has: been homeless in Japan, practiced law with a major multinational firm in Chicago, studied in Singapore, fled South Korea as a fugitive, and been stranded in Hong Kong.

After spending most of his youth running around with hoods and thugs, he eventually earned his doctorate in law at the University of Iowa and did graduate work in creative writing at the University of Chicago. He currently lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Author’s Website:

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Heare2Watts said...

What did you like best about today's post? Reading and learn more about new authors. BTW, I don't tweet!

Karen H in NC said...

You brought up some interesting points in your essay today. Not only do huge publishing houses dictate to authors the types of stories they want, they also hold pricing hostage as well. The new smaller ePublishiers and self-publishing available now to authors is a boon to a new career. You mentioned a reader picking up that diamond in the dirt....but it is also possible, in fact a real hazard by far, to pick up a dog that should have been buried in the dirt. A reader has to step carefully through the trash to find that diamond.

kareninnc at gmail dot com

Elise-Maria Barton said...

Great commentary on the 'business' aspect of publishing houses. I agree that they hold writers hostage to their own selfish ideals of what will sell and what won't, so many times we're left with a different or watered down version of what the author actually intended. Readers too are held hostage by pricing schemes and the contracts that authors are forced to sign to drag a story out over three or four books when it could easily have been done in one or maybe two. This is an unfair financial burden on readers and can vastly affect an author's fan base as well. Thanks for sharing today, I always enjoy your posts.

ilookfamous at yahoo dot com