Stories we used to tell

The announcement today that Random House and Penguin Books will merge is another sad step in the downward spiral of a business already in disarray. The press release was full of cheerful wording about how writers will benefit from the new arrangement. Indeed, individual relationships may continue but important aspects like advances will suffer since the two are unlikely to bid against each other for a work they want.

With famous Canadian houses such as McClelland & Stewart, Stoddart, Key Porter and Douglas & McIntyre merged or bankrupt, fewer players in publishing is not good. Perhaps it no longer matters. Publishing is far from what it was even ten years ago. Time was when a manuscript was given a thorough structural edit as well as a careful copy edit. Today no one asks a writer what he means if there are foggy paragraphs or suggests an entire new final chapter.

Time also was that the writer read galleys, page proofs, blues, and Van Dykes, making corrections and looking for typos. Today you see page proofs and that’s all. It’s not for lack of time. I submitted the first book I wrote, The Moneyspinners, in typewritten form on June 1, 1983. Macmillan of Canada did two edits, set type, I saw four iterations, staved off a legal challenge, and books were printed well before the mid-October publication date. Even though manuscripts are now submitted in digital format, publishers want the manuscript in January for a fall release with far fewer production steps along the way. No one’s ever been able to explain why.

Publishers used to say that authors sold books and sent us on national promotion tours. Now it’s all social media from home with no support from the publishing houses. Far too many independent bookstores are closed. If Indigo doesn’t want your book it might not be published at all.

So best wishes to Random/Penguin. I sincerely hope one of you publishes my next book. But like the newspaper and magazine businesses, it’s safe to say that publishing’s glory days are behind us.

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