Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Literary Bios Loose Luster In Recession

From Brian Busby, writer, reporter on the Canadian literary scene, Our Man In The Attic, and author of the highly anticipated biography of Canadian poet, novelist, literary rogue and hoaxster, John Glassco:

"Bad news concerning the Glassco biography. A couple of weeks ago I was told that Knopf Canada is dropping the book. Nothing wrong with the manuscript - they're even giving me the acceptance fee in full - they say that the market is to blame."

The publishing world is, apparently, now focusing on producing sure-fire hits and nothing but.

Brian continues, "Apparently, 'serious' non-fiction, literary biography included, just isn't selling these days. Though no names have been mentioned, I'm told that I'm far from being alone in being dumped. While my agent is confident that the biography will soon find a home elsewhere, she cautions that the other big branch plants (Penguin, HarperCollins et al) are of like mind concerning the current state of bookselling."

The Guardian recently covered the phenomenon at length.

Neil Belton, an editor at Faber is not sanguine about prospects: "The book trade and publishing industry has embraced its inner philistine. The bigger book chains have semi-withdrawn from interest in serious books. The number of publishers that are committed to trying to bring these books to an audience is smaller. When they are interested in serious authors, the big publishing conglomerates are often chasing only the very big names, people established in their fields."

Literary agent Peter Straus is also concerned: "It is more and more difficult to place good books. Retail's changed. Advances have come down in the last two years. So many books haven't sold. There are too many books published. The harsh realities of the market will impinge on certain writers, certain publishers, certain agents."

" There used to be a lot of noise around these books. They were books made for great reviews. But people didn't want to buy them," says Scott Pack, head buyer at Waterstone's, Britain's top book chain.

Brians ends on a more positive note, though the good news depends upon bad news becoming yesterday's story: "Vehicule Press, Montreal's largest remaining Anglo publisher have asked me to put together a collection of Glassco's letters. This is going ahead, but publication will likely be delayed until the bio is published."

This is personally distressing to me as I have knowledge about some of what Brian has uncovered about this most interesting literary provacateur that is very exciting but I am sworn to secrecy. Those secrets are growing like a tumor-cluster in my brain and, without relief, threaten to burst their boundaries and spill out of my mouth like a bunch of sweet, ripe grapes.

Call me self-centered but the whole financial crisis comes down to this: I am prevented from reading what I what I would very much like to read.

All politics is local.


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