Librarians and Civilization

 

                     image

 

 

As usual in Wicklow town the staff in the local Library are incredibly helpful and saved me a fortune in books by sourcing copies of volumes  on loan I was pricing on the Internet. There are few jobs more unappreciated than that of the librarian, which is not cool at all. That the work of librarians is so taken for granted is probably why in its infinite lack of wisdom our Government here in Ireland have decided to not replace librarians if they retire. It is therefore more and more difficult to keep libraries open. It is horrifying enough the cutbacks that are going on all along the Civil Service (esp. the Health Service –which is truly unconscionable), but it rankles how libraries are being affected. It is no understatement to say that  librarians are one of the gate keepers of civilization. The fact that so much is available via the internet should expand rather than contract the portfolio of the librarian, and libraries are rapidly expanding their grasp of the virtual availability of books and online data.

The electronic availability of media does not mean that the library should by implication be somewhere where paper books or  e-books or downloadable books or public study areas be discontinued incrementally and the availability of texts or knowledge  therefore relegated to the realm of the virtual or the marketplace. On the contrary it should open our society  to a new discussion as to how knowledge be disseminated and how libraries be libraries of the future, for a library is not a data centre and knowledge is not information nor is it cold dispassionate data.

A writer mines raw data and transforms into something intelligible, a product of  the intellect and the imagination, a finished piece of thinking which we call a book in this instance, a particular representation of a society and a culture’s self understanding at a particular juncture in history – that is whether or not one agrees with the contents of the book or indeed many of the books being written and published. It is not without significance that Google in its efforts to bring forth an ultimate Artificial Intelligence, sought to scan and download all the billions of books in the world, including everything currently under copyright. This was because within a book there remains the fullest scope of an act of human intellectual apprehension of a subject. Take for instance: in a particular historical scientific or sociological book there might be an introduction to the  study and its proposed scope, a grasp of the current state of research on the subject, an analysis of the research and an act of speculation not only of where research might be going but possible future avenues where a particular discipline might lead and where it intersects with other disciplines. Thus to have an up to date library, a repository of knowledge in as many towns as possible, that is a truly active library, makes a huge statement about the intellectual and cultural life of a town. To close a library, to restrict a library service, is a disservice to the community on more levels than one might imagine. It sends a bad message about the cultural and intellectual life of a community. One may as well start closing the Churches, the Town Hall and the pubs too.  Libraries are places where in any civilized country where one can investigate, think, write, research online for free, chat online, read the papers, bring ones children to play and read and make a fuss generally, play games online, listen to music, watch movies, or if you are me – fall asleep in the midst of reading and be woken up by a cross librarian and be told one cannot sleep and by the way I am snoring in a place where people are trying to work. 

                     image

For myself, though I have received many well-deserved letters demanding the return of borrowed books, I can never fully repay either libraries or librarian the enormous debt I owe them. For instance, and I don’t particularly want to become too personal here, my favourite place to avoid school was not to go to bars or snooker halls, but you guessed it – I just loved libraries. I would read literally all day, when not nodding off asleep. I would take one book off the shelf and if it was sufficiently interesting, read it through. I lived near a library, and round the corner from my primary and secondary school, so I would  be able to live my double life, a school life where I learned, well, some things (for instance how to use my martial arts training to protect myself) and libraries, where whole worlds of meaning opened up to me.

So if you are reading this and you want to do something send an email to AlexWhiteTD ( email alex.white@oir.ie) (TWITTER @AlexWhiteTD )
telling this very newly appointed minister to rescind the moratorium on replacing library staff throughout Ireland as it is a disservice to the country and sends a bad message about the importance of learning in Irish Local Communities. Smile Thanks!

Publishing and not Being Damned

Getting work published and reducing the Tears Involved

image

Archive Image of Thompson Reuters Publishing – see http://thomsonreuters.com/core-publishing-solutions/

The purpose of writing is to be read. No amount of false humility will ever sufficiently delude a writer into thinking she is destined to a kind of solipsistic world of simply writing for themselves. Writing is communication. It cannot not be. So, with writing comes an audience, and therefore some kind of vehicle whereby ones work reaches a readership. Sometimes the work deserves an audience. Sometimes not.

That being the case its hard to fathom the amount of humiliation, suffering, frustration and soul destruction writers endure to get published and get successful. Its sometimes a baptism of fire leading to real personal and artistic growth, realism and maturity; sometimes an embittering experience which leaves the artist scarred – more often a bit of both.

My own personal worst experience was a publisher saying ‘yes’ to a novel of mine only to baulk when they feared getting sued – by a church. The book was subsequently published and did fine and nobody sued anybody.

The good thing is once you actually do get published, it gets a tad easier to get published subsequently, and one doesn’t take things like rejection slips too seriously. Publishers are invariably the gatekeepers of what’s worth publishing. That being the case, this doesn’t mean that publishers are always right.

For instances: Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ took twelve years to publish, a work of genius. The publisher regarded it as something akin to porn. The New Yorker consistently rejected the work of the young rather angry J.D. Salinger, including shelving after accepting the very first short story where this weird fellow called Holden Caulfield made his first appearance. Let us remind ourselves here that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ has subsequently sold sixty million copies world wide with an average annual sale rate of two hundred and fifty thousand copies. Moving on to much smaller sales but an equal brilliant game changing work, Becketts Trilogy, a  trilogy of novels – Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable, was rejected by so many publishers that Sam the Man actually made a list to ensure he reminded himself of how many publishers could actually get it wrong.  The first novel of Proust’sRemembrance of Things Past’, ‘Swanns Way’, was rejected, only for the publisher to come crawling back to apologize and admit he was wrong.

The list goes on and on and all it really establishes is that Publishers are only human and get it horribly wrong as do we all. To understand that is to forgive and to save oneself so much misery, especially if one is struggling and starting out, or trying to break into another genre, or just cant find a publisher for your new novel or book of poetry.

Of course there can be all kinds of reasons why one’s work is being rejected by a publisher. As publishers largely don’t give reasons why they say no (imagine actually have to give a reason to the hundreds or even thousands of submissions a publisher might get in a week), its better not to speculate too much on the why of things. When it comes to magazines, for instance, if I am constantly being turned down for reasons I simply cannot fathom,  I generally send in a piece I have published in another country more than once, in other words something I am reasonably sure is an okay piece of work, and if that too is turned down, I just don’t submit there again.

Ad hominen attacks: To get ‘personal’ with a publisher, to send them angry notes filled with nasty well chosen phrases, to spread unfounded stories about them is probably the most foolish and self destructive of actions. It rightly establishes you as someone who can’t really be worked with. Its a bit of a career killer. Of course ‘getting personal’ with a publisher is not the same as loudly and accurately complaining, critiquing and objecting to actions on the part of a publisher with which a writer has a real problem. That’s a writer’s job, and part of the creative process. On the other hand if your work has been rejected, move on. Read over the text after a week or two when one feels a bit better. Ask an honest friend to do the same. If it is okay, send it elsewhere. If it isn’t, fix it. If it isn’t fixable, start another book. This is what serious writers do. Its good to start over betimes.

Publishers come in many many forms, and having been published by many of them, I really don’t mind what their motivations are so long as they treat my work with professionalism.

1. The Political Publisher: This type may have serious ideological motivations around the published text, and may be connected to a religious or a political party or be financed by a governmental body. They have deep pockets and many friends and a rolodex that would be the envy of many a politician. They are generally quietly powerful, well connected,  generally produce high quality work, in other words they will turn your words into a well produced book which will be marketed and sold in many bookshops and be readily available online. There are pitfalls going with a publisher like this, especially the danger of being branded with the same markings as ones publisher, or being associated with the same ideologies or political parties that the publisher has such big connections with. Ask yourself why the publisher has said ‘yes’ to your work before going forward with it. If you are happy to proceed, then do.  

2. The Big Commercial Publisher: This publisher works for a big profit, takes big risks sometimes and has little or no ideology beyond the bottom line. The fact you might be a serious worker in the field of literary fiction or commercial genre fiction matters little to this publisher. As well as publishing interests they may hold a huge stake in television, radio or news media and they may also have their own political interests. This also doesn’t matter to them. They have signed a contract with you because they see money in your work. Whatever genre one works in, one might long to have a publisher like this. this is a company who will give you a six figure advance, a three book deal, and provide huge marketing and publicity machine behind your work. Who doesn’t dream of selling many many books and to be  a famous client of a huge publishing company? Beware though – one is but one of hundreds or even thousands of clients in a giant multinational company. Beware too: It is an incredible amount of pressure, and not  for everyone. It is certainly a type of success, and the type of success that is easily seen and easily measurable in terms of money and fame and books sold. The pitfall here is that such a level of exposure and expectation placed  on ones work and on ones personality can make one lose a sense of perspective and identity. Monumental egos are born in this womb of super fame and self destruction can be the result. It can also negatively impact the quality of ones output. One can be writing to feed the commercial machine one has become a part of rather than staying true to ones own vision.

3. The Small Commercial Publisher: This is a manageable arrangement for many writers. Here one’s work is sold to a regular audience of expectant readers and one can predict a level of income based on the appreciation of a manageable fan base. Publicity is also regular and one finds oneself on the radio and possibly television arts shows, magazines and news media. The pitfall here is the sheer predictable lack of challenge in such an arrangement. One needs some level of resistance and struggle to grow, which may come from other writers, critics or a demanding readership who expects more from their writer, rather than the same novel or text being reproduced in different ways over the course of a mediocre career, which is also a danger with large Commercial publisher. A politically or ideologically minded publisher would not for a moment stand for such a thing.

4. The Not For Profit Publisher. These publishers provide probably the greatest service to the world of writing, taking as they do previously unknown writers or struggling writers of worth and providing a sufficient platform for such writers to actually begin their careers. Not for profit publishing is on the rise due to print on demand services whereby small amounts of a book can be produced at low rates and enough numbers sold to make up for the money spent on small levels of publicity and the hiring of rooms for launches and readings. So many writers owe their careers to these visionaries. It is a sad thing they remain uncelebrated considering all they do. The pitfall here is that they are not for profit: Publicity is small and most of the work is done in the publishers spare time and there may be problems with the finished work unless one has an infinite amount of time and thoroughly  proofed and re proofed ones work before sending it in.

The publishing world is a veritable labyrinth. There are many variations on the above divisions of publisher. For instance: Small Publishing houses are owned by big concerns and are allowed to function independently. Do you homework before sending in manuscripts. Use agents and more than anything – rewrite. Its pretty much the essence of writing.