Letter #1 from Richard Grayson
Dear Book Biz Santa,
I'm pretty sure you still remember me. Eight years ago my then-boyfriend and I were walking through the Aventura Mall in Miami and you were walking in the opposite direction with one of your elves when you called out, "Hi, Mr. Grayson!"
After gaping open-mouthed for a while, even after I said, "See, he really does know if you're naughty or nice," Warren -- always the skeptic -- said, "It's obviously one of your students." I was teaching five sections of freshman composition at three colleges that term.
But none of them ever fessed up and I assume you were the real deal, so I hope you don't mind my taking advantage of our relationship. (Assure Mrs. Claus it's always been platonic; no offense, but I'm never been attracted to men with a bowlful of jelly where their abs should be.) My Christmas list this year is pretty simple.
Dear Santa, can you make it 1979 again?
For one thing, my current age would be cut in half.
For another, I'd be having my first book published again -- albeit by a small publisher which had coasted for years on an unexpected astrology best seller.
Daily, on the book page, the New York Times would be printing a list of "Books Published Recently" and they'd even include an obscure first short story collection by a kid from Brooklyn. Of course that was before a book was published every ten seconds.
If you remember, 1979 was a year when many newspapers had daily book reviews, so even I could get a daily review in the Los Angeles Times.
And most newspapers had two or three pages of book reviews on Sunday, so I could be one of a dozen books reviewed one weekend in the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Minneapolis Tribune. Long Island's Newsday assigned my grandmother in Rockaway to review my book and paid her nearly $200 in today's dollars.
In 1979 lots of towns had radio talk shows devoted exclusively to interviewing authors, so people in Orlando and Chicago got to listen to my nasal high-pitched whine.
Editors like Henry Robbins at Farrar, Straus were still alive. So were Ted Wilentz's Eighth Street Bookshop and Jeanette Watson's Books and Co. and all those antiquarian shops on both sides of Fourth Avenue's Book Row. In Brooklyn we still had The Book Worm, the My Friends Bookstore, Barrons, Barchas, and the one run by those cute lesbians on Kings Highway where they put my book in the window.
Back then, almost no books cost more than $9.95 in hardcover, and mailing them cost about forty cents, so publishers could send out several hundred review copies. That's probably how I got about thirty reviews.
Many public libraries routinely ordered every book reviewed in Publishers Weekly or Library Journal.
Although I had originally published the stories in my book in obscure literary magazines, I got paid for nearly every one because of generous grants given by the National Endowment for the Arts, fully funded thanks to the efforts of Joan Mondale, the Vice President's wife.
In 1979 Wes Strick, my editor, sat with me in his apartment every weekend for a month, going over my book line by line and word by word as he suggested changes and fixed problems in my stories. The final manuscript was handed over to a copy editor who would call me daily to ask how I felt about the serial comma or to tell me which spelling of a Yiddish word she thought would look best in print.
Those were the days, Santa. Why, I can remember sitting in the office of Bobs Pinkerton, Taplinger Publishing's managing editor, and looking out over the disgusting, crime-ridden park in Union Square when she broke the news that they weren't going to put my photo on the back cover "because you look too young and cute." Bobs said no one would take a book by a cute young writer seriously. It was bad enough that I lived in that backwater, Brooklyn.
Hm. Maybe everything wasn't better in 1979. It took over a year from the time my manuscript was accepted until the book finally was published. If my publisher called and I was out, they had to try again another day because I didn't have voice mail or a cell phone. There was no email, no blogs, no podcasts, no way to order books online. I couldn't publish my stories in webzines back then, and I didn't have a web page where people from all over the world could discover my work.
Back then bookstores were impossible to find in the suburbs unless there was a mall with a Waldenbooks. People said Harry Hoffman, that chain's owner, single-handedly controlled the majority of book sales in America.
In 1979, it seemed nobody wanted to see authors in person, especially not most bookstores; signings and author talks were very rare.
And every time we had to make more than a minor change in my manuscript, we had to re-type everything. I'd go too fast and the typewriter keys would jam, and if I needed to fix something with Liquid Paper, I had to wait for it to dry. When the publisher would phone me at home to send them some pages right away, I had to drop everything and drive to Manhattan because there were no fax machines.
Okay, Santa. You're off the hook for this Christmas wish because I've changed my mind. I prefer being a writer in 2005.
I don't know if I'll see you in person this year, but my condo in a Phoenix gated "adult community" is just across the street from the Paradise Valley Mall, and I expect you'll be there, right?
Wait: maybe you won't recognize me now that I'm a lot older. Well, I guess I'll recognize you. You still look the same as you did when I was much, much younger.
Come to think of it, Santa, for Christmas can you at least tell me how you manage that?
Letter #2 From Ron Hogan
Well, I was going to ask BookBiz Santa for an intern, but it looks
like I might be getting one already, so I guess I'll have to use my
fallback option and ask for that complete set of Penguin Classics
they sell on Amazon.com. Which I can start reading once I farm off all my editorial duties to my new intern.
--Ron Hogan is the founder of Beatrice.com and the co-correspondent for Galleycat, mediabistro.com's publishing industry newsblog.