Who’d ever want to write & publish a book?

Opinions - December 1st, 2000
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

Book publishers are among the finest people you’ll ever meet. They are up right, decent and highly principled individuals who possess not only uncanny foresight regarding trends and social tendencies, but are es­pecially sensitive to the needs and concerns of art­ists attempting to interpret those trends and so­cial tendencies.

Not only that, book publishers have technical skills way beyond what we amateurs can even imagine. Put­ting out a book is a highly complex matter. A great deal of training and experience is necessary to refine those technical skills.

For example, all the pages in a book—each and ev­ery one of them—must be the same size! (Never thought of that, eh? Then take a close look at the next book you come across. Each and every page will be the same size.)

And, this is the kicker, those (same-sized) pages must be consecutively numbered. In other words, pages 3 and 4 must follow—not precede—pages 1 and 2. And that pattern must continue all the way through the book. Golly.

The covers of books, into which the same-sized, con­secutively numbered pages are placed (and either glued or sewn, but that part is way over my head) must con­tain the title of the work on the front and a brief descrip­tion of the work on the back. Not the other way around. And, get this; the author’s name must appear somewhere on the outside of the work. (Not the inside; the outside.)

Is it any wonder book publishers are among society’s elite? Up there with brain surgeons and rocket scien­tists whose training and accomplishments bedazzle we lesser mortals? Who else could handle all the complexi­ties? Not you or me, that’s for sure.

In a way, it’s amazing book publishers are even able to pay writers the 7.5% royalty on sales—the page cut­ters, the page enumerators and the cover affixers mus: also be compensated. And the book publishers’ expense accounts must be included—after all relationships with booksellers must be maintained since publishers and sellers must come to an agreement on how to divvy up the remaining 90% of income from the sales. Egads, it’s a tough old world out there.

My point today is not with technical matters in the arcane book-publishing world, but instead with that part I mentioned earlier about “uncanny foresight re­garding trends and social tendencies.” Following are responses to ideas submitted in year 2000.

Dear Mr. Collins: Your scenario about the U.S. Presidential elections coming out in a tie is amusing— in fact, we all had a good laugh about it during our Monday morning editorial meeting—but whimsy is not on our list this year. We suggest you go back to hard­hitting reality.”

Dear Mr. Collins: The Russian Mir spacecraft be­ing scuttled and returned to earth? A flaming re-entry endangering Tallahassee? During some kind of voting recount? The Mir spacecraft will be up there forever. Hard-hitting reality is what we’re interested in.”

Dear Mr. Collins: We suppose it is possible that penguins might topple over onto their backs as they stare up at aircraft flying over their heads. And your image of the toppling penguins spelling out in black and white like placards flashed by sports rooters at a stadium—”send anchovies”—is highly creative, but we draw the line at the thought that British scien­tists would mount an organized study of the phe­nomenon. They are, after all, British, and…okay, per­haps you might send the first three chapters.”

Dear Mr. Collins: A Prime Minister closely re­sembling an Easter Island statue? With only 4% ap­proval rating from the public? Who survives a “no confidence” vote? Because the opposition, which called for the vote in the first place, can’t get its act together? We’re afraid you’ve been in the sun too long, Mr. Collins. Try to pull something together that has some elements of reality.”

Dear Mr. Collins: We don’t wish to discourage you, but no American President would ever pose in front of Ho Chi Minh’s statue in Vietnam, making warm and fuzzy statements. There are still tens of thousands of veterans of that war around—many emotionally and physically maimed. Only a fool would do what you suggest.”

Dear Mr. Collins: ‘May had a little lamb.’ It has a nice ring to it. Describe what you mean by ‘had.’ Does it mean ‘possessed’ a little lamb or.. .’had’ a little lamb. And do any helicopters explode? A lot depends on your answer.”

You see what I mean? Book publishers are ahead of the curve. Uncanny foresight. I, meanwhile, am going out for a beer.