Monday, March 26, 2012

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts. You are free to agree or disagree with him.


Dear Mr Sensation Slushmonger,

I am sorry that my review of your novel annoyed you, and I have to answer freely that, no,  I would not like you to punch my face in. So I am agreed with you on one point.

I understand how mortified you must have felt when I told my readers that your characters are thin, your plot a cliché, your prose abominable and your method crass sensationalism.

I, too, would feel mortified if people said these thing about something I had written.

I doubt that you would be persuaded to change your views if I repeated all the evidence. But I reiterate that hit-men from Chicago are not in the habit of visiting the Manawatu to organize immigration scams for desperate Mexicans who want to cross the Rio Grande.

Furthermore, police have informed me that, to the best of their knowledge, Feilding and Bunnythorpe have never been the headquarters of rival international drug cartels.
There is a little problem with verisimilitude here.

Might I further add that Chicago hit-men carrying “tommy-guns” and working for “the Big Boss” are more likely to inhabit black-and-white Warner Brothers programmers from the 1930s than anything more recent. If you are going to imitate a popular best-selling genre, it might be wise to drag yourself out of the age of George Raft and James Cagney and into the age of George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

I do appreciate your attempt to relate your story to the rights of indigenous peoples. I salute your utter sincerity in introducing elements of tangata whenua life and customs. However, there is more to this than having your characters say “Haere mai” every few pages. I did feel that the flow of your narrative was rather held up by the scene in which one torture victim recites the Treaty of Waitangi verbatim in both Maori and English, and offers a lengthy exegesis of it, before an equally lengthy fire-fight.

But more than anything, Mr Slushmonger, you appear to have been annoyed by my suggestion that your book was self-published.

This, I fear, is the chief bone of contention between us. I did listen to the message you left on my answer-phone at 3 a.m. last night, and I understood you to say “It wasn’t ****ing self-published. I spent a lot of ****ing money to get it published by a real publisher.” You gave me the name of the commercial venture in question.

Dear Mr Slushmonger, I apologize sincerely for sounding pedantic in these matters, and I appreciate that the selfsame word may have many different connotations.

But that word “publisher” is a trap. I would have thought that you would be alerted by the fact that the business in question designates itself “Rip-Off Vanity Publishers.”

Briefly, sir, as understood by the literati, a publisher undertakes to publish work at the publisher’s expense, and not at the expense of the author.

It works like this.

A publisher receives your typescript. The publisher’s readers assess your typescript and decide whether it is worth publishing or not.

If they decide it is not worth publishing they return it to you with a polite letter of rejection, and that is the end of the matter.
If they decide it is worth publishing, then copy-editing, proof-reading, printing, binding and publicity are undertaken at their expense, not your’s. Your copyright will, in effect, allow you to share any profits from sales with the publisher. But, unless you have written a massive best-seller, please do expect your royalties to be very modest.

Yes, I appreciate that the people who printed your novel at your expense call themselves “publishers” but that, sir, is a marketing ploy. The vanity publisher takes your money to print and bind your stuff, and leaves you to publicise and dispose of the result.

Because you are paying, you are self-publishing.

Sorry, Mr Slushmonger, but I am using the right term.

I do hope this settles all contention between us. I do hope you will cease contemplating punching my face in. I hope particularly that I will not again be wakened by the tinkly tones of my telephone at 3 a.m. And I am very, very sorry that your garage cannot accommodate all the unsold copies of your novel. But a real publisher might have warned you that this could happen,

Very best regards

Nicholas Reid   


  1. Oh, but the number of people I've had this conversation with. It seems remarkable to me that so many seem to be happy to "invest" thousands of dollars in their book which is being "published" by some printer during a slow patch in the printer's schedule.

  2. An unfortunate cosequence of vanity publishing is that it can compound the vanity. I know person who has had a novel and two collections of novelle printed this way and he is bitter and resentful that the public and the 'academic literary establishment' do not acknowledge his 'talent'.