Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008: Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude. noun. German. Translated, Schadenfreude is the joy one experiences at the misfortune of others. I’ll get to why this is relevant in a second. Stay with me.

We’ve been hanging together for some time now, and I’ve shared my experiences as a midlist author, trying to navigate an industry that remains hostile to those who prime the pump – the storytellers. I’ve told you about editors and agents whose contempt was so obvious that they couldn’t even bother to seal the envelopes of their rejection letters. I told you about late royalty checks that, to begin with, are only cut twice a year and on a Friday. I’ve told you about how fans keep you from taking it all personally. Through it all, I kept this one fact close… that karma was a bitch.

Well, early this month, I read some interesting news from Jeffrey Trachtenberg, who covers the publishing industry for the Wall Street Journal. It seems that the trade division of Houghton Mifflin, one of America’s oldest and most prestigious houses, has stopped acquiring new manuscripts. Then the Associated Press announced that both Random House and Simon Schuster announced layoffs and were restructuring. This was around the same time that I opened my daily e-mail from Publishers Lunch to see that, among other entities, HarperCollins and Pearson were freezing salaries company-wide. Publishers Lunch was calling December 3 “Black Wednesday” and the day after “Greyish Thursday.” The first thing that came to mind was the sound that Nelson from The Simpsons makes – “Ha ha!” I know, Natalie Maines thought it first when she and the Dixie Chicks won fifty-million Grammys after having been labeled as Freedom Haters. But I’m sure she’d let me take that mantle next. There it is people: Schadenfreude.

Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I want is for ordinary folks to lose their jobs. On top of all of the reversals I’d suffered this year, on July 28, I, too, got the news that my money was indeed on the dresser and that I shouldn’t let the door hit me on the way out of the not-for-profit at which I’d dutifully toiled for years. However, under penalty of violating a draconian severance agreement I’d signed, that’s all I can say about that.

So, I feel for the rank-and-file subsumed in the 2% at Simon and Schuster and the 10% at Thomas Nelson Publishers who are going to be eating tuna fish for Christmas. I’m not alone. Check out Editorial Ass’s blog here. The ones I do hold the utmost contempt for are the fat cat CEOs and editors who oversee an industry that even industry insiders, as we share secret phone calls and stalls in the ladies room at BEA, tell me is broken beyond repair. Those are the folks who set up royalty statements meant to obfuscate (I have a PhD, and I still need my former agent to decipher mine). Those are the folks who create something calls “summer hours” so that you can’t get your editor on the phone on a Friday afternoon between May and August. They are the architects of one-sided contracts where they’re held accountable for nothing and you, for everything. They are the ones who don’t give you the tools to market your books but hold what they perceive as lackluster sales against you. Those are the folks who have got to go.

Yes, I’m getting a lot off my chest. It’s what I’d been holding back for years so that people wouldn’t perceive me as – egad! – “difficult.” I’m not taking this baggage into another year. And hey, if this catharsis prevents me from getting another mainstream book deal, that’s fine too. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with the last one. I feel that it’s my responsibility to speak truth to power – if that’s what you can call the aforementioned with a straight face. Because if the publishing industry, in this shakeup, doesn’t cleanse itself of dead weight and outmoded nonsensical practices? It truly will be same shit, different day…

No comments: