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Thoughts and Hallucinations

The rant about publishing

In a recent piece in the New York Times, there’s a feature about how more published authors are now publishing their books themselves. It’s at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/business/media/david-mamet-and-other-big-authors-choose-to-self-publish.html?emc=eta1. It wasn’t that long ago that “self-publishing” aka “vanity press” was accompanied by the same facial expression and tone of voice as the nuns used to use when they said “self abuse” at St. Michael’s. And back in 2005 when I self-published Dope Double Agent with Lulu Press, well, neither the process nor the product was all that great, to tell you the truth. It served its purpose though. Exhausted by decades in the U.S. substance abuse field, I only wrote the book because I felt I should, just in case the stories of work in the emotionally and politically charged failure of the “war on drugs” policy might be of use to younger people coming into the field. I had neither the passion nor the optimism to get me through dealing with the world of academic publishing and I didn’t care if anyone bought it or not.

The Lively Science, it’s different. I wanted to do it “my way,” as Frank sang a long time ago. I care about this book, want people to read it--it’s written for a general audience--and decided in my old age that I needed to take control of the product and market it beyond the display table at a few academic conferences. It takes the old argument that human social science is a different kind of science seriously, revisits the historical roots of that argument, then uses new intellectual tools to show how it works, and how it works differently when the real worlds of people are both the starting and end point of the science. The first chapter is on the left hand side. The book web page, www.thelivelyscience.com, is not live as I write this, but it will be shortly.

Why am I doing this myself, with the help of Mill City, you ask? I’ve worked with some fine editors, mostly academic, one trade nonfiction. Good as the editors were, none of the publishers were worth a damn as far as marketing and distribution went. There were a few horror stories, minor and major. My book about independent truckers was the most dramatic. The backstory: A major university press first grabbed the book and we started working together, this in the early 80s when academic presses were desperate for books that might sell more than a few hundred copies. Then their academic board decided the book wasn’t academic enough--story of my life. We sat on opposite sides of the table with a little contract problem when an old friend, no longer with us I’m sorry to say, became editor at Smithsonian Press and wanted it. We had a great time producing it. For the hell of it he sent it to Studs Terkel for a blurb, and Studs gave us a great one. But then I hand carried a few copies to local D.C. bookstores and they told me to forget it, since the press wouldn’t give them the standard “long discount” they need to make a profit. After a few years the press stopped printing it anyway. I’m not whining. I’m just saying this kind of thing is ridiculous.

With the Lively Science I tried a few publishers, the difference now being that the entire publishing business resembles a small town right after a massive natural disaster thanks to the Internet, Amazon, Google, ebooks etc. Responses ranged from acute interest followed by chronic neglect to clear signs of micromanagement. Why, I started thinking, do I need them? True enough, “Oxford” or “Princeton” university presses remain emblems of good breeding, whether deserved or not, like if I tell people I’m an “emeritus professor” rather than “self employed.” And true enough, in the movie business, everyone shudders when the actor decides he or she now has to direct their own film.

But I looked around, read the reviews, checked the media, and decided on Mill City Press. They’re higher priced than some, but then again they didn’t say a word when I set the book price at an affordable level. I just finished the final proof and it looks great. The services have been spectacular and the various staff who take charge of different parts of the process have been both creative and responsive. We’ll see how this goes once The Lively Science hits the streets, but if it flops at least I’ll know who to blame. Moi. Or maybe the readers.

Available soon on a website near you. Suitable for birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, confirmations ...
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