January 30, 2012

Rex Pickett predicts the end of publishing based on the frustrating stuff that happened to him


Rex Pickett quits writing books

“I predict,” writes novelist Rex Pickett (Sideways), “in less than 10 years time, the traditional publishing industry, now moribund and flailing like a bird on broken wings, will be dead, or will morph into something almost totally unrecognizable from what it was for a century.”

Prognostications about the death of publishing, the death of print, and the end of the “author” have become commonplace these days, as have the periodic “the death of books is greatly exaggerated” rebuttal pieces. The sheer volume of numbers, trends, and contradictory claims made by the industry analyst soothsayers forms into a cacophonous static. An agnostic at heart, when I tune into the publishing industry channel, I hear only the fuzzed report: “Things…. are… changing…. how and how much… unclear…”

But agnosticism has never made a good headline. And when the flux of data provides no clear picture of the future, we turn eagerly to that truth-trumping genre: the anecdote. Garrison Keillor learns about self-publishing, Amanda Hocking makes some money in self-publishing, and the jig is up: books are busto.

Which brings us to novelist Rex Pickett, who has launched a multi-part article at The Huffington Post that prophecies that “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” in the publishing industry. The rise of the internet combined with the “nearsightedness” and “stupidity” of the publishing industry has led Pickett to write:

I have lived, in my humble opinion, the last dying decade of the traditional publishing world, transited to self-imprint, and have landed squarely on the mantra: I will never write another book again as long as I live.

What’s the basis of Pickett’s doomsday certainty? It’s based on a single personal anecdote: his unhappy dealings with the publishing industry over the publication of Sideways, all which he promises to recount in full. “My dealings with St. Martin’s Press on Sideways will constitute the first part…. Then, it’ll be on to my even more wretched, and soul-destroying, experience, with the ostensibly venerable Knopf.”

Last week, Pickett posted an extended account of his novel’s long, painful rejection process. The story doesn’t contain anything that shouldn’t be familiar: it’s very difficult to publish literary novels about wine-tasting, and when you’re an aspiring first-time novelist you don’t always get treated very well by Hollywood or the publishing industry. It’s interesting, pathetic, and perhaps even educational to read Pickett’s bitter account… but it seems incredibly doubtful that the chip on his shoulder regarding St. Martin’s and Knopf will EVER say anything meaningful about the nature, future, and potential death of the publishing industry.

That said… I’m eager to read future installments of Pickett’s hard luck story. Hell, we all enjoy a good anecdote.