The publisher in the attic

Just a short post, today — something that should have gone into the discussion on the Max Perkins thread about book publishing’s past and future. Unfortunately, no one addressed the burning question of what writers can or should do until the successors to old-fashioned publishing are well established.

Last year, however, under a screen name too seldom seen nowadays on the Guardian’s books blog or anywhere else, a deep thinker shared some of his startlingly practical and innovative conclusions on this subject with us. His mention of getting ‘above the line’ refers to paid — as opposed to honest yeomen – bloggers on that site, some of whom have also managed to get book contracts.


Comment No. 542652
June 5 [2007] 10:56

. . . [M] ten volume fantasy cycle ‘The Swordmaiden of Kistovar’ has yet to be accepted by Faber and Faber.

Just a matter of persistence though. And circumventing the restraining order.

Although that puts me in mind of a way of getting above the line here – a series of articles entitled ‘Stalking a Book Deal – using the techniques of Amateur Surveillance to get published.’ Along the lines of …

When building a small hide in a publisher’s back garden you need to consider-

. camouflage
. view of the house
. comfort (you may be there for some time)
. how easily and quickly you can leave the hide clutching a copy of your manuscript and with a hopeful expression.

– next week: “The Angry Publisher in the Attic – securing a captive audience for a reading and making sure the publisher does not renege on their promises concerning your book when they they are no longer your guest.”

[Offensive? Unsuitable? Report this comment.]

Readers of this blog will, I hope, agree that while yesterday’s newspapers aren’t much good for more than wrapping fish-and-chips, blog archives can be repositories of quite astonishing originality.


Filed under Book publishing

37 responses to “The publisher in the attic

  1. BaronCharlus

    It’s the future.

    Shame it’s not the same the other way around. Reminds me of a story…

    A writer is sitting in a café, reading a play, when a friend spots him and comes running in.
    “Thank God I’ve found you,” cries the friend. “Have you heard the news?” The writer shakes his head. The friend, white-faced, begins:

    “Whilst you’ve been out your agent came to your house, smashed in the door with a ball-peen hammer, shot your dog and cat, emptied out the goldfish, kidnapped your children and seduced your wife a different way in every room.”

    The writer sits shaking with disbelief but finally manages to speak:

    “My agent came to my house?”

  2. wordnerd7

    A perfect answer! . . . which I’ve just seen. Now if only the person you were really addressing would reappear . . .

  3. BaronCharlus

    One reason I love writing is that nothing is ever lost. The work remains, ready for more auspicious days. In the meantime, if one can maintain a happy life in other spheres, I think the strategy (and here I quite agree with Des) is to keep working, honing and attempting to improve in all areas: launguage, wide reading, structure and (whisper it) publishability.

    That’s my cover story. Now off to buy a balaclava.

  4. wordnerd7

    === The work remains, ready for more auspicious days. ===

    Quite right, @BaronC . . . and develops. I thought @alarming’s Compost Mentis ( ) a masterly representation of the inside of my own head, . . . so could this really be CM II? . . .

    === The next show is a large human head ( 2 metres high ) inside a large garden shed – the forehead has been cut away so that you can see what the head is thinking. ===

  5. Got it in one wordnerd and often you only realise the connections after you have developed the initial ideas. A lot of our work is often triggered by ideas, disatisfactions or wouldn’t it be nice if……. i relation to the last show ( nothing especially new in that I think ).

    The new show actually comes from a large sequence of drawings I did about 20 years ago so it’s also likely that the Compost show in part was triggered from those drawings hanging around in the imagination.

    Following on from Des and Baron. For me it’s always vital to give a physical form to an idea ( in my case drawing it ). Even if it’s crap. If you let these ideas hang around in your brain they tend to fester and become really crap. Once it’s on paper you can move on to something better.

    Well in theory!

  6. wordnerd7

    @alarming, sorry for this slug-post reply . . . Apart from the usual reasons, . . . I’ve noticed that visitors tend to navigate through the blog via Recent Comments, and I don’t want them stuck with just mine, which is what happens when I write too many responses. I’m sure there’s a way to expand the post list in that section but haven’t had a chance to look into how it’s done.

    I found this surprising – why do you think the ideas deteriorate rather than improve, there? Is it because they become overly complicated – something I think happens to mine under the same conditions:

    === If you let these ideas hang around in your brain they tend to fester and become really crap. Once it’s on paper you can move on to something better. ===

    . . . I agree about being freed to move on . . . would also have said paper, once, but now find that these screens can work the same way. Part of the reason, I suspect, why I’m enjoying blogging – so far.

    Couldn’t help noticing that a certain silken beast was honoured with its very own small but charming tribute in verse at the other place. . . : )

  7. Wordnerd I think ideas deteriorate because if you’re involved in creating something in a particular medium the ideas need to be put in that form and once they have a physical presence – be it drawing, theatre, fiction or music etc.etc. they can be manipulated to develop their theatricality, musicality, ficytionali….err whatever the word is etc. etc.

    I’m assuming creative work is a collision between an original idea and the demands, limitations, advantages, special qualities of the medium you use to express it.

    All by way of saying that I feel an idea doesn’t develop if you keep it in your head. It stays limited by the way you think whereas putting it in a 3-D /2-D/virtual form can really set it free.

    I realise it sounds a bit Stig of the Dump or Tonto to express it this way but it’s the only way I can think of.

    Didn’t catch the pig mention first time round as was too busy arguing about what art is – and in doing so realising that I’m teetering on the Tyrannosaurus Alan approach to ultra-dry art manifestos.

    So thanks to the Baron for including it though I’ve no idea if it made sense to the other posters on the thread.

  8. BaronCharlus


    ‘I’ve no idea if it made sense to the other posters on the thread.’

    I quite liked the idea that it didn’t make any sense and I’d just conjured a random, unnecessarily cruel method of punishment.

    I like to leave ideas to percolate in my head. They get forgotten, then remebered in new ways and in relation to new things. Once something’s written down it either begins or dies, for me. Several things I’ve written were drawn from ideas I’d forgotten reappearing, merging with others, creating something new. It’s not a very scientific approach, i suppose. Like releasing rare newts into a marsh and hoping they’ll breed.

  9. wordnerd7


    === once they have a physical presence – be it drawing, theatre, fiction or music etc.etc. they can be manipulated to develop their theatricality, musicality, ficytionali….err whatever the word is etc. etc. ===

    I do see that this is both true and extremely important. . . but of course there’s also the disappointment of the degree to which the thing you set down or shape with your hands falls short of what’s in your mind’s eye. Still, . . . the speed at which things move in this medium, and can be changed back and forth, have been extremely helpful to a chronic perfectionist-procrastinator. . . .

    Eg, the photograph in the header is something I might have spent days fretting over in another part of my life. I wasn’t thinking of the header at all when I started laying out the site and suddenly had a WPress prompt asking me to upload a picture . . . to which I said, damn, I don’t have one; I have no idea which one it should be, etc. . . . Rapid scramble through such images as I’d scanned into this machine months ago — . . . and in less than five minutes, my first choice was up, cropped by the WP software. . . Done; next job, etc., . . .

    Perfectionism would once have made me weep tears of blood over the acacciatura instead of acciaccature error, and its being irreversible in the URL for the site . . . But something about the nearly two years of commenting, chugging through my embarrassing mistakes and seeing others do the same meant that I just shrugged and carried on . . .

    === All by way of saying that I feel an idea doesn’t develop if you keep it in your head. It stays limited by the way you think whereas putting it in a 3-D /2-D/virtual form can really set it free. ===

    You really are extra-good on this subject. . . And no, not dry at all. I followed your argument where BaronC’s pig poem appearead — you weren’t remotely dry or dull . . . as I hope to show you in a day or two.

    Just one more question about the installations. Have you ever done one in France?

  10. Baron I actually quite like the way ideas in their initial form can be so disappointing when they appear in real life ( not always of course!) I find it a terrific spur to improve them or make them remotely practical. In a collaborative process of course once they are out there other people can see them and improve them.

    The grasshopper/locust in the Compost show being an example. I wanted it to destroy the allotment patch as an example of how malevolent nature can be. Because it’s a puppet there’s always a tension between the fictional world the puppet is in and what the people who operate the puppets need to do to create that fictional world. If you do it properly the audience are always double-taking and switching their focus between the fiction and what the puppeteers are up to- they must always play second fiddle. If you saw the huge mechanical elephant and the giant girl in London a few years back you will have seen a masterful demonstration of that in action.

    We struggled with how the puppet could lay waste to the garden, my original ideas were a bit naff, until one of the puppeteeers suggested he could be the “mouth” of the locust. So the locust approaches a small lettuce the puppeteer grabs it and rips it to shreds, he stuffs a red pepper in his mouth and chomps through it spitting it out when the locust attacks an iceberg lettuce so it’s as if the lettuce is bleeding as he savages it. If you play it extremely dead-pan it can be very funny.

    You had to be there!!!!!

    Wordnerd we used to work in France at the many and various street theatre festivals they have there- these festivals are repositories for some lovely work – but about 5 years ago we got a French agent ( quite necessary for some reason ) and the 3 or 4 trips a year dried up and now we don’t do any work there. The French promoters can be a bit up themselves so we’ve stopped bothering and will wait for them to notice. Spain discovered us this year so we’ve still got a lot of possibilities for next year.

  11. BaronCharlus


    I thought the grashopper in the film was wonderful, the lettuce being savaged.

    I have worked in theatre as a co-director and, you’re right, in collaboration ideas can be picked up and transformed in exciting, vital ways. I do miss that dialogue sometimes.

    I remember the elephant; it was extraordinary. Your talk of puppets reminded me of an artist I saw in Amsterdam a few weeks back. A friend of mine is working with her. Her show was dark, creepy and – at moments – magical. It isn’t live art but you might be interested:

  12. seanmurray

    Ah, good old liberaldogooder. Redefined the art of blogging, that bloke, MrPikeBishop minus the proto-fascist shite. Where’s he gone to? Did anybody ever find out his real name?

  13. 3p4

    pike bishop is frank fisher,,he has a background @

  14. wordnerd7

    @BaronC, thank you for the link, I looked at Ulrike’s site but couldn’t get to any page with pictures or detailed information. Is this my (software’s) fault or her web designer’s?

    @Sean and @3p4, about Frank Fisher, . . . he does have a very recent post that relates to discussions here:

    === androoster

    09 Dec 08, 1:40pm

    I can understand why an image of a naked girl has been banned – what I can’t understand is why half of my posts on this very website are deleted by the moderator. They don’t even contain offensive language, just opinions that the CiF moderator doesn’t agree with. This is far more sinister than banning child pornography. ===

    As for @ldg . . . sad indeed that the screen name’s gone missing for so long. SMD, I stumbled on his Publisher in the Attic post in looking for examples of bloggers you’ve encouraged . . . so, no surprise to read what you said here. . . : )

  15. seanmurray

    The Guardian has indeed lost the plot if they’re deleting Pikey’s posts. Back in early ’06 he did more than anyone to help establish CiF, without which there would have been no booksblog. One of maybe half a dozen bloggers this decade whose posts have brushed genius (ldg was another).

  16. Brushed genius is putting it rather too strongly. His politics are appalling. But he one his spurs as the Godfather of CiF and if you get him, @seanmurray (and agree with him) then good for you.

  17. 3p4

    mpb likes to be a bovver boy,,he dont get too upset about deletions,,lots of blue badges get deleted,,
    who is ldg ?

  18. He *won* his spurs…

    Is it aphasia or the other thing?

  19. 3p4

    Brushed genius is putting it rather too strongly.

    i decided not to say that bit,,but i certainly thought it,,

  20. seanmurray

    See my reference above to Pikey’s proto-fascist shite. I’ll stick by what I said, though. Spring ’06 he was posting incredible stuff. Think maybe he became a little too self-conscious and hammy thereafter. His commissioned pieces for GU have been disappointing.

    ldg was a guy who used to post on the bookblog as liberaldogooder. I remember this thread fondly (much better when you could read the whole thing in one go (it was also one of Des and Suzan’s first flirtations)):

  21. 3p4

    thanks for the link sean..that was an amazing thread,,the little exchange with ComMod(de)
    was a delight,, i read the com mods archive recently and was very impressed with the -persona-
    imbeded there,,

  22. @ Sean:thing in one go (it was also one of Des and Suzan’s first flirtations)):

    How could you, Sean? It’s so not true.
    About ldg. (sheffield)
    I’d say he’ll come back. Once he did go away for a long while and then suddenly returned. He’ll be back. fmk does the same thing.
    It was the Com.Mod who shut that thread down suddenly, Sean. He didn’t like Des and was responsible for having him booted out.

  23. How could you Sean, infer Ms Abrams and I flirted. This is dangerously close to transgression talk, crossing the line of public and into the private sphere Suzan and share as commtted gender neutrals. I am appalled at this wholly innaccurate contexulising of Suzan and I as friends who flirted. No ! no no no. never did we do anything other than fall into being close personal friends via the act of litearcy.


    DS, Dent, Surely Dent – battle axe secratariat nutter squadz, fab-stazi.

    Suzan my dearest fwendly mooer, please accept my most cordial hugs, from a freind who is

    sedentary surely, surley dent BA Ideas Fack tory of tatts and lessers blowin in slacks, weighted over in black nylon, at the podium, beyond appallingly gawds and one pound a Euro, one a Euro.

    Hey Sean, did you make that vid wordy linked to?

    If you did, spot on. i apologise for being a tit last year at lit lovers. it all got too much when the spambots appeared and my paranoia had it down as Wordy practicing black ops, until the gag revealed i was a tit.


    Ds. board is on da Same Fitz Gerald deasmhuman
    a euro south Munster on the moany.

  24. wordnerd7

    Ahhh @Suzan, . . . your real-life Des appears to be exactly the mesmerising, larger-than-life personality I’d expect to meet – if not quite the persecuted transgendered bisexual hospital worker he described when his first books blog posts bloomed on my screen. ; ) ; ) : ) . . . !!! . . . I’m so glad that you’re getting the better of your jet lag.

    … @Des, black ops . . . ooh that _evil_ googlebotnerd! . . . or was it really Schopenhauer?

  25. wordnerd7

    @3p4, . . . now that you’ve mentioned your work, if you ever to link to a site related to it from here, I’m sure you’ll get many a keen click from the rest of us. . . Most visual artists unlike, say, writers – don’t appear to cater to specialised tastes. So, few explanations are needed, or none – which is why those horrific ‘artist’s statement’ notes or lectures always electrocute my hair.

    Seeing what @alarming and his partner do with WRAS (sorry I kept calling it WRAG, ET) was the best sort of surprise. I’d read many an enlightening post of his about aesthetic philosophy but had no idea that he could sing in registers so far from all that — for his installation projects.

    On the trust question, I’ve been wondering for some time whether this might, on text-only sites like these blogs – as opposed to Facebook and the like – be _easier_ to gauge in the ether than on terra firma. I mean, over time, and many, many blog posts. . . I don’t know why you think it’s easy to gauge character and veracity in person. I’d say that more distractions could – arguably — interfere with reading our fellow-humans. . . . Think also of all those stories of people who’ve shared a bed with another for decades and then found out about a secret life of staggering dimensions.

    I was hoping that someone else would spar with you about mirror neurons. I would, except that I don’t have time to trade massive citations, etc.. blame the usual December derailments. . . (sighs, not _altogether_ unhappily : )

  26. wordnerd7

    @Sean, . . . catching up after some hours away from the blog . . THANK YOU for linking to that mind-boggling ensemble act (you, @ldg, @Unpub uncharacteristically _wicked_ (where is he now?) . . . and yes @Suzan and @OY flirting brazenly, I do agree . . . no I mean just him, of course 😉 . . . I was so busy fighting on a Rushdie thread in that week that I couldn’t even read all your brilly posts at the time . . .

    . . . It’s hard to understand this @MrPB that you and @ISA and @3p4 describe – and impossible to convey _all_ the versions of ldg invented for our mystification, unless I thought readers had the patience for a small book on the subject. . . We all become the sum of our posts over time, and when that’s a long stretch, in net terms . . . how to explain to a newbie – even with a whole thread like that one you’ve dug up?

    You’re spot-on about the GU mods going over the edge. In my last few weeks there, I began to develop an instinct for their misplaced bloodthirstiness and saved a few of the most obviously provocative comments from probable extinction. This one of @Sameer’s on Poem of the Week I hoarded for its own sake – thinking that only a brain with a sense of humour extracted by keyhole surgery and barbecued to a cinder could zap it – only that _was_ its actual fate:

    === Nov 02 08, 7:47am


    Congratulations, friend, brother, your poem has emotional depth, elegance and beauty rarely seen hereabouts.
    Thanks also for saying what so many of us have thought silently about this hypocrisy:

    “And the standard of criticism many anonymous people posting here is fairly rigorous when responding to the people who write poetry who have it appear on potw, but here on this thread, the level of critical engagement is far less equitable, barely rising above *lovely, fantastic*, so why the disparity?
    If you can’t take it, do not dish it out. It is hypocritical in the extreme to claim your standards cannot be applied by others to your own work if they find it dull and defective, as I do here.”

    What waswās, delusion, causes these poor souls to deem their efforts poetry? Do not their contributions remind you rather more of the kind of al-wāhfidah, epidemic illness, that encompasses many people in one land at one time? The worst contributions bring to mind the al-māwtan, plague, and the least horrible the wabā, the pestilential disturbance and contamination of the environment. ===

    . . . I suppose I should really be putting it in a sinister-mod display case in Salvage Operation.

  27. Hi Wordy,

    I suspect Unpub.Writer whom I do miss terribly – his/her moanings and all – could have actually published something and changed the name? Because I think this poster once did challenge another poster with some hostility that such a measure was possible.
    He/she had said at the time after being egged by someone, “How do you know I haven’t published something already, how do you know I’m not posing as someone else etc…” Oh, but I do miss the early months when there were good thinking blogs, like villians in characters and so forth and where posters contributed with some length to a thought. There wasn’t as much pr book promotion in the early/mid part of 2007.
    P.S: You do know of course, that Zonky is now The Bearded Lady?


  28. 3p4

    about mirror neurons. I would, except that I don’t have time to trade massive citations,



    speak the truth
    try to help
    dont be greedy




    be an animal
    be your own breed
    recognize other breeds
    see history
    treat children as equals
    walk the walk

    end of story world saved everyone enlightened subject closed,,ps added bonus free “telepathy”
    first 8billion customers get additional “concept of god”,,(some assembly required,,batteries not included)
    merry christmas,,hope you like the collage

  29. 3p4


    mirror neuron
    cognative dissonance

  30. wordnerd7

    @3p4 . . . J’accuse! You brazen colonising cerebral imperialist, you . . . What better guarantee of devouring other people’s clock cycles (as computerist friends were once prone to say) than by posting as cryptically as possible??!??! : )

    At your family’s feast in a few days, you have been charged with providing the pudding. So you are busy combing through recipe books and making lists of ingredients . . . How’s that for the most prosaic possible reading of what you said? . . .

    Yes I could see that even you didn’t have time for a serious mirror neurons ambush — even if you do have Mauricio to help. . . Which reminds me, when are we to have the pleasure of meeting the sorcerer’s apprentice?

  31. seanmurray

    Good afternoon, all.

    3p4: might I recommend you google liberaldogooder, indulge in your favourite stimulant and give yourself one almighty chuckle. His daily posts were like the Far Side (but funnier).

    SA and Des: Are you two just buddies, then? I’d certainly been assuming plenty of… action. And Des, no worries about my litlovers ban. For the hundredth time: when will we see a short story in the OY voice?

    wordy: a nice idea, your deleted posts section. Might be worthwhile posting links to it on CiF as well, where the modding seems to be even more OTT.

    I actually liked Paul Cockburn the mod who contributed to the thread linked to above. Des was a ‘genius’, he told me, and he seemd under pressure from GU highheidyins to be more fussy. He’s completely disappeared from the site, as far as I can tell, and I’ve wondered if his ultra-fussy replacement is simply ensuring they don’t get the boot. GU’s big mistake, I think, has been the lack of communication re these changes in policy. But let’s face it, there was always a sense during the good times of ‘This can’t last,’ no?

  32. 3p4

    I actually liked Paul Cockburn the mod who contributed to the thread linked to above. Des was a ‘genius’, he told me, and he seemd under pressure from GU highheidyins to be more fussy.

    thanks for that sean,,invaluable post for me,,absolute treasure,,

    wn7,,yumm yumm,,brandy butter ?

  33. wordnerd7

    Yes I liked Paul Cockburn immensely, and have thought for some time that @Des misunderstood and misclassified him with black ops specialists. I suggested to PC that he start a separate child-focused site on GU — as he’s a writer of children’s books and parent, and because the articles on kiddie lit were always starved of comments.

    So you’re an Agony Auntie now @Seanest, from your new perch in the NY public library? And can advise on matters of both body and soul? . . . 🙂 . . . ahem.

    Please see what I’ve just said on the last line of a post to @BaronC in Salvage Operation . . . am glad that you approve of the idea.

  34. wordnerd7

    @3p4 . . . I agree, yum indeed . . . So is the menu roast ham slathered in jam, with buttered toast on the side, followed by plum pudding?

    Btw, whither Mau? . . . Well, I can see why he might not want to come. He could hardly disagree with el jefe in public, could he? — and how much fun would it be if you two always posted on the same side of an argument?

  35. 3p4

    and how much fun would it be if you two always posted on the same side of an argument””””

    ha ha,,i actually only included the breed reference to provoke him but he may have read it and run away,,he is also about three hours short of a day
    every day and doesnt have time,,

    could hardly disagree with el jefe

    that would be el brujo to you dude

    seriously,,i realise i write pretty badly for serious academic insights,i hope mau to provide the “moral support” to keep my words concise and direct,,if there is a listener with experience it
    may corroborate without need for demonstration words that might seem arrogant opinionated or plain barmy,,mostly (entirely) anything anywhere
    near to “mirror neurons” needs the listener to respond with “i will try to see” and as soon as you say “prove it’ or “show me” the wheels come off,,

    the sound of one hand clapping ,,do you get it or do you prove it ? i find this koan to be a very useful tool,,once you get a good handle on it of course

    the whole internet thing is geared towards “yeah but” ,,”on the other hand” ,, most times someone says “yeah yeah yeah” its directed to backing up some other “no no no”,,

    coffee ? cigar ?

  36. BaronCharlus

    Thought some of you might be interested in Robert McRum’s recent comment to @stoneofsilence on the possible effects of the credit crunch on publishing. Food for thought or more denial of fiction’s online future?

    ‘My (optimistic) belief is that once the publishers have stopped freaking out about the credit crunch, the new disciplines they will have to adopt in leaner times will actually weed out the crap (ghosted celebrity books etc) and put a premium on good new writing by unknowns which is, by definition, much less expensive to acquire and publish. We’ll see. It may not work out well, but I’m, convinced that good books by all kinds of writers from across the world will somehow flourish even in tough times.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s