Is Publishing Perishing?

October 26, 2013 at 5:59 am (books, jasna) (, , , , , )

Leafing thru “drafts”, I found this interesting entry, evidently written in September 2011. It deserves to see the light of day. Take “last evening” and “last winter” with a grain of salt, though!


kemblesLast evening, as a reference for my paper on Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (to be given at JASNA’s AGM in Fort Worth this October), I was on the look-out for a book I knew I had — but wasn’t sure among which “topics” I had put it. It is a 2001 biography of sisters Fanny and Adelaide Kemble (Adelaide was an opera singer; Fanny followed in family footsteps by acting). Thanks to my also owning Fanny Kemble’s memoir about her time in the US on a southern plantation, the book was on the bottom shelf, with other “American” biographies. It took a while to find, because I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t with other MUSIC books?!

But the search was a blessing in disguise. I don’t have a lot, lot, lot of books (though my mother would claim otherwise!), but there are a good handful of shelving units, in a couple rooms, plus those currently being perused and therefore in a pile in the bedroom, the living room. Plus some library books stacked on the fireplace mantel.

But I get off the subject…., which is not collecting books per se, but reminding myself about a few books I knew I wanted at one time — but didn’t quite recall picking up (usually used books, sometimes in shops, sometimes online). A for instance, in a frenzy to read more about the Spencers (Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was born a Spencer) I got books of letters, biography, and recall The House (about Chatsworth; nice photos and some interesting manuscript extracts) being taken out of the library. But when did I purchase the book? from where? It’s on the shelf….

Another book, No Voice from the Hall, I plucked off the shelf to see if there might be ANYTHING about Erle Stoke Park (Wilts). No; but instead I did come across mentions — and a photo! — of Richings Park (also spelled: Ritchings). This was the Buckinghamshire estate of John Sullivan — father to dear Georgiana Vere Gosling.

Obviously, I *adore* books – travel, history, biography, letters, diaries are among my top choices. On the second-hand market I look for dust jackets almost always; I keep them in pristine condition; and, yes, have a bit of a system for storing them; and, yes, need more bookshelf space!

 No, not my home library! Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, Vermont

And, finally, to the crux of my post: As a book-lover, I’ve only ever thought of a world filled with books. There on the shelf; read them any time; add to them; leaf-thru-them. In the end, though, they were always there. Until lately.

Now, I would be the first to admit that I LOVE digitized books. How else can you find some totally obscure book that only two libraries in the world have, and there it is online! (I am less enthralled with missing pages or bad scans; not super-crazy about plain text books either, although I used to provide typescripts for A Celebration of Women Writers).

But, as someone who has given up a lot and gone into debt while researching this project, I find myself asking: Can money be made in publishing? My problem is, with a full-time job I have little time to write or research, but am years away from producing anything substantial — and even then (1) will I find a publisher and/or agent, (2) will it sell, (3) will I make enough to clear the debts incurred?

Last winter at Monroe Street Books, I picked up a copy of a biography of Elizabeth von Arnim (The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden are two of her best known publications). She could get a book through press to public in a matter of months. Doesn’t happen that way any more.

I wish readers would share their thoughts about the dissemination of research – and making ends meet.

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