Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Glamour and glitz

When I was a little girl reading movie magazines about beautiful people, I read about some who flew their lunch from Paris to Hollywood or even, gulp, flew to have lunch in Paris. Us mere mortals would plan months in advance, belaboring every detail, knowing it would be years before we could think of embarking on another trip.

How glamorous to hop over and hop right back.

Last weekend I got to be one of the beautiful hoppers. DD had two auditions in New York City, and the two of us hopped across the continent, stayed at a nice midtown hotel, walked about town a bit after her auditions, and hopped right back. Such zip-zapping may be part of any business person’s life these days, but it was never part of mine.

Passing some of the addresses I know so well from queries and submissions, I saw glorious marble-hall buildings, dapper doormen, and gold-embossed publishing houses names. I was happy that these well-known publishers got to inhabit palace-like quarters. Good for them.

Or is it? It occurred to me that the same houses have cut staff, closed their doors to unagented submissions, and have taken fewer risks when choosing new titles for their lists. They seem to take the bottom line seriously. But having their headquarters right in the middle of the most expensive real estate on the planet, were they cutting the right corners?

I’m not a publisher. But I did once work at a high-end business, where the right address mattered greatly. However, publishing houses are wholesalers, not retailers. Does a Fifth Avenue address really make for a better business?

I’m only asking questions, not giving answers. I wish someone who really knows would chime in. I wish ‘The Big Six’ would not layoff editors and first-readers, so they could keep their door open, if only a crack, to the unknown writers offering something different. I wonder if saving on rent wouldn’t make business sense.

Back to reality, I’m folding laundry again, and dreaming up my next story. Once typed-up, it may make its way in a white envelope across the country and into the middle of a fine pile in one of these Upper East Side Avenues. There it will sit a while, marveling at the beauty of the plush carpeting, before being turned around in my SASE, or being shredded.

At least our stories get to glimpse the glitz and glamour. I’m still thinking about how much of this is real, and of what value. In some ways I’m as baffled as I was when I read the movie magazines all these years ago.


  1. I just finished reading two books about the golden days of publishing, written about two famous editors, Korda and Max Perkins. It's fascinating to compare publishing back then to now. So many changes! Back then NYC and London were the publishing centers, and authors came to the offices to meet their editors, or editors traveled to meet their authors. Now it's all done through email, and a publisher doesn't need the high end real estate. But since they already have it, if they dismantled, sold out, moved everything to Jersey or Wyoming, what would that say about how business is going? So I guess they have to keep the image up or it would look like failure.

  2. Great point^, Karen.
    Seems to that if the business sense is solid, changes will be embraced.

  3. I read an interesting post from an agent a while back... wish I could remember who! Someone had asked if she was reputable being based outside NYC, and she pointed out that she was saving a ton in real estate costs and with modern technology it didn't make any difference. But I wonder how a NY agent, or even better an editor, would respond to that.

    I def agree with Karen's point about NY and keeping the real estate they have, but what she stays still holds true in London. My friends always travel to London to meet with their agents and editors, sometimes they tour the publishing houses if there is interest in their book from multiple sources. But then again, the UK is a much smaller country, and that's pretty feasible for large chunks of the population. And there are a few houses (Chicken House and Barefoot Books, for example) who have chosen not to set up shop in London.

  4. Things are changing fast ... maybe the right address no longer matters anymore. Sometimes it is the lean times that gives rise to a new paradigm. I am of course, perennially optimistic about everything.

    So fun that you got to be the jet-setter kind. I've never been, and actually prefer doing laundry over the glitz and glamour of the big city.


  5. I wish editors weren't being laid off, too. I don't know what the answer is. NYC is definitely an amazing city and I think most people who work there like being there. Are rents too high? Is that what's causing the lay offs? That I don't know. It's a good question though.

  6. Hopping around like that does sound glamorous when we read about it, but I'm with Vijaya; give me laundry and grocery shopping any day.

    I am glad you and your daughter got to share the experience together and I hope her auditions went well.

  7. Interesting ponderings, Mirka. I probably would respect the publishers more if they followed your paradigm, but then I've never been one for spending money on the glitz and high class image. But maybe that high class image is somehow important to success in the world they live and work in. I'm just glad that's not my world.

    Awesome photo, btw.

  8. I think that's a life that sounds more glamorous than it is in reality -- the world-traveling lifestyle, that is. Yes in small doses. Exhausting in large.

  9. I do agree with Karen about the message it would send if publishers abandoned those buildings (which would then have to be occupied by somebody, which would probably also affect us somehow). Perception is everything, and our economy runs on the public's degree of nervousness.

    My favorite days are days I don't have to leave the house. While I wouldn't pass up a short jaunt to NYC, London, Paris, etc. (I've never been, and probably never will), I know I'd implode if I ever tried it as a lifestyle.

  10. hmmmmm . . . .interesting. That's a good thought. I'm curious to hear what others have to say.

  11. I like your last line..."Our stories get to glimpse the glitz and glamor." Interesting ideas! Maybe a NY editor should read your blog post!

  12. Hello Mirka, I think it'd make sense to a lot of people if they'd cut on their rent so there could be more editors or first-readers. But branding and marketing are such huge parts of the big publishing houses, it'll probably take someone with a lot of swashbuckling guts to suggest putting more budget in the editorial department. (Which is why I like the indies like Dave Eggers's McSweeney ... I could picture them working in a smaller office with tighter budgets. But look at the quality of their works!)

  13. What a great post. Very thought-provoking.

    "Passing some of the addresses I know so well from queries and submissions..." I loved this line. I would love to go the NYC and pass by those houses, those majestic and tantalizing houses that I so aspire to enter. :)

  14. Thank you for sharing! its cool..;)