Archives For Publishing

Publishing Troubles

June 23, 2015 — 7 Comments

chaucerDespite C.S. Lewis’ vast experience as an author, even he was abused by publishers to the point where he could simply echo Chaucer in saying, “Flee from the Press!”

Print on demand technology has delivered a stout, but not debilitating, blow to traditional publishers. They still possess a significant amount of influence.

And—like all power—that which is wielded by publishers can be used for either good or evil.

We can thank many different publishers for making the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their fellow Inklings available to us. We would be wrong, however, to assume these relationships were without their stresses.

John H. McCallum was an American editor with whom Lewis worked. McCallum worked at Harcourt, Brace & World.

A piece of correspondence from 1960 reveals how complex the publishing world remained even to a veteran such as Lewis.

McCallum had sought permission to publish Lewis’ latest work, and the Cambridge professor had sought to accommodate that request. Unfortunately, he had negotiated a contract that restricted him from doing so. He begins his letter of explanation with an apology for having taken so long to respond.

Dear Mac

‘Why the heck can’t C.S.L. have the civility to answer a letter?’ I don’t blame you, but it wasn’t exactly my fault. Like a fool, I dealt direct with C.U.P. [Cambridge University Press] for Studies in Words instead of working through [his regular literary agent] Curtis Brown: chiefly because I regarded this book as too academic to be of any serious commercial value.

And like a double fool I’ve let them take it up so that I’m not free to arrange for an American edn. with anyone else.

The delay in answering you is due to the fact that I’ve been all this time trying to get out of them whether this is exactly what my contract with them means. It is. But of all the impenetrable block heads! Their answer—the correspondence was long and infuriating—dealt with every question under the sun except the one I had asked (besides being unintelligible and contradictory).

I am sorry about all this. How well Chaucer advised us ‘Flee fro the Presse’!

Yours Lewis, C.S.

Dealing with publishers today remains challenging. They are, in a sense, gatekeepers. One of their roles is to prevent undeserving works from seeing print. Unfortunately, because literary tastes are utterly subjective, they bar many worthwhile manuscripts as well.

For that reason, we can be thankful that digital publishing allows quality works that would formerly have been overlooked to find their audience. The price of that boon, however, is that we must sometimes wade through major quantities of dregs to savor fine writing.

The majority of writers, given the opportunity, would prefer to be published by traditional publishing houses. There is no way around the fact that this adds a degree of status to most books. A recent poll supports this notion. It found among those published traditionally, “32% of respondents said the prestige of having a deal with a traditional publisher was important to them, while a further 54% said it was one of the appealing aspects of a traditional publishing deal.”

If we should ever seek “publication” for our own work, it is good to remember that the publishing business could puzzle even as gifted a writer as C.S. Lewis. If the author of so many impressive books could be mystified by it, it’s no wonder it seems labyrinthine to the likes of us.

Perhaps Chaucer’s advice, offered more than 500 years ago, really does ring just as true today.

pressIf the devil has used the printing press so effectively to advance his purposes, one can only imagine how easily the internet can be twisted to his purposes.

Whether or not you believe Satan is an actual (fallen angelic) person, we all recognize the web provides a ready conduit for unimaginable evil. Recent discussions of the traffic that occurs on the Dark Web is sobering. Actually, not “sobering,” but frightening.

While a small fraction of the data is innocent, the majority deals with criminal and dehumanizing material. Some investigators suggest more than half of the data transfers involve pedophilia.

I’ve been doing some personal research into parallels between the advent of the printing press and the rise of the internet. I’m approaching it from the perspective of how each has provided access to competing faith claims.

Martin Luther viewed the “recent” invention of Gutenberg’s press as divinely appointed to coincide with what would come to be known as the Reformation.

Roman Catholics also published treatises and pamphlets opposing the calls for institutional change within the church. The persuasiveness of arguments aside, one reason for their lack of success against the evangelical leaders was simple.

Rather than writing for the German people in their own tongue, they directed nearly all of their initial energies at writing for the elite, in Latin. While only a minority of sixteenth century Germans were literate, only a small percentage of these were able to read Latin.

During the first half century of the existence of movable type for the press, the majority of published titles were religious. Only later did popular and secular titles eclipse them.

However, they did. Many were wonderful. Scientific and literary knowledge blossomed.

Foremost among the good fruits disseminated by the press, we would have to include the works of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. (Consecrated imaginations are capable of wondrous creations!)

Eventually, of course—given humanity’s imperfect nature—this neutral device was harnessed to baser purposes.

This would lead a nineteenth century minister to write an essay with the title of this column, “The Devil’s Printing Press.” Thomas Green described the dilemma vividly.

The first book printed in Europe had six hundred leaves, and it took nearly ten years to make it. Now books are written, printed, sold, read and forgotten in one-fourth the time. A single century ago, and a man well to do, thought himself fortunate if he had one book in this wild western world.

Today there are books in well kept rank upon almost every cottage shelf It is little wonder that the powers of evil should have invaded the province of the influence of the book shelf and bound up in attractive colors and insidious page the poison of wickedness and sin.

Later in his address, available to read at your leisure here, he contrasts the noble and corrupt purposes for which the press (or internet) might be used.

There are papers of every shape and for every use; daily, tri-daily and almost hourly, weekly and semi-weekly, monthly and quarterly, and filled with everything. You have no idea unless you have given it especial attention, of the magnitude and wondrous dimensions of the newspaper as a factor in civilization. You have little idea, unless you have studied it, of the influence, the formative power of this outwardly ephemeral agency upon human life.

You have little idea, unless you have sought it, of the labor, the enterprise, the energy, the talent, the outlay necessary to plan and execute this gigantic result. You have little conception of the influence of the printing press, as an enlightener, as a pioneer of civilization, as a promoter, a creator, a conservator of purity and virtue; and you have little idea of the magnitude of the devil’s work through this mighty agency, as in a thousand ways he uses it for pollution and ruin.

Green’s florid and dated verbiage may weaken the impact of his argument. Likewise the revivalist tones of his message. Still, as the existence of the dark web reminds us, even the good can be touched by corruption. Perhaps our vigilance can reduce this danger.

We will close now with another description by the author of the lurid material which preceded the pornography which abounds today. Would that our dulled sensitivities remained innocent enough to “blush” at explicit material, as he says.

But the devil has a channel by which he ruins life and character, in a specialty in the newspaper line that panders to the low and more bestial part of man’s being. Broadcast over the land there are sown every day almost countless thousands of papers filled with the corrupt, lascivious, the impure, gathered from all the fact and fancy that a filthy mind can contrive.

Facts that transpire often in the lowest slums of life are here placarded with all the embellishment of illustration and seductive coloring; language and recitals no man would read without a blush are hidden in its folds. It is a slimy, salacious mosaic of filth and wickedness, and yet go up and down the city streets and in every news-dealer’s window and on every corner stand they are spread out for inspection and sale.

_____

The woodcut illustration above comes from a book entitled The Dance of Death, and is the first representation of a printing press. The point being made was not to associate death with printing, but to reveal how death comes to all, unanticipated, regardless of who they are.

Bach’s Lost Classics

November 20, 2014 — 11 Comments

csl bach

 

Were you aware that scholars believe half of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music has been lost to the world due to the carelessness of his relatives?

I was unaware of that sad fact until recently.

J.S. Bach was the preeminent prodigy of a gifted musical family. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the leader of the musicians in their German city. All of his uncles were professional musicians. Two of Bach’s sons also became noteworthy composers.

Bach (1685-1750) held a number of important posts. These included serving the courts of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen and Augustus III, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.

It is not uncommon for gifted men and women to remain unrecognized during their lifetimes. In such cases, it is not surprising that many of their works would be lost.

Bach, on the other hand, was appreciated during his own lifetime. Despite that fact, many of his creations would pass into oblivion. Why?

Amazing, only a single early cantata was published during his lifetime.

Upon his death, all of his precious musical manuscripts—chorales, motets, arias, sonatas, suites, fugues, concertos, canons and more—were divided among his family. Some of the manuscripts were sold, and others presumably were saved and eventually lost to time. Perhaps someday more pieces will be rediscovered, but that remains to be seen.

Bach was a devout Christian (of Lutheran persuasion). While the Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig he wrote more than 300 cantatas inspired by the Gospel readings for Sundays and church festivals. One hundred of these musical gems have not survived.

C.S. Lewis enjoyed Bach. In An Experiment in Criticism, he uses the composer’s music as an example of something so profound that it continues to satisfy.

Many people enjoy popular music in a way which is compatible with humming the tune, stamping in time, talking, and eating. And when the popular tune has once gone out of fashion they enjoy it no more. Those who enjoy Bach react quite differently.

In his Diary, Lewis’ brother Warnie describes the inauguration of a new record player in 1933. “This after my long expected new gramophone arrived . . . I am delighted with it . . . After supper Jack, Minto and I sat cozily in the study and I played them the Pastoral Symphony and a sonata of Bach.”

In our modern world, the increase in leisure time has allowed many people to pursue their creative dreams. Some write, others paint, and a smaller number compose music.

Bach’s tale makes one wonder what will happen to their labors of love once they are gone. Will our family or friends divide them among themselves? Will they ever be read?

Rather than be depressed by these questions, let me encourage you to share your work with others now. Perhaps a blog would be a suitable avenue for publishing your thoughts? There are also a number of options for publishing ebooks, including some that do so at no cost.

Of course, not everything we write merits publication. We should strive to write something worthwhile, and edit it to the point where we can be suitably “proud” of our literary offspring. No doubt Bach spent many hours revising his compositions until they sounded perfect to his own ear.

And, for those of us who share the faith of Bach, it is worth noting the words he wrote at the close of each of his religious works (and many of his secular pieces): Soli Deo Gloria . . . Glory to God Alone.

Corrupted Poetry

July 28, 2014 — 15 Comments

proofreadersA sloppy proofreader can ruin the most praiseworthy writing. (Just ask Mark Twain.)

If you’ve ever seen something you wrote poorly edited—or including introduced errors—you know personally just how criminal this is.

My choice of adjectives reveals that these tragedies are nearly always mistakes, and not malevolent. Despite that fact, they disrupt the flow and impugn the skill of truly good writers.

I was thinking about this subject today after running across the following passage during my research of the American Civil War. An 1861 newspaper lifted the following from an issue of the Boston Courier.

The Errors of the Press—“Really,” said a printer, in conversing with a literary man about errors of the press, “gentlemen should not place such unlimited confidence in the eyesight of our hard worked and half-blinded reader of proofs; for I am ashamed to say that we utterly ruined one poet through a ludicrous misprint.”

“Indeed! and what was the unhappy line?”

“Why, sir, the poet intended to say:

     ‘See the pale martyr in a sheet of fire;’

instead of which we made him say:

     ‘See the pale martyr with his shirt on fire.’”

The critics were down fierce on the poet; but we don’t see why. A man “with his shirt on fire” must be a highly poetical object, as his life would be in imminent danger.—Boston Courier.

I can easily picture the exhausted proofreader unintentionally substituting a burning garment for a consuming inferno. It made sense to him. And, since he was unlikely to have an ear tuned to poetic imagery, the practical reference to ignited clothing must be what the poet actually meant.

This reminds me that it’s impossible to have too many eyes cast upon the final draft of a work before it goes to print. Take care of your friends and family who offer you the gift of proofreading; their talents deserve to be appreciated and rewarded.

Mark Twain’s Thoughts on the Subject

Samuel Clemens got his own start in the newspaper business and knew firsthand how challenging proofreading was. However, that did not prevent him from venting about the poor proofreading of his novel More Tramps Abroad.

The following was written to his publishers in regard to the printer’s shortcomings. The 1897 letter clearly reveals Twain’s colorful (and occasionally vulgar) writing.

I give it up. These printers pay no attention to my punctuation. Nine-tenths of the labor & vexation put upon me by [them] consists in annihilating their ignorant & purposeless punctuation & restoring my own.

This latest batch [also has] my punctuation ignored & their insanities substituted for it. I have read two pages of it—I can’t stand any more. If they will restore my punctuation themselves & then send the purified pages to me I will read it for errors of grammar & construction—that is enough to require of another who writes as legible a hand as I do, & who knows more about punctuation in two minutes than any damned bastard of a proof-reader can learn in two centuries.

Conceive of this tumble-bug interesting himself in my punctuation—which is none of his business & with which he has nothing to do—& then instead of correcting mis-spelling, which is in his degraded line, striking a mark under the word & silently confessing that he doesn’t know what the hell to do with it!

The following year he wrote a mellower review of the work of the proofreader. Not in the heat of correcting a muddled manuscript, he was able to comment on the benefits afforded by good proofreading.

You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along.

Sometimes—but not often enough—the printer’s proof-reader saves you–& offends you—with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right—it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.

I must say that I have been rescued by my proofreaders far more frequently than I have been abused by them. May God grant you the same blessing.

Our Personal Libraries

December 20, 2012 — 13 Comments

printing lettersWhat a blessing it is to live in an age when even the most modest home can treasure its personal library. Public libraries are a community boon, but because of the printing press, books are no longer restricted to the homes of the wealthy.

Books—or, more properly the reading of books—has a direct correlation to human intelligence, knowledge and (occasionally) even to wisdom itself.

In 1905, at the age of seven, C.S. Lewis moved with his family into a large home in the countryside. It was so spacious, in fact that in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis says, “to a child it seemed less like a house than a city.”

Lewis proceeds to describe the “mansion,” and its most notable feature . . . the profusion of books.

The New House is almost a major character in my story. I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.

I am a product . . . of endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.

I’m privileged to own a large library. It’s not a matter of pride. It’s a matter of joy. Like Lewis, and most readers of Mere Inkling, I love books. And, like most bibliophiles, I am fascinated by numerous things related to books.

While attending college I worked for a small publisher. I was able to do a bit of writing, but most of the job involved using an enormous Linotype Phototypesetting machine and pasting up the projects. It was an interesting process, which is now long obsolete.

letterpress

Nevertheless, due to my love for books, reinforced by my own experience as a “printer’s devil,”* I have an affection for items related to publishing. I recently purchased several items from a family business called Type-tiques.

They offer a wide range of reasonably priced letterpress printer’s blocks which look wonderful on bookshelves and literary desktops.**

I also recently accepted an offer for ten free letterpress bookmarks from Peach Farm Studio. You can read about their promotion here. (Since my comment there is still awaiting “moderation,” I’m unsure of the status of the project, but I’ll keep you posted.)

___

* Just a note that, should you be unfamiliar with the term “printer’s devil,” it’s simply trade parlance for the shop’s apprentice or flunkey.

** When my wife proofread this, she asked if I literally meant “literary desktops.” Then she motioned towards my own book-laden desk and queried, “and where will you put them?” Fortunately, I have lots of shelves!

Treasuring Books

October 15, 2012 — 10 Comments

Most of us love and respect books, don’t we? We take care of our literary treasures, and the more deeply we are attached to a particular volume, the better we treat it.

Many of us are reluctant to loan out the books which line our shelves like so many gems, resting in a jeweler’s pristine cases. When we do agree to share them, we’re afraid they may never find their way home. And, when they eventually return to our welcoming grasp, they sometimes bear the scars of their sojourn in the paws of others who do not esteem them as they ought to. Page corners may be scored. Coffee or tea stains may have “embellished” the text. Bindings may have been carelessly mistreated. And, unbelievably, the borrowers are likely to be unaware of how they have abused the tome’s dignity and disfigured its beauty.

Speaking honestly, my own bookshelves are in constant disarray, and too many of my books still remain unpacked after our move into our retirement home. But I am absolutely serious about how painful I find it to witness the mistreatment of books by those ignorant of their value.

C.S. Lewis loved books. He recognized their power. He embraced their wonder. And—most wonderfully for us—he penned a number of classics that will continue to inspire readers for generations.

Yet, as much as Lewis treasured books, he took his own creations for granted. This changed in December of 1954, when he received a precious package from his publisher. Among his Christmas gifts that year were specially bound copies of Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity. Receipt of the thoughtful present opened his eyes to an interesting notion. On the twenty-second day of the month, he wrote:

I never had a handsomer present. . . . Perhaps these two charming volumes will teach me at last to have for the bodies of my own books the same reverence I have for the bodies of all other books. For it is a curious fact that I never can regard them as being really books; the boards and print, in however mint a condition, remain a mere pretense behind which one sees the scratchy, inky old manuscript.

I daresay that those writers among us can relate to Lewis’ mindset. Even with the pride that accompanies having books or articles in print, our work somehow seems “different” than the other published materials we invariably respect. This is due in large part, I believe, to their familiarity. Writers, better than most, understand what familiarity breeds. We know these works that flowed from our own consciousness and sweat . . . we know them intimately. And we are keenly aware that if given another opportunity, there are parts of them we would even now edit to be clearer, sharper, and more eloquent.

I never cease to be surprised by the humility of new writers who almost whisper their accomplishments to others. It’s as though they are embarrassed . . . that they assume their friends would consider them braggarts if they spoke with the pride they genuinely feel about their work. Some of us hold onto our rejection letters. (I do.) How much better though, to print out high quality copies of articles or devotions we’ve written and place them in a prominent binder or display located near our keyboard.

Who knows, I may actually follow my own advice and do something like that. Sadly, I don’t have a grateful publisher eager to prepare special editions for me. Nevertheless, I’m glad Lewis did. I learned from his insight that whenever we release our literary progeny to the world, they merit the same degree of respect and affection that we book-lovers bestow so generously on the works of others.

___

Postscript: The image above is an actual manuscript page from James Joyce’s Ulysses. (It makes me feel much more confident about my own initial scribblings.)

Uninhibited Fonts

December 19, 2011 — 2 Comments

Tonight as we prepared to begin our monthly Christian Writers meeting, our leader mentioned one of his favorite subjects for scribbling. As an unreformed doodler myself, the conversation immediately seized my wandering attention.

He said something to the effect that he “likes to see how complex or ornate he can draw letters while still maintaining their legibility.” It reminded me of some of the flowery medieval versions of fonts where it is determining precisely what a given letter is, becomes a mystery. (I made the challenge simple above, by bracketing the “I” and “J” with adjacent letters . . . but without the “H” and “K” their identities may have been quite difficult to ascertain.)

The image to the left comes from a witty strip called “Incidental Comics.” It is penned by Grant Snider, whose cartoons are quite often as entertaining as they are absurd. In this small element from his broader treatment entitled “Design Like Nobody’s Watching,” he expands on the two styles traditionally identified for letter forms.

I’ve written earlier about font lovers, who will especially enjoy the humor here. But all word lovers can appreciate the importance of the letter styles which clothe the words we read and write.

It’s good to be reminded. The fonts we use truly do make a difference.