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The majority of books by successful writers are failures.

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by YankeeFan, Jul 28, 2014.

  1. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    I wish the subject line could handle a longer subject...

    Anyway, from the New York Times Sunday Review:

    JULY 8, in case you happened to miss it, was Fitz-Greene Halleck Day, a chance to remember the most intensely forgotten writer in American history. “No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1843. And yet, despite a Central Park statue that still stands in his honor, Fitz-Greene Halleck may now be the most famous man ever to achieve total obscurity.

    Failure is big right now — a subject of commencement speeches and business conferences like FailCon, at which triumphant entrepreneurs detail all their ideas that went bust. But businessmen are only amateurs at failure, just getting used to the notion. Writers are the real professionals.

    Three hundred thousand books are published in the United States every year. A few hundred, at most, could be called financial or creative successes. The majority of books by successful writers are failures. The majority of writers are failures. And then there are the would-be writers, those who have failed to be writers in the first place, a category which, if you believe what people tell you at parties, constitutes the bulk of the species.

    For every Shakespeare who retired to the country and to permanent fame, there are a thousand who took hard breaks and vanished: George Chapman, the first translator of Homer, begging in the streets because his patrons kept dying on him; Thomas Dekker, whose hair went white in debtors’ prison; and my favorite, the playwright John Webster, whose birth and death dates in the Dictionary of Literary Biography have question marks, symbolic hooks into oblivion.

    Failure doesn’t afflict only the lesser talents. John Keats, who died at 25 with a collection of bad reviews to his name, asked for his gravestone to read: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. He died convinced of his obscurity.

    Herman Melville endured a stranger torture. His early, lousy novels were huge successes, and then the better his books became, the less anyone was interested in reading them. His travel story “Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life” sold 16,320 copies in his lifetime. “Moby-Dick,” 3,715. Melville worked 19 gloomy years at the New York Customs House, self-publishing occasional poetry in batches of 25 copies. He ended up as a ziner, with “Billy Budd” unpublished in his drawer.

  2. jr/shotglass

    jr/shotglass Well-Known Member

    Nahhhhh. You liked that subject title just fine. :p
  3. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    I do not understand the economics of the book industry at all.

    You would think that the days of the huge advance are over yet big
    publishers are still writing the checks.

    Read that Paul Finebaum got a $650,000 advance for his book with
    a first printing of $150,000 copies.
  4. Colton

    Colton Active Member

    It's appropriate this topic was broached (thanks, Yankee Fan) as I've spent a few hours wandering through a Barnes & Noble in the region while waiting for some movies to start as I'm getting in some vacation time.

    As I've done so, I can't help much think about how there are billions of words there, yet so few are darkening the door.

    Each time I do so, I spend considerable time there... and always make sure I purchase at least one of the 100 or so works I peruse.

    It's almost as if it's my own small contribution toward trying to help the written word to survive. Silly, I realize, but...
  5. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

    Melville sold about 200 copies of Moby Dick.
  6. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    The first season of The Mindy Project had a good bit about how people only go to bookstores to look around and figure out what they are going to buy online for the half the price and no sales tax.
  7. Buck

    Buck Well-Known Member

    Something tells me it was closer to 3,715.
  8. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

    I'll find a citation when I'm around my books.
    It was not popularly received.
  9. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    LOL. I was trying to figure out if he was disputing what the article said, or trying to make the same point, not having read the article.
  10. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

    I don't click the Times, no offense.
    If I missed something, mea culpa.
  11. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    In the excerpt I posted too.

    No problem. Just funny that you chose the same example.
  12. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Call me Failure.
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