Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mo' Money?

So I've been thinking about e-publishing a lot lately, and hopefully will have more to say about it later ---
But in the course of doing this, I've been realizing that a lot of what people call e-books amount to less in terms of substance than what I've written on this blog (I am nothing if not prolix) --- and I'm starting to think about putting out a trial balloon of fiction or non-fiction through some sort of easy self-publishing mechanism (like Kindle) --- I'm curious to know what people who follow this blog think --- if I compiled and put together something like the stuff I've written here on Mormonism, or something like an expanded version of what my sister and I did over at

or my murder mystery, and priced it at like $2, would it be worth seeing if people are interested?

Or is that just lame?

And a somewhat related note, I've also been thinking about writing on demand.  Like, people ask me to write about something and I do.

My friend Dr. J. did that for a while and I thought it was pretty cool.
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Friday, February 05, 2010


I've been increasingly interested in how electronic publishing is changing the possibilities for writing and publishing.  Like most people, I tend to think that it will allow whole new genres of writing, and will also give power to writers whose work might be very good quality but might not necessarily appeal to a wide enough audience to justify the intensive capital involved in mainstream publishing.

In the course of this, a friend of mine emailed me the following link where the author very cleverly shows that in fact mainstream publishing is the friend of the little guy and that e-publishing will fail to perform all the services that traditional publishing does.  My friend wanted to make the point that the article was full of specious reasoning (simply because it was).  But I was so amused by the clever writing, which in no way suffered from a smarmy, know-it-all tone to notice the many faulty assumptions.  And unlike my friend, who assumes that there are talented and discerning writers and readers outside of the ranks of the professional publishing world, I have no such illusions.

So I was delighted.

Imagine my shock when, in the course of researching the rise of the printing press to show that it was both inevitable and the end of history (the end result of this research will be a book called The Phenomenology of Random House), I came across the following satire from 1448:

Could it be?  Could my know-it-all nay-sayer be a plagiarist?  But his ideas are so original.

I've included the manuscript I uncovered below.  I invite readers to compare it to this link.

I report.  You decide.

Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Treviso, Italy)...Image via Wikipedia

HEINRICH GUTENBERG, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
JOHANNES PONZI, a humble writer
GRETA PONZI, the wife of a humble writer
GUTENBERG: The book-copying  world is changing! In the future, authors will no longer need those fat cat middle men known as “monasteries” to get in the way of their art! It will just be the author and his audience!
PONZI: Won’t I need an abbot? Or a copyist? Or an illuminator? Or a quill dipper? Or a church theologian to verify the orthodoxy of the work?  Or a library to copy the books from?  Or other monastic orders and highly moneyed institutions to purchase the few copies of the book I can write?
GUTENBERG (waves hand, testily): Yes, yes. But all those things you can do yourself or with a few non-monastic folks.
PONZI: And I’m supposed to write the manuscript, too?
GUTENBERG (snorts): As if writing was hard. Now go! And write your philosophical tract!
PONZI goes off to write his philosophical  tract[1]. GUTENBERG stands, alone, on stage, for several months. Eventually PONZI returns, with a book.
GUTENBERG: You again! What took you so long?
PONZI: Well, I had write the book. Then I had to have it re-written, re-copied, illuminated, act as my own scribe and pay to send notice to other monasteries  . It cost me thousands of guilders out of my own pocket and the better part of a year. But look! Here’s the manuscript!
GUTENBERG (pulls out his knife): I’m sorry, I only read bound books[2].
PONZI sighs, slinks off the stage.
GUTENBERG (yelling after PONZI): And where are the scholia? Why aren’t you writing more?!?
GUTENBERG: I’m still waiting for that scholia, you know.
PONZI: I spent all my money last year making that first manuscript. And no other monastic orders were interested.
GUTENBERG (sneers): Well, what did you expect? The argumentation was sloppy, the illumination was atrocious, the content was heretical and the vellum looked like it had been bought by a mendicant. Who would want to read and copy that?
PONZI (dejected): I know.
GUTENBERG: Seriously, what were you thinking.
PONZI: But that’s my point! I want to get professional illumination and scribing and vellum manufacture, but I just can’t afford it.
GUTENBERG (smiles): PONZI, you naive fool. Don’t you realize that thanks to the current economy we live in, men of letters are desperately looking for work! Surely some of them will work for almost nothing! Scratch that — they’ll work for exactly nothing!
PONZI: Is that ethical? To get work from people without paying them?
GUTENBERG: Of course it is. They’ll profit from the exposure.
PONZI: I don’t think a copyist is going to want to be paid in exposure.
GUTENBERG: Then release the book through a printing press to get past all the production costs.
PONZI: Yes! And then sell it for a reasonable price!
GUTENBERG (shrugs): Well, do what you want. I’ll be getting it from a pirate press.
PONZI: What?
GUTENBERG:  Other presses can do the type-setting for cheaper!  How much do you expect me to pay for the authorized edition?
PONZI: So, pay people nothing to help me create a book I make nothing on, for people who will refuse to pay for it.
GUTENBERG: I wouldn’t put it that way. But yes.
GUTENBERG and PONZI stand for a moment, silent.
PONZI: I’m trying to remember if you participated in the reformation
GUTENBERG (snorts): As if I’d participate in heresy.
GUTENBERG: Dude, where the fuck are the scholia? I’m dying over here.
PONZI: Well, I was going to write it, but when I tried to find illuminators and vellum workers to work on it for free, I kind of hit a road block. The ones who were good wouldn’t work for free, and the ones that were free weren’t good.
GUTENBERG (rolls his eyes): Well, duh. I could have told you that.
GUTENBERG: But that’s not important now. What’s important is that we get you writing again.
PONZI: But I don’t have the money to make another manuscript with monastic help, and I don’t have the time to make another manuscript on my own.
GUTENBERG: As it happens, I have a solution for you. And look, here she is.
GUTENBERG: Frau. PONZI, a word, please.
GUTENBERG: As you may know, your husband is a writer. But he is finding it difficult to do writing recently because of issues of cost and time. I know that you are the organized, financially-minded person in your relationship, so allow me to suggest to you that you become his abbot, or abbess as the case may be. While he writes, you locate and pay for an illuminator, a copyist, a librarian, a monastic order, a theologian and a network of other abbeys. This will leave him free to focus on his craft, and the sholia I so desire.
GRETA: I see. And you propose I fund these people how?
GUTENBERG: Well, I’m sure I don’t know, Mrs. PONZI, but I have faith in your ability to do so.
GRETA: So to recap, you want me to give up my life of leisure and devote all my time to my husband’s career.
GUTENBERG: Of course not! I never said for you to give up your life of leisure.  You need the social connections.
GRETA: Ah. Could you come over here for just a second?
GUTENBERG (walks toward KRISTINE): Yes?
GRETA clocks GUTENBERG in the head, stunning him, then rips off his testicles, stuffs them into his mouth and sets him on fire while he chokes on them. GUTENBERG dies.
GRETA (to PONZI): You. Find a fucking monastery.
PONZI: Yes, dear.

[1] It is interesting to note that the plagiarist chose to use a novel, given the fact that novels would not have existed as a genre without the development of the printing press.
[2] Kudos to the plagiarist, for figuring out how to update the joke that early printed books had to be cut open, something illuminated manuscripts didn’t need.