The Sporadic Beaver

I Feel Your Pain, Ted Heller

May 6, 2013

Tags: e-books, writing, Ted Heller, West of Babylon, Erica Heller, Joseph Heller, Yossarian Slept Here

Dear Ted,
I read your piece in Salon, "The Future Is No Fun," about self-publishing your e-book, West of Babylon, and I wanted to let you know that it might be the most depressing story about the publishing industry I've ever read. I got about three quarters of the way through it before I had to stop and put it aside. It was just too bleak to go on. Too much "extreme cruelty." But I came back to it the next day, and skipped to the end, just to make sure it wasn't a suicide note. Then I kind of read it backwards, paragraph-by-paragraph, and felt a little better. I did appreciate your epiphany--if you can call it an epiphany--that you now understand how rough it is out there, and that from now on, you'll help anybody who asks you for help. I feel the same way.

You say that your working life now consists of sending out hundreds of e-mails to people in the media who might want to review your book. You say that you consider it a good day if someone gets back to you, even if they tell you, politely, to fuck off. What you don't seem to realize is that that's how it is now, even if your book isn't self-published. What you spend far too much time doing sounds disturbingly similar to what I've spent far too much time doing since a small, London-based indie published my latest book, Beaver Street, as a paperback and in all e-book formats, two years ago in the U.K., then last year in the U.S.

Still, I found your naïveté touching—calling the media “base hypocrites” because they run stories about authors turning to self-publishing but won’t acknowledge a self-published e-book unless it’s written by a celebrity who self-publishes by choice. You’re just learning now that the media is a viper’s nest of base hypocrites? Where’ve you been? You don’t get media attention by publishing books. You get media attention by committing a terrorist act or by assassinating a celebrity. Not PR gambits I’d recommend.

I should also mention that, though we’ve never met, I did know your father. He was one of my creative writing professors at City College, and as I found out, he could be a cruel bastard, as your sister, Erica, vividly recounts in her memoir, Yossarian Slept Here. But 40 years after the fact, I can sincerely thank him for helping to prepare me emotionally for what I’d have to face as I made my way in the book biz.

Your father, of course, had no illusions about the book-publishing industry. “You can’t live off royalties,” he told us the first day of class. “That’s why I’m teaching here.” (And he didn’t think too highly of agents, either, as I recall.)

All things considered, Ted, I think you’re doing OK. Do I really need to remind you that Salon is the media, and they are paying attention to you? Big time. I wish somebody at Salon would answer my e-mails.

Best,
Bob Rosen