Over the past two decades I have produced and printed books for The Los Angeles Times, Simon & Schuster and Random House and still enjoy relationships with a number of friends at these publishing houses. I am therefore well aware of the horror stories on the street about what is being called “Black Wednesday” a few months ago when three-dozen people on the editorial staff were handed their pink slips at Simon & Schuster after decades of loyal service. Like most avalanches the process continues to bury hundreds of employees as the head-rolling process of downsizing is taking its toll. This is just the beginning of what might be another major industry in this country headed for bankruptcy, hard times and a Washington bailout.

The week before Black Wednesday, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a publishing house made up of two previously independent publishers, including the very successful Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, decided in November, 2008 to “freeze” acquisitions and has told it editors to “stop buying books.” Since November the staff at Houghton Mifflin was decimated as their publisher resigned… surely in protest? I have been in the printing and publishing industries for over 40 years and I have never heard of such an edict. There were always those temporary “cut backs” but never a public policy of NO MORE BOOKS. Such events at major publishers should give the readers of this article great pause, especially if you are thinking your manuscript has a prayer today of being published by a major publisher. Self-publishing may be your only alternative.

The days of the bloated and over extended conglomerate are over which can be said of hundreds of American companies in this economic melt-down. It is not merely a fact that books are not selling; bookstores across the country are returning books to the publishers at an alarming rate. In my earlier blog I wrote about the return policy of bookstores and the lack of obligation to the publisher and their authors of returned copies without penalties, a stupid policy endorsed by the entire publishing industry. Last year 26.3% of the billion or more books sold in the U.S. were returned to bookstores. The phrase “Let them eat cake” attributed to Marie Antoinette, seems fitting here, I hope the publishers choke on them as these returned books come right out of the hide of the authors who have been promised a golden dream that quickly turns into a financial nightmare.

A few years back I produced and printed Witness to War: Images of the Persian Gulf War for the Los Angeles Times, a book which won a Pulitzer. I produced a number of books for the Times including ConArtist, the 30-year anniversary book for political cartoonist, Paul Conrad, Dining Out in Orange County by Max Jacobson, The Los Angeles Riots, The Los Angeles Earthquake, and 30 Years of Recipe Request by Rose Dosti.

In 2001, I suspected all was not well in the newspaper business when the Times cut off nearly half of its staff and enticed another 10% to take early retirement with handsome bonuses, but that has proven inadequate today as its parent company filed for bankruptcy. Dorothy Chandler, who built the Times-Mirror Empire is surely rolling over in her grave.

But let us take a close look at how major publishers treat authors. If you are fortunate enough to get your manuscript accepted and even more fortunate to receive an advance on your royalties, the publisher most likely will insist that you use that advance to hire a publicist or public relations firm to promote your title before it hits the bookstores. It takes a major publisher at least 12 to 14 months to get a book to market and if they feel you have not gotten enough interest in your title they may decide at the 12th hour not to publish placing you, the author, in a catch-22. If you have spent the advance or if the publisher is so magnanimous as to let you keep what is left, under most contracts the publisher will own the rights to your property preventing you from taking your manuscript to another publisher.

Since the word “depression” creeps into most conversations these days I am reminded that books did very well during that economic crisis of the 1930s as did the ten cent movie and the sleazy dime novel as these were about the only escapism available at the time. Last week my wife and I decided to go to see the movie, Doubt. With tickets costing $12 each and popcorn and a Coke another $10, I wonder how many Americans will be able to afford the luxury of $44 for an evening at the movies? As the actors contemplate a strike to further destroy the local film industry in Los Angeles, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and Hospital have just announced that they will move 100 of their residents to other local nursing homes, layoff 300 employees, about a third of their staff, and close this famous retirement home of the stars by the end of the year.

So polish up that manuscript … there is still hope for that book you want to write and publish. Looks like reading may come back in style? For more on Self-Publishing: www.gmbooks.com.

Author's Bio: 

William Dorich is a Self-Published author of 5 books on Balkan history and music. His newest titles are, Defeat Foreclosure, a book utilizing 15 years of his real estate experience. It was written to aid homeowners in how to save their home, their credit and defend their rights. Just published in 2009 is: The Nursing Home Crisis which carries the tag line: "Do Not Put A Loved One in a Nursing Home Before You Read This Book."

Anita and William Dorich formed GMbooks.com in 1985 when independent publishing was a pioneer concept. In the early 1990's GM Books was one of the first publishers of eBooks and have since had 9 best selling digital camera eBooks by authors, Peter iNova and Uwe Steinmueller. In 2008, GM was the first to utilize the "Press & Play" concept by publishing This Bible Talks by Pamela Fisher, a bible storybook designed for Christian pre readers.

Since 1985, the Dorich team has produced, printed and published over 130 titles including: "Witness to War: Images of the Persian Gulf War" for the Los Angeles Times which won a Pulitzer. Other major titles include: “The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games" for ARCO; "The Calgary Winter Game" for ABC Sports; "Understanding Money and Markets" for the Wall Street Journal; "Investing in the 90's" for Fortune Magazine, each selling over one million copies.