Monday, November 25, 2013

REFLECTIONS ON TURNING 79


I’ve led a blessed life despite my shortcomings. I had a father (whose illustrations grace our catalogs) who was the wisest, soft spoken, loving, funny and supportive parent a son could ever have. I found a wonderful life-partner in Judy, who brought her three kids to join my three 42 years ago after bad first marriages, enriching the family circle. We started living year-round in the Hampton 35 years ago, one of the most beautiful places in the world, still surrounded by farms and water, fresh air and wildlife. And so many things stemmed from all of this: not the least of which was starting a publishing company with Judy which, by fate or accident, managed to survive and grow. And grow and grow, while becoming friends with some amazing writers.

Very disappointing events that happened—as they must in everyone’s life—have wound up being transformed into better opportunities than we ever could have imagined. It may be a cliché to say this, but it’s been true for us that “Every door that closed allowed a new one to open.” Judy is six months younger than me, and we are both in good health, but it’s hard not to be aware that life does not go on forever and that the egg timer will eventually run out of sand. Using a football analogy, we are surely playing in the fourth quarter and hoping there will be a long overtime.

This has led me to think of what plans we can make for The Permanent Press to insure its continuation. Our German agent and good friend, Tom Schluck, has thought about this as well over the past several years, bringing in family members and others to continue his agency, and they have the taste and savvy to do just that, running things without a dropped beat while Tom comes in to have his say on a more limited basis. That, unfortunately, wouldn’t work here as none of our kids, bright as they are, have the experience to run a publishing business.

I suppose we could consider hiring a clever promoter or PR person in the book industry and try to pass on our nearly 450 in-print titles to one of the Big Five corporate Publishers. But I would never want to go down that path, since our success is directly related to the failure of the Big Five and their hundred odd imprints to encourage and find deserving writers and keep them in print. In short, they would destroy what Judy and I already have in stock as well as another 26 titles already signed up for 2014 and 2015.

There is, frankly, no greater joy I have than finding and promoting good books. Nor any need to sell our company to a firm or person ill-suited to run it. Working often past 10 at night, in my office, inside my house, is not unusual. And I like it, so it is not “WORK.”

I’ve always been a communitarian—once called a Hippie and I suppose there’s some truth in that—for I always placed joy over money and always pursued work that interested me rather than enriched me. The magic is that this has been another accidental blessing—working at something that gives us joy and has also been able to run at a profit.

Considering all these factors we've decided to give the company away,  slowly passing the baton on as a gift to a gifted person who is also well read, loves books, and has the proper business smarts to keep it going, just as Tom Schluck did with his agency in Germany. 

More about this in my next blog…


In the meantime, click on The Permanent Press's latest Newsletter. 


Marty

11 comments:

  1. First congratulations on having the persistence to stay fit, healthy and engaged in business for so long. Although I'm yet to scale your heights, I feel as though I'm catching up rapidly as my own retirement keeps me busy.

    Coming from a European perspective, I'm an advocate for the co-operative model. Succession as applied to a business based on the individual enthusiasms and sensibilities of a husband and wife is a challenge. Where do you find one or two younger people with the same degree of commitment and time available to assume management of your "baby"? It may be easier to put together a group of like-minded individuals who bring the right combination of skills and can share the management roles.

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  2. It's true that it requires more than one person to direct a company like ours, and when we are able to disclose who it is we've chosen, I will do that. But I do agree that a collective model could work well.

    It doesn't take much to get someone younger than us to pass our press on to., Anywhere from 15 years younger and down would work well, and I'm also in the process of finding others (as is the person we've chosen) to add to the crew. Not to mention that Judy and I have no desire to stop working, but we're just looking ahead.

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  3. A most elegant solution and a most elegant resolution to two most elegant lives. All Good Things.

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  4. It's so comforting knowing you've found a steward for the Permanent Press. Knowing you both, it has always been clear that publishing literary fiction is a vocation, not a job or "work," as you said. Awaiting more news... love, Elise

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  5. When I think about why The Permanent Press has survived through the ups and downs of the publishing world it seems to boil down to taste in books. You and Judy balance each other in creating a list of highly skilled writers with diverse themes. You manage to hit the sweetspot between literary and commercial appeal. Your writers seem to arrive at their worldviews through real introspection and can create a uniquely personal expression that others can relate to. You two are a hard act to follow.

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  6. What a lovely response, Elise. Aside from our being privileged to publish your first novel, we were also blessed when you worked with us after moving from California to Easthampton and before you moved to Pittsburgh. You put your smarts--heart, soul, wit, and candor" at our disposal, setting the bar quite high for the other managing editors who followed.

    When asked at conferences what were the most engaging opening lines I've ever read, I cite yours from "Licking Our Wounds," which we published in 1997: "I just had a pitiful orgasm. It doesn't even qualify as full-fledged. Let's just call it an org." WOW! How much more arresting than "It was the best of times. It was the Worst of times."

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  7. Have been on the road and am discovering this a bit belatedly, but I am glad to share this Thanksgiving news. Most heartening, on several levels!

    I’m delighted to learn about these plans for Permanent and I wish you continued success. Keep up the good fight!

    And, more personally, thanks for giving my work a home. I remember vividly that phone call when you were on the line to accept my first novel. Also, the way you went to bat for The Contractor. These examples (and they’re not the only ones) have meant a lot to me.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that you and Judy have made a crucial difference in my life.

    Best regards,
    Charles

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  8. Hail to you, too, Haila, given all the support you've bestowed on our authors, including so many of them in Blackstone Audio recordings. It's extraordinary to find another publisher (you) who shares our vision of what good writing is all about.

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  9. Mr. Charles Davis, how I appreciate your use of the words "elegant," because that's exactly how I would describe two of your novels--Walk On, Bright Boy, and Standing At The Crossroads--while adding the words "moving," "haunting,"and "passionate." .

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  10. Charles Holdefer. Each of your four novels we published were marked by what I would call "compassionate satire." But The Contractor went so far beyond this that it remains among the most memorable novels I've ever read--given its edge of balancing humor with the horrors of America at war, with clandestine interrogations, unbridled torture, no accountability. and woe to those who challenge it.

    Thanks for this masterpiece.

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  11. Marty, you've gotten some great responses to your post!!! How exciting! Glad you were able to respond on this page. I always love when you tell the story of "great opening lines." I'm off to grade very long papers! Don't make us wait too much longer for the rest of your news! Love to Judith! Elise

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