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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Rey

The voice of the galley slaves




2003. For the first time in my life, I “made” the literary season. I had the marvelous impression of entering the big leagues. The 2003 literary season taught me a few truths - but not all of them! – on the dark dealings of the literary milieu, its lies, its treachery, its cowardice, its so-called “literary” prizes, a year that I often think back to with sadness and bitterness. I lost a lot of illusions and a publisher there. The text below was written in 2003 for the World of Books Forum page. He never appeared. You will understand why.

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The voice of the galley slaves

There are the voices that we hear howling loud and clear on the “forum” in these literary seasons.

There is the voice of the publishers who are the architects of our Autumn High Mass. They publish, it is their priesthood. They post with love, in case you doubt that. They publish up 700 livresto a time, to hell with greed! There are so many wonderful books to discover on earth. It would be a serious mistake if the publishers deviated from their evangelizing mission. We also hear the voices of literary agents railing against the “ forum ”. Like publishers, literary agents love and support literature in case you doubt it. They have a duty to gently manage the difficult relationship between the author and the publisher, which can often go from love to hatred in the space of a literary season, provided the author has not lived up to the expectations we had placed on him. There is also the voice of booksellers who fear even on the "forum" that books are bought outside their walls. An evil coalition operates at the heart of a new system called the Internet. It is an insane perversion[1]. There is the voice of journalists. They do not bless the 700 books that come to them in the form of a tsunami each fall. They howl and roar and threaten to dump everything, but after having cursed well, they bravely take the marked paths of cushy criticism that have been traced for them with a machete by publishers whose intellectual curiosity is beyond doubt, or by other journalist colleagues. They recopy for lack of time the paper of such a great discoverer of talents before the Eternal. No, it's not laziness, it's not vice, it's just the lack of time that makes them act like this. The literary return, they have so far. As we understand them.

And curiously there is a voice that we never hear in this vast farce.

The voice of the one who is at the wrong end of the food chain, the voice of the one without whom all this shambles would not exist, the voice of the one who is ultimately guilty of this big mess for which he should feel responsible: it is the voice of the author. He's already published a book, that's enough credit for him. So better put it on hold. The author, he did not want to go there, him, in the arena of the literary re-entry. He knew it was a rotten plan. But be aware that the author has no decision-making power in this kind of case. He does what he is told to do. He is already very happy to have been taken in by a publisher after years of hardship, his manuscript under his arm. The start of the school year ? But yes, child, back to school is fantastic. There are literary prizes. You realize, a prize for you alone! What glory! So he drags his feet, and he goes to the slaughterhouse anyway. And the start of the school year, he saw it as a second youth, knowing that it might be his last hour. And he finds himself in a pit where he was pushed and there he has to take up arms. He begins to hate his neighbour. They tell him it's war. He is told: here is the man to be killed, he is called "author", he is published by an opposing house. You have to know how to defend your colors. You like your publishing house, huh, kid? So shoot! Because the author has no choice. An author without a publisher is still a poor beast. A published author is the same beast, but bound hand and foot to his master. Author, you who are entering the career, above all do not look behind the scenes of this vast masquerade. What you would see there is too ugly. You think your publisher loves literature. You are quite naive. It's not the talent he promotes by publishing, it's just a strategy of picking up the wheat from the offices and occupying the space. The more your publisher has the happy idea of printing books, especially in quantity, the more his merchandise will spread widely on the tables of booksellers. And the more it will be seen. It's just a marketing gimmick. Did you know that the bookseller paid him for that? Author, you who are entering the career, we will sing your praises today, but tomorrow you will be dismissed without further ado. The Tarpeian rock is close to the Capitol. We admire your uniqueness and we put it in the spotlight, everything is good to take. Go ahead kid, give it your all! Put your guts in it! Guts pay off their weight in gold. But the singularity serves only once and the suffering is not recyclable. Author, you who are entering a career, know that literary prizes are bogus. You will experience this as a great adventure. You will catch yourself dreaming. You believe in your talent. What you don't know is that mass is said even before the priest arrives. There was a good-sized host languishing on the altar, but the publishers, and only those who weigh heavily, have already shared the beautiful host without even waiting for the priest to cut it. The altar is like a baccarat table. The stakes are big. And no one wants to lose. Author, you who are entering the career, know that the editorial empires that rest on you and your fellow galley slaves are built on the most despicable of lies. You row at the bottom of the hold to operate this beautiful pockmarked body of the publishing world which stuffs itself in banquets where you will never be invited. You dare not say anything against the system, because they isolate you thanks to a well-conducted strategy. You tell yourself that your fellow writers know how to manage better than you. There is talk of huge advances in the newspapers. Compared to that, you feel miserable. You are still surprised that your royalties are never paid to you. Why must one always claim one's due and often threaten? You are surprised by the sales figures and you find yourself thinking that they have been revised downwards, because the number of returns is still strangely high. You regret the total lack of control over the sales of your books. What about paying library loans? Where is the money going? And your rights abroad? You've never seen the color! You regret the absence of a union where you can make your voice heard and respect your rights. You deplore the perverse strategy of publishers which consists of dividing and conquering, when the books are played against each other within the same house, and the authors subjected to the same regime of hatred. You disapprove of the lie that reigns around these practices and you wonder why some journalists do not break the omerta? What sordid advantage do they obtain against their silence? You who enter the career, be strong, because one day, you will have become old-fashioned. You will have to give way. All this you don't know. Come on ! Better not to know. It hurts too much to be used, humiliated and ultimately thrown away. Next !

You who enter the quarry, never open the curtain on the sordid wings where we, the authors, are reduced to the most pathetic of roles in this great masquerade. The literary season, you hate it. Know that we hate her too.



[1] I confirm, a few years later, to what extent the perversion of which I spoke then has gained ground. The book ordering system on Amazon will eventually eliminate long-term booksellers. Did you know that Amazon buys the publishing rights of certain authors in such a way that their republishing is made impossible? Did you know that Amazon does not pay distributors ? Did you know that some books, even published in classic Penguin, are no longer distributed in Australia, and that, if you want to order them from a bookseller, (which is my case) the latter will have to use a distributor established abroad to obtain them? Average wait, two months. To choose well, I prefer to wait than to fatten the hydra.




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