In no particular order, here is a selection of quotes, both humorous and serious, about authorship, reading and publishing. Do send us further examples
‘If I had been someone not very clever, I would have done an easier job like publishing. That’s the easiest job I can think of.’ The philosopher A. J. Ayer (1910-89), quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations.
‘Should not the Society of Indexers be known as Indexers, Society of, The?’, Keith Waterhouse in his play, Bookends (1990).
‘Publishers and would-be publishers must be equally prepared to face the future and become not just instruments of publication but instigators and innovators in their own right. Only then can they disprove the sentiment expressed by Cyril Connolly in Enemies of Promise (1903) that – “As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with irrational fear of life become publishers”.’ Adrian Moore, A Short History of Future Publishing (1972).
‘Publishing, or perhaps I ought to say, Book-Publishing, is quite different from what most people apparently suppose. The young man who regards it as a pleasantly dilettante occupation suitable for somebody who does not know what he wants to do but likes books, is under an illusion.’ Stanley Unwin, The Truth about Publishing (1960 edition).
‘It is difficult to pigeonhole the publisher: he will care more about his product than an advertising copywriter; be too much of a gambler to become a successful merchant banker; too full of blind spots and optimism to be a lawyer; and his essential – if unreal – sense of his own importance would preclude diplomacy as a career. He will be part impresario, part missionary. He will not himself create like a composer, a painter or a choreographer, and if he writes at all he may make an unsuitable spectacle of himself, “like a cow in a milk bar”, as Arthur Koestler said.’ Anthony Blond, The Publishing Game (1971).
‘After failing to get anywhere as a film director I decided that I would after all try publishing. … The house I focused on was Andre Deutsch and I was thrilled to be granted an interview by A.D. (as he was called) himself. He was quick to tell me that he had no job to offer. I, in turn, told him that “Money was no object.” At that he asked when I could start. We settled for the following Monday.’ Tom Maschler, Publisher (2005).
‘Trade book publishing is by nature a cottage industry, decentralized, improvisational, personal; best performed by small groups of like-minded people, devoted to their craft, jealous of their autonomy, sensitive to the needs of writers and to the diverse interests of readers. If money were their primary goal, these people would probably have chosen other careers.’ Jason Epstein, Book Business: Publishing past, present and future (2001).
‘The person with whom the writer wants to be in touch is his reader: if he could speak to him directly, without a middleman, that is what he would do. The publisher exists only because turning someone’s written words into a book (or rather, into several thousand books) is a complicated and expensive undertaking, and so is distributing the books, once made, to booksellers and libraries.’ Diana Athill, Stet (2000).
‘It is not enough to publish a good and marketable book, or even a number of them; I feel that one of the best advertisements for a publishing firm is for that firm to develop a distinct character which shall become recognised by the trade and the public.’ Memo from T. S. Eliot to his fellow directors at Faber, 9 December 1931.
‘It is certainly the duty of any publishing firm which pretends to other interests and motives than mere commercial prosperity, to publish books which go against the current of the moment: but in each instance that demands that at least one member of the firm should have the conviction that this is the thing that needs saying at the moment. I can’t see any reason of prudence or caution to prevent anybody from publishing this book – if he believed in what it stands for.’ Letter from T. S. Eliot to George Orwell, turning down Animal Farm, 13 July 1944.
‘”I’m afraid it’s rather full of marginal balloons and interlineations, but you see, I suddenly realized that I could work out a big improvement in my notation, so I’ve had to alter it all through. I expect”, she added wistfully, “the printers will be rather angry with me.” Harriet privately agreed with her, but said comfortingly that the Oxford University Press was no doubt accustomed to deciphering the manuscripts of scholars.’ Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935).
Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics, on using puffs from other writers in cover blurbs: ‘Long ago I used to think they mattered a lot. Then I changed my mind, thinking that blurbs don’t signal much about the quality of the book, but at least they signal something about the quality of the author’s friends or acquaintances who were willing to blurb the book. Lately, I’ve come to believe that they really don’t matter at all, since most readers see blurbs as having about the same level of integrity as a used car salesman’s personal promise that the car you’re about to buy is A-OK.’ Guardian, 22 September 2008.
‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. … Forty per cent of the people in the US read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.’ Steve Jobs on ebook readers, quoted in New York Times, 15 January 2008.
‘The book is like the spoon: once invented, it cannot be bettered.’ Umberto Eco, from This is Not the End of the Book: A conversation (2011), curated by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac.
‘I don’t like them [ebook readers]. I like holding a book in my hand, and I like turning the pages. But I think, as long as people read, I almost don’t care. Whatever lifts your skirt.’ Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale, quoted in Time, 13 September 2010.
‘I suspect many readers assume books spring full blown from the heads of writers, when in fact many of them spring, half baked, from the heads of brilliant editors.’ Michael Pollan, from his book In Defence of Food (2008), page 202.
‘His expectations for his first book had been both cautious and modest, and they had been appropriate; one reviewer had called it “pedestrian” and another had called it “a competent survey.” … After a while he tired of seeing it; but he never thought of it, and his authorship, without a sense of wonder and disbelief at his own temerity and at the responsibility he had assumed.’ From the novel, Stoner (1965), by John Williams, chapter 6.
‘”I’ve read your novel,” he said. “We’d like to publish it. Would it be possible for you to look in here at eleven?” My flu was gone in that moment and never returned. Nothing in a novelist’s life later can equal that moment – the acceptance of his first book [for Greene in 1928]. Triumph is unalloyed by any doubt of the future. Mounting the wide staircase in the elegant eighteenth-century house in Great Russell Street I could have no foreboding of the failures and frustrations of the next ten years.’ Graham Greene, A Sort of Life (1971).
‘They’re a funny lot, these publishers. They publish all this left-wing stuff because only radicals read, and then they send out the printing work to Hong Kong for the cheap labour.’ from Barbara Trapido’s novel, Brother of the More Famous Jack (1982).
‘Being published by the Oxford University Press is rather like being married to a duchess: the honour is almost greater than the pleasure.’ The historian G. M. Young (1882-1959), quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations.
From Woody Allen’s film, Annie Hall (1977):
I’m so tired of spending evenings making
fake insights with people who work for
Oh, really, I heard that Commentary and
Dissent had merged and formed Dysentery.