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Local book publisher reflects on future of craft

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February 23, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Mass change in the publishing industry is increasingly evident, with the growth in popularity of e-readers and a decrease in overall sales of books in recent years.

Borders, the formerly successful book retailer, filed earlier this month for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to close stores across the country.

Bill Haney, an author, editor and publisher, recently shared his thoughts on his career and the current state of publishing.

"Conventional book publishing is a dying breed," says Haney, 74.

The township resident has been working since he was 10-years-old and began writing even earlier. He has had several different careers, some overlapping. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in English, Haney worked as a technical writer in the aerospace industry from 1958-1966. He also did freelance editing at U-M and created a publishing program for the U-M Institute for Social Research, working at the institute for several years and publishing books on economics, political behavior and group dynamics. He was able to publish a wider range of books when he became the associate director and managing editor of the U of M Press in 1974.

Haney published an updated version of the "Mushroom Hunters Field Guide" and remembers receiving orders from Saudi Arabia for 65,000 editions of a book on English as a Second Language. While he was publishing more varied books at U of M Press, he founded his own small publishing company to publish books on some of his own interests, including baseball, restaurants, and cooking.

"I would write and publish on the side what didn't fit with my straight gig where I was making the money," Haney said.

But the husband and father of four children was at the top of his pay grade in 1977, so he returned to the aerospace industry as a director of corporate communications at Bendix for five years. While there, he wrote a tribute to baseball legend Charlie Gehringer, which President Ronald Reagan read in a videotaped speech broadcast at a party in Gehringer's honor at Meadowbrook Hall.

"He (Reagan) didn't know me, but I knew Nancy Reagan's press secretary," said Haney. "He said, 'Tell Haney if he writes it, I'll do it (give the speech)."

Haney was also a fan, and friend, of Tigers broadcasting great Ernie Harwell. Haney edited and published two books written by Harwell.

"I told him he ought to do a book and I told him it would be a tragedy if he passed on and didn't pass these stories on for posterity," Haney recalled of his conversation with Harwell in May 1984. "He talked to Lulu (Harwell's wife) and she said, 'You talk to Mr. Haney.' I told him, 'You write four to five pages a day and by fall you'll have a book, the Tigers will win the pennant and the World Series, and we'll bring it out hot on the heels of them winning.'"

That is precisely what they did. Haney tried to shop it to larger publishers but decided to publish the book, "Tuned to Baseball," himself and later published another Harwell book, "Diamond Gems" under his own company, Momentum Books, which he founded in 1986. "Tuned to Baseball" would sell 25,000 hardcover editions and 100,000 in paperback.

"That's why I founded this little book company," Haney said. "There are a lot of books that should be done and could be done, but can't be done because New York publishers don't love books, it's business to them. That's why I got into publishing, because I care about the stories—the stories that move people and change people's lives."

Haney also published "Appontment with Dr. Death," about assisted suicide physician Jack Kevorkian. The book was written by Michael Betzold, who covered stories on Kevorkian for the Detroit Free Press.

Haney says one of the most important things he learned to say as a publisher and editor was "no."

"A good editor protects an author against himself," he said. "Some of the things you sweat over as a writer are no longer needed in a manuscript... I never did books with people I didn't like, it would be unbearable." Haney sold Momentum Books in 2001 and now publishes under MB Communications of Ortonville. These days, he prefers to write.

"I don't need any more excuses to not write," he said. "I shouldn't publish someone else's book until I've done right by my own good book."

That book he is working on making happen is tentatively titled, "Michigan Men and Women Who Made a Difference."

Haney advises aspiring writers to just do it.

"You don't talk about writing and you don't talk your story out," he said. "You've got to use that at the keyboard. The first page you're going to throw away anyway... You really have to be tough on yourself if you're going to be a good writer... If you're lucky enough to get the attention of an editor or publisher, don't waste it by showing them something not perfect."

Self-publishing means there is a proliferation of books, but not all of it is good.

"There is a tremendous amount of imaginative stuff, but there is also junk clogging up the system," Haney said. "I do think there are great opportunities for people who couldn't get published before."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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