Thursday, November 27, 2008

Business, Publishing, and Books

I’m a child of the 60’s, which makes me cynical about big business. But I know I’m not alone in my cynicism about the people running businesses in the U.S. today. It’s affecting the entire world. To quote Thomas Friedman in Wednesday’s New York Times,
“the country’s best-paid bankers were overrated dopes who had no idea what they were selling, or greedy cynics who did know and turned a blind eye. But it wasn’t only the bankers. This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics.”

Since we’re readers and writers, and we’ve been speaking of hard times in terms of falling book sales, here’s some disturbing news pertaining to the publishing industry: Sarah Palin may earn as much as U.S. $7 million for a book about her experiences in the campaign for Vice President. (At least that’s what I think it’s about. Who knows? Maybe it’s about moose hunting by helicopter.)

This was on an Australian website for the Canberra Times: "Every publisher and a lot of literary agents have been going after her," said Jeff Klein of Folio Literary management.

"She's poised to make a ton of money," public relations expert Howard Rubenstein said.

A spokesman for publisher Random House told the New York Post: "There are several of our imprints who are eager to talk to Governor Palin. She clearly has a constituency and we know books by conservatively-centred politicos usually sell very, very well."

Now we’ve asked this question before, but it pays to revisit it. How many books does Random House have to sell to break even? Especially after they pour a few hundred thousand (at least) into promotion.

I’m not saying every publishing house is run by idiots, nor is every U.S. business. But what can the every-day citizen do about the ongoing mess? I don’t know all the answers, but grass-roots activities might be a good start. We can buy local, with careful attention to quality and good business practices.

Here’s a way to start—an excellent suggestion by Charles Benoit, which supports my grass-roots theory. We bloggers are going to list five books that we’d recommend as holiday gifts. Our requirements are that the book not be written by a friend and that the book be published in ’08. This was harder than I thought. I ended up including one published in ’07. It was too good to be left out. Here goes:

1. Kate Atkinson, When Will There be Good News, Little, Brown, and Company, 2008
2. Craig Johnson, Another Man’s Moccasins, Viking Penguin, 2008
3. April Smith, Judas Horse, Knopf, 2008
4. Minette Walters, The Chameleon’s Shadow, Knopf, 2008
5. Stieg Larsson, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Knopf, 2008.
6. Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map, Penguin Books, 2007.

Just in case you don’t have access to a good independent bookstore, here are some I recommend. They all ship books.
The Poisoned Pen,
M is for Mystery,
Mysteries to Die For,
Mysterious Galaxy,
The Mystery Bookstore (L.A.)
The Mystery Company,
Book Passage,
And many others
Happy Thanksgiving!


Deni Dietz said...

Debby, I'm confused. What was your point about Palin? Do I think she's worth a 7 million advance? I don't think she's worth 7 cents and have no intention of buying her ghost-written book. Does it prove the book biz is run by idiots? Not really. I think THRY think there are enough right-wing nuts to make a Palin book profitable (I don't agree but that's another blog subject).

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Hi Deni,
My point is that I don't think the book will recoup what the publisher puts into it. I don't think the book biz is run by idiots, either, but I do think the general industry's inclination is to look for the next blockbuster as opposed to building a stable of long-producing authors. And my next point was that in this wide-reaching financial crisis, we individuals can help by supporting quality and if we can, buying from independent booksellers.

Anonymous said...

I just read the list of books you reccommend for gifts and I noticed that they were all published by the larger publishing houses. Is there a reason why? Did you not read any from smaller publishers? Or were they not as good as the ones from larger publishers?
Just wondering.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Dear Anon,
Wow, you're right. I think it was a fluke, combined with our two self-imposed rules that we couldn't list a book published by a friend, and the book had to be published in 08. There are a growing number of small presses who publish excellent work, and I'm glad of it. That said, can we put another list of five out there? Or better yet, would you be willing to add your list of five favorites?

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