The end of book publishing? Part I

So, I had a witty comment from Helen under the elevator pitch for my book, where she humorously suggests some titles. Perhaps Digesting the Elephant of Success, followed by something (anything!) starting with How to….


That, shall we say, touched a nerve, because my agent and I only recently sold the book and, well, I found myself at the receiving end of the various publishers’ reactions. Self-help? Biography? History? Business? What, oh what, aisle at Barnes & Noble will it go in? That’s what they need to have answered.

In another and separate post I’ll sound cautiously optimistic about the industry (if I weren’t, I probably wouldn’t be able to write a book), but I want to share what Helen then wrote in a follow-up email. She is, I should say, the great niece of a great author, Rebecca West, as well as the the executor of her literary estate. Book publishers, says Helen, …

… seem to be in an utter state of denial that they’ve succumbed to Hollywoodization big time, and instead go on pretending that the average editor would still risk his life to smuggle the mss of “Dr. Zhivago” out of Russia. Editors don’t edit any more. Neither do agents. And the whole business is bungled by the guys in the marketing department who would be quite happy to have a book of empty pages, if only the cover and title attracted enough attention, including an interview on Oprah. In the spirit of full disclosure, I say this as a novelist who got run round the houses all different ways with my first, ultimately unpublished, novel….

As a journalist, I move in circles where everybody seems to be writing books all the time, so the topic comes up a lot. Helen’s view is par for the course, I would say.
Your views? Leave it in the comments, or email me through the form at the bottom of this page.

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2 thoughts on “The end of book publishing? Part I

  1. Hi Andreas
    As a journalist who writes books, let me tell you, enjoy the process…the conceptualisation, the selling of it, the interaction with the publishing company and the publicists (who come in various shades of useless) because to imagine that the book will achieve anything like “success” (never mind fair remuneration for time spent) is to invite disaster. Go into any bookstore and imagine that one of the titles on the shelf is yours. No matter how good it is, and I imagine yours will be very good, it faces as much competition for attention as your average youtube clip. Hits happen, yes, but as Duncan Watts would have it, they’re random. like the lottery. Still, gotta be in it to win it!

  2. Sobering but sound advice, Mike. I’ve been hearing this (“the publicists, who come in various shades of useless,” etc) from all my colleagues who’ve written books. (We all seem to write a book at The Economist at one point or another). I confess that I dread the next steps.
    I try to be Zen about it. But check back in in a few months, and you may find me scratching the paint off my walls….
    I’ll check out your books now. This and this, right?

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