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nighttimer
07-09-2008, 01:32 AM
(This seems to be the right place for this thread and if it isn't I hope the Moderator will move it to wherever is the right place.)

While writing today I was listening to a conversation on NPR's Talk of the Nation program claim the problem with the book industry is there are too many of the wrong kinds of books being published and not enough of the right ones.

What seems abundantly true to me, however, after almost 20 years in the publishing business, is that an increasing number of their books will be -- and should be -- mulched. We are living in the age of the disposable book.Visit your neighborhood superstore, and you will be overwhelmed with ephemera: self-aggrandizing memoirs by recovering addicts; poignant portraits of heroic pets; hyperbolic ideological tracts by insufferable cable TV pundits; guides to staying wrinkle- and toxin-free; odes to Warren Buffett (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Warren+Buffett?tid=informline) and Jesus Christ (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Jesus+Christ?tid=informline); manifestos for fixing America in 12 easy steps; manly accounts of the best athlete/season/team ever; and glittery novels about British royalty, love-starved shoppers, mournful cops and ingenious serial killers. (There are more novels about serial killers than there are actual serial killers.)

Popular formulas repeat themselves for a reason: They have visceral, even mythic, appeal. A talented author can bring new vision to the most tired subject, so there's nothing wrong with trying. Nor is there anything new about the syndrome. But what does seem more pronounced today is the relentless, indiscriminate proliferation of these books -- and the underlying cynicism of the people acquiring, publishing and selling them.

I am, of course, mindful that people who work in glass publishing houses should not throw stones. I too have sinned. In weaker moments, I've been seduced by tales of celebrity, money, gossip and scandal. Among my crimes: I volunteered to edit a White House (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/The+White+House?tid=informline) memoir by a self-serving egomaniac because I wanted to learn about presidential politics. (Hint: The author's name was Dick Morris (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Dick+Morris?tid=informline).) I worked on a book by Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Manuel+Noriega?tid=informline) because we thought he might be able to provide an illuminating perspective on how the United States wields power in Latin America. And, in an effort to bolster the company's bottom line, I acquired and edited an inspirational autobiography by the pop singer Clay Aiken (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/related/topic/Clay+Aiken?tid=informline), written and published in about four months. (For the record, Noriega was a lot more pleasant to deal with than Aiken.)

Like most publishers, I want multitudes of readers to buy our books. Moreover, authors prefer publishers who believe in the broad appeal of their work and are committed to selling as many copies as possible. Most authors want their work to be accessible to a typical educated reader, so the question really isn't whether the work is highbrow or lowbrow or appeals to the masses or the elites; the question is whether the book is expedient or built to last. Are we going for the quick score or enduring value? Too often, we (publishers and authors) are driven by the same concerns as any commercial enterprise: We are manufacturing products for the moment. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/27/AR2008062702868_pf.html



Karp goes on to quote another agent who complains, "More people are writing books than reading them."

If that's true, then it does raise some interesting questions.

Such as what chance do serious writers have in the day of the celebrity puff-piece, the thousands of diet books available for consumption by Fat America and the hack political books by hack political pundits?

Think about your four closest friends. How many of them actually read books. ANY books?

Are we just spinning our wheels or on the cusp of a brave new world of literary brilliant works?

So many questions. So little time to answer them. :Shrug:

geardrops
07-09-2008, 01:42 AM
While writing today I was listening to a conversation on NPR's Talk of the Nation program claim the problem with the book industry is there are too many of the wrong kinds of books being published and not enough of the right ones.

:ROFL:

Basically all I have to say on that front.

milhistbuff1
07-09-2008, 01:53 AM
John Maxwell Hamilton takles this topic in part of Cassanova was a Book Lover Mass literacy breeds mass opportunity... Hamilton provides some interesting statistics on this and many other topics.

Soccer Mom
07-09-2008, 01:55 AM
yeah, we've discussed Karp here:

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=107689

He has some valid things to say, other than that, I think he's pimping Twelve. He seems to feel that we should all only have a tiny taste of fine literature offered to us.

I like steak. But I like candy bars too.

He'll have to pry my genre books out of my cold, dead fingers.

Bubastes
07-09-2008, 02:04 AM
I know this has been mentioned before, but if you visit a used book store, you can see that there were plenty of crappy books published "way back when." They didn't stand the test of time because they were crappy, so you don't see them anymore. I don't think today is any different.

nighttimer
07-09-2008, 02:23 AM
I try to be an optimist and say the cream rises to the top but too often so does the crap.

:e2violin:

And I think Karp is right. Pimping his own company or not, there are too many bad books and they are strangling the good ones like so much crabgrass.

veinglory
07-09-2008, 02:25 AM
If to much food is produced we get either fat or picky. With books the same principle applies, I think.

nighttimer
07-09-2008, 02:26 AM
I know this has been mentioned before, but if you visit a used book store, you can see that there were plenty of crappy books published "way back when." They didn't stand the test of time because they were crappy, so you don't see them anymore. I don't think today is any different.

Maybe you're right. But that doesn't change the fact that crappy books that make money only encourages more of the same.

Given a choice between developing a promising writer through a shaky first start and a total hack that can churn out schlocky product that flies off the shelves, who do you think is going to get the contract?

:Shrug:

nevada
07-09-2008, 02:37 AM
Who decides what is crappy or not? Before the buying public decides. Will we have a comic code for novels now? And we all know how well that worked. Do I get to decide? Because I think Danielle Steele is crappy but millions and millions of people all over the world disagree with me.

So tell me, who decides what is the wrong book and what is the right book? Too many books being published? Might as well say that too much food is being produced. Just supply the basic foodgroups. Water, bread, apples, and mystery meat. A human being doesn't need much more than that to survive. Or clothes. All you really need are a couple of pairs of pants, 7 changes of underwear and a few t-shirts and sweaters. Lets confiscate everything else because anything more than that is a waste.

What an idiot. The buying public will decide what is good and not. When the Impressionists first started painting they were considered so bad that they weren't allowed to exhibit in any shows. They were considered "the wrong kind." It's ludicrous to judge something as right and wrong when it is a value judgement.

It's elitist bullshit. but that's just my opinion :D

veinglory
07-09-2008, 02:43 AM
Crappy books that make money are being enjoyed by someone. They are being written by someone. They are part of our culture. Crappy books that aren't making money are culturally moot.

Variously
07-09-2008, 02:50 AM
What an idiot. The buying public will decide what is good and not. When the Impressionists first started painting they were considered so bad that they weren't allowed to exhibit in any shows. They were considered "the wrong kind." It's ludicrous to judge something as right and wrong when it is a value judgement.

It's elitist bullshit. but that's just my opinion :D

It's all just one persons opinion, for sure, but it's good to be passionate about what you think is good or bad. The buying public is often not that well informed about what's out there, and bombarded by marketing which shapes what they read to a large extent. They pick the best, or the least worst, from what's offered to them.

IceCreamEmpress
07-09-2008, 02:53 AM
Maybe you're right. But that doesn't change the fact that crappy books that make money only encourages more of the same.

It was ever thus. Who was the best-selling US author of the first half of the twentieth century? Not F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway or Zora Neale Hurston or Dorothy Parker--

it was Harold Bell Wright.

One day, Danielle Steel will be as forgotten as Wright is today. But her potboilers provide entertainment for millions, just as Wright's did once upon a time.

TPCSWR
07-09-2008, 02:55 AM
Yeah, I disagree with him about the serial killer/cop novels and some memoirs but a lot of the "celebrity" authors (that obviously had ghostwriters) are complete [124 word string deleted to protect your eyes].

veinglory
07-09-2008, 03:00 AM
I still read the best sellers of previous generations. I think John Creasey tells us as much, if not more, about the human condition as Steinbeck. A history of fiction told entirely by literature would be a like a history of the world based only on its politics--simultaneously elite and shallow.

nevada
07-09-2008, 03:05 AM
His logic is flawed. If only a few books would get published, the publishers, who are corporations that answer to shareholders, would only publish those books guaranteed to make them a lot of money. All those books he considers the "wrong" books. But by publishing "too many" books those literary writers who won't make them any money will be published because the publisher can afford to lose money to publish the writer's book.

For some reason, he seems to think that publishers should be "art patrons" who only publish rarified literary works. They didn't do that 100 yrs ago and they don't do it now. It's a business, and having a large selection of product means you can carry the lines that don't make you as much money.