13 May 2015

Janet Reid on Blogspot

Janet Reid's an agent in New York who posts her thoughts and queries and if you haven't visited, it's well worth your time. She talks about the pitfalls of querying, and agenting, and the vagaries of publishing. It's informative. 

This past week, she got a question from an author, as follows: What if I don't want to do business with a particular publisher? (The concern here was ethical or political issues.) Janet didn't say this was a flat-out deal-breaker, but she said you'd better be able to explain yourself.

Let's say, for example, you don't want to publish with Rupert Murdoch, because you don't like News of the World, or the Fox network. Maybe you don't want to work with Regnery, because their list includes writers like Ann Coulter. Contrariwise, suppose you have issues on the other side, and it goes against your grain to shop a book to a house whose authors may support abortion, or same-sex civil unions, or something else that conflicts with your personal convictions. In other words, if you feel strongly enough about something, for or against, you don't want to collude in promoting a belief system you find wrong-headed, or even repellent.   

Janet remarks that one problem with this is that a Hit List of publishers might be entirely arbitrary, and what if you move the goalposts later on? So-and-so was fine with you until they paid big money for O.J. Simpson's memoirs or Fifty Shades of Grey. You can get a chicken sandwich anywhere, but sometimes Hobby Lobby's the only store that carries the specific product your kid needs for a school project. You can boycott ivory, or blood diamonds, and nobody needs powdered rhino horn, no matter what their problems are with erectile dysfunction, and those things are pretty black-and-white. The trouble comes when everything's so interdependent, or vertically integrated. How much are those Vietnamese laborers paid for making designer sneakers? And what if Adidas, on the other hand, promotes Third World literacy and eradicating disease?

A related point is that there just aren't that many big trades left to sell your book to. There are, in fact, only five corporate majors. Bertelsmannn probably controls 20% of the market. NewsCorp, Hachette? This doesn't leave too many seats at the table. There are a number of viable indies, but they don't have the leverage of the Big Five. Realistically, if you want distribution, and readership, you're selling your soul to the devil. I don't have much use for Rupert Murdoch, either, but I wouldn't turn down a contract offer from HarperCollins, it's cutting my nose off to spite my face.

So what's a girl to do– take the money and run? Let's say I don't agree with Steve Hunter's politics, or Charlie McCarry's. I still read their books. I think we let the marketplace of ideas settle our differences. Life's too short to fuss about this, as Janet Reid herself says. What counts is whether what we wrote is any good.  


  1. David the question you raise, via Janet Reid, is a difficult one. We are in a business and need to sell our product. To that end I am open to almost all possibilities. To use an analogy, if I were to not listen to musicians I disagree with or not see movies because I don’t agree with something the filmmaker said (and you should hear some of what gets said behind the scenes when you’re working with them), or not read a book because of the writer’s politics, I wouldn’t have much to entertain me. If The Nation and National Review want to review my book, I’m all for it – hopefully they’ll both like it and I’ll sell more copies. If I have a book out and I had a chance to promote it on Fox News or MSNBC, polar opposites, I’d go on both. It’s up to me to make my points regardless of the venue. So to bring it back around to the topic, I doubt I have a book Regnery would want to publish, but if it got turned down other places, and assuming they publish fiction, which I’m not sure about, I might go to them. (Of course, there might be someone or a company so heinous that I might not go to them. But being an old fashioned believer in free speech, everyone’s entitled to say what they want, have their own viewpoint and not necessarily agree with me, it would take a lot to get me to that point. So just because a company publishes things I don’t necessarily agree with or has a corporate position I might not agree with I’m not ready to burn the barn down. But the line people won’t cross over is different for everyone.) The point is we can sit in our ivory towers and talk to ourselves or we can try to get our work out there to as many people as possible.

  2. Good post David, and a reminder to all of us that books are a business. They may be our passion, but to the people who publish us, we are products. Maybe very *nice* products, maybe *special* products, but still, we are an avenue for them to make money.

  3. A very thoughtful and well-put piece, David. I'm all for getting published and letting the writing do its own talking.

  4. I should have such problems. We all should have such problems. Until then, I'll be the one in the back, jumping up and down, calling out, "anyone want a story?"


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