by David Edgerley Gates
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.