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James Patterson Inc.
August 22, 2010 9:30 PM   Subscribe

James Patterson Inc.
posted by Joe Beese (157 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always preferred James Paterson myself.
posted by gwint at 9:41 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


James Davis Inc.
posted by barnacles at 9:49 PM on August 22, 2010


I'm always wanting to dismiss writers like this easily, like "Ring Around the Rosie OF DEATH -- look at me, I'm James Patterson." But when I read stuff like this and I realize, no matter what I might think of them artistically, people like that tend to work a lot harder than I do and make lots of people happy so maybe I shouldn't be such a dick.

That said, jealousy isn't pretty, is mostly petty, and I won't say much except that I found the article interesting.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:50 PM on August 22, 2010 [16 favorites]


Patterson considers himself as an entertainer, not a man of letters. Still, he bristles when he hears one of his books described as a guilty pleasure: “Why should anyone feel guilty about reading a book?”

I think that's the most refreshing line in the whole thing.
posted by phunniemee at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2010 [30 favorites]


But when I read stuff like this and I realize, no matter what I might think of them artistically, people like that tend to work a lot harder than I do and make lots of people happy so maybe I shouldn't be such a dick.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.

... but Fanta? Come on.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't you wanna, wanna Fanta?
posted by hippybear at 9:57 PM on August 22, 2010


“Kim McDaniels was barefooted and wearing a blue-and-white-striped Juicy Couture minidress when she was awoken by a thump against her hip, a bruising thump. She opened her eyes in the blackness, as questions broke the surface of her mind.

“Where was she? What the hell was going on?”




Note to aspiring writers: Skillful writing does not sell books. Aggressive marketing sells books. Your skill as a writer will have little to no impact on your future sales.

Also, Metafilter: Bruising Thumps
posted by Azazel Fel at 10:01 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Patterson also tops the Forbes list of the 10 highest-paid authors, though J.K. Rowling managed to come in at no.10 although she hasn't written anything new in a year.

I've read at least a book each from every author on this list, and while they would never ever make it to my own list of favourite or best writers, their books are easy-to-read page turners, if you can get over the cliches and stilted language.

I wonder who's the wealthiest, most prolific "highbrow" literary-fiction writer alive today. Ian McEwan?
posted by peripathetic at 10:04 PM on August 22, 2010


A lioness and a house cat were discussing breeding habits.

The house cat said "I can birth several young with each pregnancy. How many can you birth at once?"

The lioness replied "One, but a lion."
posted by The Confessor at 10:07 PM on August 22, 2010 [34 favorites]


I wonder who's the wealthiest, most prolific "highbrow" literary-fiction writer alive today. Ian McEwan?

Based on absolutely nothing, I bet Salman Rushdie does alright.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:07 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


The amount of white space on the pages of a James Patterson hardback should be criminal.
posted by mediareport at 10:08 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The publishing industry is an evil cabal of vicious parasites intent on churning every last living tree on the planet into pulp so that it can print billions upon billions of copies of the most inane and ridiculous books ever written – and every single copy will be purchased in blithe indifference by a member of the most decadently and wastefully wealthy herd of humans ever to walk the earth, glanced at for an average of five minutes on an airplane or a train or a doctor's waiting room, and then nonchalantly cast aside to a spare shelf or (more likely) simply thrown away. I don't generally like lawbreaking, and I try not to break the law myself; but in this case I hope the publishing industry dies a quick but very, very painful death in the next decade as people realize that there's really no point at all in paying for books printed laboriously on hunks of frankly precious organic tissue – ripped senselessly from the sides of the last few specimens of forestry we seem to have left – when 99.99% of the books actually worth reading either (a) are already available in digital format or (b) were printed years ago, are available used or (GASP!) at the public library, and don't require any more meaningless desecration of the earth just to put more shekels in the coffers of absolute douchebags.

I hope nobody's going to spout this obnoxious tripe about books being 'precious' or whatever. We've got enough books. Frankly, they could stop printing books now, and we'd have enough books for a long, long time – and anything new could just be processed digitally and made available that way. In fact, if we were rational creatures, that's precisely what we'd do, wouldn't we? Instead we're hell-bent on wanton destruction.

Death to the publishing industry. I will never buy a new book again as long as I live.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 PM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is this something I'd have to buy a book in an airport to understand?
posted by telstar at 10:18 PM on August 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


Paper making also uses up vast quantities of trees. But trees are a renewable resource, which means that once one is cut down another can be planted in its place. In fact, much of the wood used by paper companies in the U.S. comes from privately owned tree farms where forests are planted, groomed and thinned for harvest in 20 to 35 year cycles, depending on the tree species. Around the world, tree farms supply 16% of all wood used in the paper industry while the bulk comes from second growth forests. Only 9% of the wood used to make paper is harvested from old growth forests, which are impossible to replace because of their maturity.
Seems a decent amount of carbon sequestering could be created if we were to do much larger-scale tree farming and harvesting for book production. But most of the books do seem to come from trees planted for that purpose, and not from willy-nilly carving out of old-growth forests.
posted by hippybear at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


WTF? I'm pretty sure they aren't cutting down the rain forests to print books.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:25 PM on August 22, 2010


I hope nobody's going to spout this obnoxious tripe about books being 'precious' or whatever. We've got enough books. Frankly, they could stop printing books now, and we'd have enough books for a long, long time

On the one hand I love your passion, on the other, are we printing more books than we are toilet paper, paper towels, printer paper, card board, news paper, junk mail, boxes, binders, playing card, on and on and on?

I understand the problem, I'm just not sure that books are the first tree we should be looking to fell.
posted by nola at 10:26 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Koeselitz, you're quite the new critic there aren't you?

Let people buy the books they like - as they buy other things. I have a hard enough time judging myself and the merits - literary or otherwise - of what I'm reading. I don't need to judge other people. If people like having books around, so be it. They like having a lot of other stuff as much or more "useless" around, too.

Also, the idea that we're running out of cheap plantation timber is... pessimistic to say the least - and the idea that the majority of old growth forests are going into paper is preposterous.

Shall we ban toilet paper, too?
posted by smoke at 10:27 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


aaaand there I go.... (though I'd agree that 9% is too much)
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:27 PM on August 22, 2010


Ha, everybody beat me to it.
posted by smoke at 10:27 PM on August 22, 2010


Thank you, New York Times, for once again distilling my vague hatreds and general snobbish contempt onto a single human symbol.
posted by EL-O-ESS at 10:28 PM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


35% of trees felled go to making paper. Out of that, what percentage do you think goes to books?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:30 PM on August 22, 2010


At one point, the conversation turned to the next installment in Patterson’s Michael Bennett series, which revolves around a Manhattan homicide detective and widower with 10 multiracial adopted children (“Cheaper by the Dozen” meets “Die Hard,” as Patterson describes it).

Having represented real-life big city homicide detectives, no you cannot be a homicide detective and raise 10 kids on your own. Setting aside the salary impossibilities, these people do not have the time.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:38 PM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


The publishing industry is an evil cabal of vicious parasites intent on churning every last living tree on the planet into pulp ... I hope the publishing industry dies a quick but very, very painful death in the next decade as people realize that there's really no point at all in paying for books printed laboriously on hunks of frankly precious organic tissue – ripped senselessly from the sides of the last few specimens of forestry we seem to have left ...

Read this.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:44 PM on August 22, 2010


More on topic, that was a good piece, and I do wish more aspiring novelists would read it, and take to heart: this is what it means to be a successful writer.. Every successful writer goes through processes like that, more so or less so.

Koeselitz is right in that it is a commercial transaction first and foremost, and art is an adjunct. It's not noble, it's not ignoble. It just is. You don't need to be ashamed of it, and you don't need to be excessively proud of it; it doesn't make you a better or more successful person or writer.

Using it as a benchmark for writing success - which many aspiring novelists I've met do - is a really flawed and unrewarding thing. Judge your work on its own merits, and what people you respect make of it; not the merits of a mercurial public and avaricious publishing industry. You wanna be a writer, or you wanna write? Cause let me tell you, the latter is a whole lot more satisfying than the former. It's also a lot of hard work.
posted by smoke at 10:45 PM on August 22, 2010


Having represented real-life big city homicide detectives, no you cannot be a homicide detective and raise 10 kids on your own. Setting aside the salary impossibilities, these people do not have the time.

Maybe he's just really bad at both jobs? Because that actually sounds like an entertaining read.

Seriously, though, I've read a few of this guy's books. They're not bad for reading on my lunch break at work, definitely better than Dan Brown but not nearly as good as Michael Connelly or even John Sandford.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:46 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jaltcoh: “Read this.”

Who said anything about old-growth forests or global warming? Publishing prints at a rate that outstrips tree farming, that outstrips their own printing rates, that even outstrips their own profit margins. Read this.

My point is that the whole thing is just senselessly, ridiculously, painfully unnecessary and frivolous. This isn't supposed to be a derail – this is my reaction to reading anything about the publishing industry nowadays: it just seems like one of the sleaziest, most ridiculously unhealthy things in the history of the world. I feel about this the same way I feel when I walk into the worst kind of fast food restaurant: so much time and effort are used up to earn the money that is thrown away on something that will eventually kill the people eating it anyway. I mean, I'm not this dire all the time, but don't people get fed up? I mean, I know people who eat fast food every day, and I ask them the same thing: don't you get fed up with this?

There is absolutely no difference in sleaziness between the publishing industry and the fast food industry. Well, there's one difference; the fast food industry isn't quite so monumentally wasteful.
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never picked up one of his books, but after reading this I'm curious as to just how page-turny they are. Can somebody recommend the representative James Patterson novel? Is there a stand-out that's considered his best?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:57 PM on August 22, 2010


Since 2006, Mr. Patterson has written one out of every 17 hardcover novels bought in the United States.

Wow.
posted by kanuck at 10:58 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Who said anything about old-growth forests or global warming?

I did.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:59 PM on August 22, 2010


(Read the comments on that article you linked though, Jaltcoh. Wired seemed to draw a lot of criticism for misunderstanding/mischaracterizing the science over this one. Also, even taken at face value, the article makes it clear that it's only the use of wood to produce durable goods--high-end wooden furniture, etc.--that locks up carbon that might otherwise be released over the long term (as opposed to disposable goods like paper back books, which also involve carbon intensive manufacturing processes). I don't mean to take a side here, just to point out that one contrarian-minded article in Wired magazine does not settled science make.)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:00 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point is that the whole thing is just senselessly, ridiculously, painfully unnecessary and frivolous.

I think you've gotten caught up in an emotional argument that does a disservice to your good sense.
posted by nola at 11:04 PM on August 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Fun with inaccurate quotations!

...James Patterson refers incorrectly to his share of the publishing market. Since 2006, Mr. Patterson has written one out of every 17 hardcover novels — not hardcover books — bought in the United States.

And he almost got away with it. Godspeed you, NYT corrections officers.
posted by clockzero at 11:08 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The publishing industry is an evil cabal of vicious parasites intent on churning every last living tree on the planet into pulp so that it can print billions upon billions of copies of the most inane and ridiculous books ever written

I think you said something about old growth forests, right there, actually.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 PM on August 22, 2010


[Patterson's publisher] says she was continually surprised by the success of Patterson’s books. To her, they lacked the nuance and originality of other blockbuster genre writers like Stephen King or Dean Koontz.
Lacked the nuance of Stephen King?

Ouch!
posted by paisley henosis at 11:09 PM on August 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


Stephen King has some nuance. I think he's a better writer than people give him credit for. His medium is pop fiction, but he twists it into a sort of fantasy genre. I've been frequently surprised by the quality of some of his ideas.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 PM on August 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


The Dean Koontz bit was an insult, though.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 PM on August 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


Want to be a successful writer? Keep your successful day job.

Best line: “I had found two things that I loved, reading and writing,” he told me. “If I became a college professor, I knew I was going to wind up killing them both off.”
posted by chavenet at 11:16 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't mean to take a side here, just to point out that one contrarian-minded article in Wired magazine does not settled science make.

It certainly doesn't make settled science, but I'm trying to say we shouldn't assume the science is settled in the other direction just because we can get worked up into a frenzy about how destructive the publishing industry is. Comments on a Wired article don't make settled science either.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:18 PM on August 22, 2010


My point is that the whole thing is just senselessly, ridiculously, painfully unnecessary and frivolous.

Yeah, well, one man's frivolous is another's treasure. If we were really to get rid of all the senseless, ridiculous, and painfully unnecessary parts of life, we'd have no time left for sensible things. Nobody agrees on what's sensible, anyway. E-ink readers will probably make way more of a dent in dead-tree publishing than any ideological crusade ever will... I've always wondered if that's not why they called it the "kindle".

Besides, I get the vast majority of my books in trade from Paperback Swap, no new paper required. I've got piles of 'em I may never find the time to read -- beautifully wasteful, magnificently shameless piles on top of other piles on top of hardback stacks -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by vorfeed at 11:25 PM on August 22, 2010


“Look,” he said, “if you’re writing ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘Remembrance of Things Past,’ then you can sit back and go: ‘This is it, this is the book. This is high art. I’m the man, you’re not. The end.’ But I’m not the man, and this is not high art.”

What's funny about this line is that Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment under tremendous deadline pressure, out of monetary desperation, serialized a chapter at a time. It seems unlikely that he thought of it as high art or of himself as "the man". I wonder if Patterson is ignorant of this, or intentionally said it to see if the writer would catch it (he didn't).
posted by breath at 11:27 PM on August 22, 2010 [18 favorites]


vorfeed: “Besides, I get the vast majority of my books in trade from Paperback Swap, no new paper required. I've got piles of 'em I may never find the time to read -- beautifully wasteful, magnificently shameless piles on top of other piles on top of hardback stacks -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Awesome. Good on you. That's exactly what I think more people should be doing. There are enough books that have been printed already. And the interesting thing is that a lot of the books that go into 'paperback swaps' are just returned books that the industry printed in a rush to sell books and then didn't end up able to sell – they don't like to release figures, from what I can tell, but millions upon millions of books are printed and then never sold every year. So by skipping the booksellers and just using the returned paperbacks like that, you're driving down the publishers' bottom line and slowly starving them.
posted by koeselitz at 11:34 PM on August 22, 2010


the interesting thing is that a lot of the books that go into 'paperback swaps' are just returned books that the industry printed in a rush to sell books and then didn't end up able to sell – they don't like to release figures, from what I can tell

What? I just looked at the Paperback Swap website, and it looks a lot like BookMooch, and in both cases you're dealing with people who have purchased the books (through whatever means -- first run, discount bin, library sale, etc), and then are putting those books up for swap. Where do you get this information?
posted by hippybear at 11:44 PM on August 22, 2010


koeselitz: Death to the publishing industry. I will never buy a new book again as long as I live.

While in many ways I appreciate your point, most published writing is crud after all, there are some exceptions to be made. I don't buy much new fiction, but I do make a point of buying newly released translated fiction and poetry because translations don't get published unless translations are bought and the few publishers that do commission and publish translated fiction and poetry stay in business. That is one example of, there are many others (e.g. for years I've had a vague guilt over not subscribing to more high quality magazines, e.g. VQR, Asimov's, Cabinet, but I just can't afford it, so I buy the occasional copy instead). That said, most of the books I buy come from my favorite local small used bookstore (Ada Books in Providence) because it's important to me that it remains open.
posted by Kattullus at 11:49 PM on August 22, 2010


I'd be really surprised if remainders don't make it directly onto pbswap and BookMooch, hippybear. If I worked at a bookstore, I'd be taking home boxes of the things (with permission, of course) for just that reason. Ex-library books are also pretty common, and I'm sure a few make their way onto the site without making it to the Friends of the Library sale.

That said, the vast majority of the books on there were obviously purchased new, back before they got sucked into the never-ending swapstream. Sometimes I wonder what the "average swaps" per individual book is -- I'm guessing at least two, and maybe even closer to five. Even if I'm the only recipient, though, trading them rather than buying them new is good for both the environment and my wallet.
posted by vorfeed at 12:03 AM on August 23, 2010


I'd be really surprised if remainders don't make it directly onto pbswap and BookMooch, hippybear.

Don't remainders have their covers removed? Has that bit of frontspiece writing been lying to me the whole time?

(By the by, I was once gifted a Pern book where the front cover to the paperback eventually fell off on its own. I made sure to always keep the cover with the book though, in case somebody browsing my bookshelf thought I was a dastardly book thief. Nowadays I would be more mortified at the thought of letting somebody know I had read a Pern book.)
posted by kmz at 12:12 AM on August 23, 2010


Perhaps this would be a bad time to bring up the blood minerals in the devices I use to read - my e-reader, laptop and mobile phone, which I probably need to update every few years.

There is a lot of waste and frivolity in the publishing industry, yes, but it's no different from the fast food industry, the electronics industry or the garment industry in my opinion. But judging from recent developments in publishing, I get the impression that there is an awareness that the current business model - gambling on a handful of titles printed on dead trees that are later pulped - is no longer tenable or even desirable, so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that digital publishing + print on demand wil really take off in the very, very near future. Many people who are attracted to books and publishing are, unfortunately, wedded to the idea of print books, but the economics and technology will probably overwhelm them. Publishing isn't only about dead-tree books - it's about passing along ideas and entertainment in a convenient form. So why demand its immediate death when changes are already underway, or the format is just one of many issues that stymies the industry and angers consumers?

But to bring it back to Patterson - I'm in awe of THIS one-man industry. The guy signed a contract last fall to produce 17 books by end 2012 so he'll have to churn out approximately 6 books a year. And his fans - do they really buy every single one of his books and read them? I try, but seldom succeed in reading an author's entire oeuvre.
posted by peripathetic at 12:38 AM on August 23, 2010


You know what? I've been drinking, and perhaps I've gotten a bit belligerent, and perhaps that's what makes me want to waltz into James Patterson's cocktail party with a glass containing three ice cubes and some straws, and I want to stand there, shaking in my heels a bit, and then shake the glass and the ice cubes at him and say,

"You know what? You know what, James Patterson? I am still absolutely fine with you, and you know why? Because you are not John Grisham, and you did not unleash THEODORE BOONE KID LAWYER on my unsuspecting Young Adult section. And I thank you for that. You can write as many weird kids books as you want, as long as you are not the maroon responsible for THEODORE BOONE KID LAWYER, whose dustjacket shows a kid on a BMX bike at the top of a long flight of stairs. Because that's ridiculous. "
posted by redsparkler at 12:44 AM on August 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Note to aspiring writers: Skillful writing does not sell books. Aggressive marketing sells books. Your skill as a writer will have little to no impact on your future sales.

This applies for any of the fame-based sciences. You may or may not be talented, and you may or may not be aggressive, but unless you're aggressive it won't matter if you're also talented -- and an untalented aggressive person can often do pretty darn well for themselves.
posted by davejay at 1:12 AM on August 23, 2010


Interesting that we're now at around 50 or so comments, and nobody seems to be interested in the little 'factoid' brought to us in the story that 'best selling author' Mr. Patterson doesn't actually, you know, ummm ... write his own books.
posted by woodblock100 at 1:14 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Remember reading this profile of Patterson and kinda admiring the fact that he has no qualms qualms about essentially still being an ad-man rather than a 'writer'.

At least he's up-front about having co-authors and puts their names on the books. I've heard of at least two best-selling authors who are essentially ghost-written and another who was put under tremendous pressure when their out-put stalled but resisted.

I've picked up Patterson but I've never read any - he's obviously not for me (see also Dan Brown). But I've just finished The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and that's a long way from high art but it was very readable. There's always been trash/pulp etc as long as there's been commercial literature. 90% of what the Victorians read is long forgotten and even Dickens was churning it out, went on promotional tours etc.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:15 AM on August 23, 2010


We're on the much more important point of paper. Or blood minerals. Or toilet paper. Or something.

I liked the article but I honestly don't think I've read a Patterson book. I assume they're not much different than the Parker and King I like to read when I just want a page turner.
posted by maxwelton at 2:16 AM on August 23, 2010


Fascinating article. I've not read any of his books but am curious now.

Patterson also appears in a few episodes of the TV show 'Castle' and they actually have a joke about his prolific nature:

"Martha Rodgers: I almost forgot to tell you - James Patterson called, he's going to be a little late for the poker game tomorrow.

Richard Castle: He probably wants to use the time to write another book."
posted by slimepuppy at 2:48 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're on the much more important point of paper. Or blood minerals. Or toilet paper. Or something.

Smug sense of self-satisfaction; MeFi's contribution to self-renewing resources,
posted by rodgerd at 3:03 AM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lacked the nuance of Stephen King?

Ouch!


Even Stephen King says so:
I don't like him, I don't respect his books because every one is the same.
To which Patterson responded:
Recently Stephen King commented that he doesn't have any respect for me. Doesn't make too much sense-I'm a good dad, a nice husband-my only crime is I've sold millions of books.
posted by pracowity at 3:14 AM on August 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Reading E-books gives me a headache, and reading books with little to no brain-enriching material gives me an even bigger headache.

So the solution is clear: pick a few of the best works presented each year to publishing companies and print them on old-fashioned rag paper, creating lasting objects of worth and recycling old garments in the process.

You're welcome.
posted by Mooseli at 3:42 AM on August 23, 2010


I may give up books and fast food, but I mean I will never give up my electric blanket.
posted by digsrus at 4:59 AM on August 23, 2010


Lacked the nuance of Stephen King? Ouch!

That's the same line that made me spit some coffee.

I am now cleaning it up with a wasteful paper hate-napkin.
posted by rokusan at 5:15 AM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


What is the percentage of paper used on actual books... rather than trashy magazines, brochures and fast-food wrappers that end up in landfill? Because I am damn sure I've never thrown a book in the trash, no matter how awful.

Books are good. I have trouble thinking of a nobler use for a dead tree.
posted by rokusan at 5:17 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Woodblock100: nobody seems to be interested in the little 'factoid' brought to us in the story that 'best selling author' Mr. Patterson doesn't actually, you know, ummm ... write his own books.

You mean this part? "The way it usually works, Patterson will write a detailed outline — sometimes as long as 50 pages, triple-spaced — and one of his co-authors will draft the chapters for him to read, revise and, when necessary, rewrite."

To read that, then read lines like, "But I think I went a little farther than I needed to"...man, you didn't go a little farther than you needed to. You didn't write the book. You wrote a couple thousand words. That's not writing, it's certainly not novel-writing. You're getting paid to outline. You are getting paid extraordinary sums of money to come up with a plot skeleton that someone else fills in with nice choppy sentences.

How many new writers that we might've fallen in love with, will we never get to know, because your 50-page triple-spaced outlines get all the shelf space and publisher attention?
posted by mittens at 5:19 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


As long as the mineralized toilet paper isn't bloody, all is well.
posted by Samizdata at 5:22 AM on August 23, 2010


His method strikes me a similar to the way movies are made. There's a producer, director, cinematographer and script writer; Patterson hires someone do all those jobs but does a little bit of all them himself. They all get credit but his name is the one in large type on the top.
posted by tommasz at 5:40 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Stephen King says: I don't like him, I don't respect his books because every one is the same.

Stephen King, 1947-2010. Killed by irony.
posted by rokusan at 5:41 AM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Interesting that we're now at around 50 or so comments, and nobody seems to be interested in the little 'factoid' brought to us in the story that 'best selling author' Mr. Patterson doesn't actually, you know, ummm ... write his own books.

That's what originally interested me about this article. But it occurs to me that it's not unprecedented.

Colette was initially handling [her husband Willy's] correspondence, but became soon involved in writing on her own starting with Claudine, her first oeuvre under the Willy label. The success led to more novels in the Claudine series. It is generally acknowledged that these books were written by Colette, but he had his hand in it editing and honing the manuscripts. Willy also went into merchandizing dolls and other items based on the Claudine novels. - Wikipedia
posted by Joe Beese at 5:47 AM on August 23, 2010


I enjoyed the serial comma in: Some Little, Brown editors worried that other books were suffering as a result.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:19 AM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


James Patterson may have a writing factory and not a stable of ghost writers, but yeah, there are many authors who stopped writing or died, but had their work continued by others, like Francine Pascal, Ann M. Martin, V.C. Andrews and even Tom Clancy.
posted by peripathetic at 6:25 AM on August 23, 2010


Hey Beese —

The whole James Patterson/Colette network exposed at last. I thankee!
posted by Wolof at 6:48 AM on August 23, 2010


Sometimes the characters refuse to die and you end up with endless Sherlock Holmes and James Bond stories written by mostly lesser talents. People want such books to all be essentially the same.
posted by pracowity at 6:48 AM on August 23, 2010


Stephen King says: I don't like him, I don't respect his books because every one is the same.

Stephen King, 1947-2010. Killed by irony.


I hate being put in the position of defending King, because frankly I haven't been able to read or re-read any of his books for 10 years or more, but I do feel under obligation by the many hundreds of hours of enjoyment that I was given by his early books. Green Mile, Pet Sematary, The Stand, The Shining, are not formula books; the places are real and vivid, the characters are flawed but fully realized, not since Steinbeck has a writer been so in love with blue collar people.

Patterson, on the other hand, (yes, I've read 2 of his books) is like biting into a marshmallow; there is nothing of substance to remember. There is no there, there. There is a generic city, a generic detective without any memorable traits and there are evil serial killers. All of his books are interchangeable-- I think of him as the Walmart of authors-- because he is bland, predictable, huge, and his very existence has put other authors out of business.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:54 AM on August 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


I'm actually a fan of crime novels (picked up the taste from Popmc) but neither of us are much on Patterson.
posted by jonmc at 7:03 AM on August 23, 2010


This article has reminded me of just how huge the American book market is. 'Only' 10,000 copies is a best seller twice over in Canada.
posted by Gin and Comics at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2010


I'm in awe of Patterson after reading this. It's great to hear of an creative type gaining control of his own work and being filthy stinking rich because of it. He's aware that his work might not be art, but he enjoys doing it, enough people like to keep reading, so yay!
posted by nomadicink at 7:19 AM on August 23, 2010


rokusan: “Books are good. I have trouble thinking of a nobler use for a dead tree.”

This sentiment seems silly to me. You find James Patterson novels noble?
posted by koeselitz at 7:20 AM on August 23, 2010


Wow. A lot of haterade in here.

The guy found a way to take the mostly unprofitable business of writing in the 21st century and make himself rich through business savvy. Who wouldn't want to do the same?

So what if his books suck? You don't have to read them.

Also isn't this article from months ago? Cutting edge.
posted by fungible at 7:22 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You find James Patterson novels noble?

Hey, anything that gets people reading and enjoying books is good in my unpublished book.
posted by nomadicink at 7:25 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


How many new writers that we might've fallen in love with, will we never get to know

Don't hate the player; hate the fans. The problem is that the people shopping for a book to read on their next flight don't want to fall in love with a new author, they just want something mildly entertaining to pass the next few hours with, lest they end up in really awkward conversation with the guy in the middle seat. That's it. And they're not interested in taking a lot of risk, because what if the book is shit? Then they're at 35,000 feet with nothing to read.

So somebody like Patterson sells. The comparison to fast food is apt; what made McDonalds successful was its predictability. You can get off the Interstate anywhere, drive into a McD's, and get the exact same thing. Most people buying McDonalds realize that there is almost always better food within a few miles, but there may also be worse food, or food that takes longer, and they don't want to take the time to figure it out. So they get what they know.

I can't muster up a lot of outrage for Patterson, though; unlike McDonalds, I don't believe he's subsisting on huge hidden government subsidies or selling addictive products to children or markedly decreasing the lifespan of his customers. He is, as he admits, an entertainer, no worse and no better than anyone else selling fantasy in hourlong chunks to the masses.

Even if you could magically get Patterson to disappear, I doubt it would really create some renaissance of Good Art by Aspiring Authors; if Patterson-buyers can't find a book they think they're likely to enjoy, in terms of it being a 'safe bet,' while standing at the rack in the rear of the Hudson News in Terminal B, I suspect they'll just do something other than read a book (buy a few magazines, maybe head over to the DVD-rental kiosk, buy a couple of whisky sours and fall asleep).

I remember hearing the same sort of things about the Harry Potter books, when they were dominating sales and mindshare -- 'how about all the other YA authors that are getting 'Pottered' by the nth HP book?' -- and I think it was equally false. If you took away the arguably lowbrow fiction like Patterson or Rowling or even King, you're not going to drive readers to Dostoevsky (who, as has been pointed out, wasn't really 'highbrow' for much of the time he was writing) or even modern pretentiousliterary fiction. You're just going to drive buyers into alternative forms of entertainment.

Because they're not buying literature or books, per se, they're buying entertainment which happens to come in book form. If you make that entertainment harder to come by in book form, someone will make it easy to get some other way. That's how the market works.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:26 AM on August 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


Complaining about the paper used on books?

Has no one here worked in an office?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 AM on August 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


isn't this article from months ago? Cutting edge.

I don't believe anyone has mentioned seeing it before. Including you. And last I checked, the Patterson industry is still in full swing.

If you truly believe there's some sell-by date for links - my non-observance of which has degraded your MetaFilter experience - flag the post or take it to MetaTalk.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:45 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


James Patterson, the modern day Charles Garvice
By 1913 he was selling 1.75 million books annually, a pace which he maintained at least until his death.[3] Garvice published over 150 novels selling over seven million copies worldwide by 1914.[3] He was ‘the most successful novelist in England’, according to Arnold Bennett in 1910.[1] Despite his enormous success, he was poorly received by literary critics, and is almost forgotten today.[3]
posted by stbalbach at 8:05 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stephen King says: I don't like him, I don't respect his books because every one is the same.

Stephen King, 1947-2010. Killed by irony.


This is the opposite of the truth in an interesting way. Stephen King, I think, refuses to write the same book again and again; as a result I think his writing has suffered (I would guess his income has, too) as he works on projects that don't really suit his strengths. If I were Stephen King I would feel like I'd spent half a lifetime trying to do something with genre fiction that introduces a truly mass readership to some of the values of for-lack-of-a-better-word "literature," even in an attenuated way. And that Patterson's success kind of means his life mission has failed. Let the man be mad, whether you endorse this mission or not.
posted by escabeche at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


"intent on churning every last living tree on the planet into pulp so that it can print billions upon billions of copies of the most inane and ridiculous books ever written – and every single copy will be purchased in blithe indifference by a member of the most decadently and wastefully wealthy herd of humans ever to walk the earth"

This is enormously snobby of you, Koes. I'm a habitual library-user and second-hand book buyer, and one of the joys of this is freedom from literary snobbery. Want to know why everyone's recommending that new book? Fine - I don't need to pay money for it or have it on my shelves if it's really that awful. And there's nothing wrong with reading for entertainment once in a while - literary fiction is genre too. (I like pop sociology/economics and the odd superior bit of chick-lit for my relax-o-reading. And books about quirky small-town Americans.) I'm a compulsive reader, and I don't need to prove my lit credentials to anybody, and I shouldn't feel I need to just because I happen to have picked up Adriana Trigani rather than Erving Goffman off of the 'to be read' pile. (Covers, though, that's where I'm a bit snobby.)

The bookshop in my local train-station carries pop science, which is as interesting to me, a non-scientifically inclined person as pop-literature may be to scientists.
posted by mippy at 8:34 AM on August 23, 2010


I thought it was sort of funny when that woman came up to him to tell him she'd read his most recent book, but couldn't remember for the life of her what it was called. He probably could have offered any possible title and she would have been like "That must have been the one".

I'm not against this type of fiction in general though. I haven't read a Patterson book in years (I read a couple Alex Cross books back in the day, remember enjoying them but remember nothing else about them) but I have a few pulpy "guilty pleasure" authors that I like to dive into now and again and frankly what I get out of them is no guilt, all pleasure. I think it's okay to give my brain a break from my usual reading diet, and I think it's okay if people who read authors like Patterson never read anything else. Maybe not ideal, but perfectly okay.
posted by padraigin at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2010


mippy: “This is enormously snobby of you, Koes. I'm a habitual library-user and second-hand book buyer, and one of the joys of this is freedom from literary snobbery. Want to know why everyone's recommending that new book? Fine - I don't need to pay money for it or have it on my shelves if it's really that awful.”

I said nothing about the quality of books, and didn't intend to. This isn't about whether I think certain books are 'worth' printing. People don't seem to have noticed that we live in an age when every single one of us can read books without having to use a single square inch of paper. No snobbiness involved whatsoever.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2010


Well then, apologies. Though we could say the same for newspapers and magazines these days, no? They're not even meant to last more than a day, yet the Sunday Times probably has as much paper as an average-sized novel.
posted by mippy at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2010


There are enough books that have been printed already.

So if I really enjoy books by a living author, I have to stop reading new books by them? Instead I have to read books that are already printed, even if I don't like them? Because, think of the farmed trees and all that?

Sorry. I understand your points but I would like to read new Iain Banks, David Drake, Neal Stephenson etc. Good luck not buying any more books though. I can't do that. I'd go nuts (er).
posted by Splunge at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2010


Seems a decent amount of carbon sequestering could be created if we were to do much larger-scale tree farming and harvesting for book production.

Yeah, like I need more reasons to justify my addictions. I already measure my library by cubic meters. "Look hon, we can't gives those books away. I'm not building a library, I'm squestering carbon."
posted by bonehead at 8:47 AM on August 23, 2010


I did think before reading this that Patterson was an adult version of the 'series' books for teens - things like Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter's Club and Nancy Drew that carried one name on the cover but were ghostwritten. Until I found that out I wondered how one person could write so many books...
posted by mippy at 8:48 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are enough books that have been printed already.

I assume you feel the same way about music, art, film, and food as well? After all, it would be a lot more environmentally friendly if everyone ate the equivalent of Monkey Chow all the time.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Splunge: “So if I really enjoy books by a living author, I have to stop reading new books by them? Instead I have to read books that are already printed, even if I don't like them? Because, think of the farmed trees and all that? ¶ Sorry. I understand your points but I would like to read new Iain Banks, David Drake, Neal Stephenson etc. Good luck not buying any more books though. I can't do that. I'd go nuts (er).”

I bring you great tidings. Our greatest scientists have gather together and created a wondrous machine whereby we may read words without having them printed on paper! Like magic, these words are projected outward from bright, shining surfaces filled with light! It is truly awe-inspiring, this age in which we live.
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on August 23, 2010


Don't remainders have their covers removed? Has that bit of frontspiece writing been lying to me the whole time?

Remainders usually have a mark on the top or bottom of the pages. You're thinking of a stripped book, which is different. Remainders are usually re-sold; stripped books are discarded.
posted by vorfeed at 8:57 AM on August 23, 2010


People don't seem to have noticed that we live in an age when every single one of us can read books without having to use a single square inch of paper... Our greatest scientists have gather together and created a wondrous machine whereby we may read words without having them printed on paper! Like magic, these words are projected outward from bright, shining surfaces filled with light!

Oh, so you're buying an e-reader for everyone who needs one? Good on you. Much better than bicycles, IMO.

No snobbiness involved whatsoever.

Just thoughtlessness, then?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:59 AM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


For the h8rs: 18th c. Book commode.
posted by aught at 9:01 AM on August 23, 2010


I bring you great tidings.

Despite your protests this is nothing but snobbishness. You know what is far more ecologically problematic than books? Air travel.

How was Spain?
posted by Justinian at 9:02 AM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


How are we measuring the environmental impact of farmed trees v. laptop batteries, iPad factories, plastics manufacturing, and other electronics cruft?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:04 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Our greatest scientists have gather together and created a wondrous machine whereby we may read words without having them printed on paper! Like magic, these words are projected outward from bright, shining surfaces filled with light! It is truly awe-inspiring, this age in which we live.

I have no idea why you're hung up on this, but you're starting to sound really silly. Some people like paper. They like it so much they'll pay for books. Books are cheaper than ereaders. What's the issue?

And is ok with you if third world countries use paper, as it may be a easier and more convenient medium for countries with no or low quality infrastructure?
posted by nomadicink at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Justinian: I assume you feel the same way about music, art, film, and food as well? After all, it would be a lot more environmentally friendly if everyone ate the equivalent of Monkey Chow all the time.

I'm not sure that would work out so well…
posted by paisley henosis at 9:11 AM on August 23, 2010


koeselitz: "I bring you great tidings. Our greatest scientists have gather together and created a wondrous machine whereby we may read words without having them printed on paper! Like magic, these words are projected outward from bright, shining surfaces filled with light! It is truly awe-inspiring, this age in which we live."

I can't afford one. And I like paper books. But thanks for all the condescension, I was almost out.
posted by Splunge at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I enjoyed the serial comma in: Some Little, Brown editors worried that other books were suffering as a result.

A friend who was published by LB once nearly sent a very wrong message by venting about "these damn Little, Brown people" at a crowded event.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:37 AM on August 23, 2010


People don't seem to have noticed that we live in an age when every single one of us can read books without having to use a single square inch of paper. No snobbiness involved whatsoever.

I belong to an online group of writers looking for agents and we know that, unless we're writing for the YA market, we're properly fucked for a few years, cause for new writers mostly only YA sells. (And I dunno the numbers, but "mostly" is a real high percentage, like, jaw-dropping).

Why only fucked for a few years? According to some of the wiser minds of the group, the almighty ebook.

And because this group of writers is so rah-rah that I can't even believe they're fucking writers, I mean where's all the self-torture and feeling embittered? They're all, 'yay, ebook.'

Look. My parents MIGHT have bought me an ebook reader if it came down to $50. But probably not, because they were thrifty (not poverty; we were middle class)

I want to save the trees, but, as I told my writers group, if ebooks mean that fewer poor kids read, I want to murder the concept of ebooks in the face.

There is a huge fucking digital divide. So what the fucking fuck.
posted by angrycat at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2010


What is the antonynm to a luddite? Is there even one? Can we call it koeslitz? :)

It's so weird to read "Enough books have been printed. Stop making new ones" -- is it truly just a gut feeling that you don't think trees deserve to be books that drives you? Because yes, there is new technology, but we still aren't at that place where everyone has an e-reader -- and even then, wouldn't the consumption of all that electricity and manufacturing etc have some other global impact?

If it is not in fact the trees, then what? I can't understand "Make no new works - there are lot of works already."

I'm disappointed the article didn't label him a "high concept" book writer.
posted by cavalier at 10:05 AM on August 23, 2010


"There is absolutely no difference in sleaziness between the publishing industry and the fast food industry. Well, there's one difference; the fast food industry isn't quite so monumentally wasteful."

Come on. Seriously?

The publishing industry isn't directly responsible for, but certainly has a big hand in knowledge creation and dissemination. Publishing has plenty of excesses and waste, but the fast food industry doesn't have a single thing like knowledge dissemination that it can even aspire to, let alone actually achieve. Oh, AND the fast food industry wastes tons of paper wrapping it's artery clogging sandwiches. There are plenty of valid criticisms of the publishing industry, but that's just ridiculous. All IMHO, of course.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:10 AM on August 23, 2010


Now if we could just get Thomas Kincaid to illustrate a James Patterson book...
posted by Biblio at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Having represented real-life big city homicide detectives, no you cannot be a homicide detective and raise 10 kids on your own. Setting aside the salary impossibilities, these people do not have the time.

Something tells me the hero has a sassy lesbian Filipino sidekick to help with the diaper changing.
posted by steambadger at 10:13 AM on August 23, 2010


kadin2048--
The problem is that the people shopping for a book to read on their next flight don't want to fall in love with a new author, they just want something mildly entertaining to pass the next few hours with, lest they end up in really awkward conversation with the guy in the middle seat.

And that's fine, except that it's not true. At some point, each one of those people had to pick up a book of his, sight unseen, and take a chance on it. And then a second, and a third, before they developed the habit, and understood that this brand was soothing and repetitive, that they never had to worry about any sudden variations in quality or theme.

The comparison to fast food is apt;

Sort of, but not quite. You can go down the road to some other restaurant if you don't want McDonalds. This is different, more like if you were at a restaurant you used to like, but when you looked at the menu, progressively more and more of it was taken up by Big Macs. And you say to the manager, hey, I didn't come here for a Big Mac, what happened to my favorite dish? And he says, I'm sorry, this is what the market wants. Go order your dinner from Amazon if you want selection.

If you took away the arguably lowbrow fiction like Patterson or Rowling or even King, you're not going to drive readers to Dostoevsky (who, as has been pointed out, wasn't really 'highbrow' for much of the time he was writing) or even modern pretentious literary fiction. You're just going to drive buyers into alternative forms of entertainment.

The downside being...what?
posted by mittens at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2010


"it just seems like one of the sleaziest, most ridiculously unhealthy things in the history of the world"

Dear me. Really? Worse than crack cocaine, worse than the HFCS cabal, worse than the oil industry, Big Corn, McDonalds, Starbucks, blood diamonds, the clubbing of baby seals, the fur industry that eradicated entire species of cute and fuzzy animals, whaling, veal, Girls Gone Wild Inc, the slave trade, medieval serfdom, plague blankets, WWII, lead paint, arsenic beauty eyedrops, bloodletting? The marketing of Pop Tarts ice cream sandwiches to children?

I'm happy to see any author making big money, even if he is gaming the system to some extent, and may not meet some people's quality criteria. (Mine, for one. I tried reading one of his books once. Once.)

At least it means that people out there are still reading books.
posted by ErikaB at 10:28 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


as a result I think his writing, has suffered (I would guess his income has, too) as he works on projects that don't really suit his strengths

From the above linked Forbes article, I'm thinking he's doing all right in the finance department:

"The bad climate for brick and mortar bookselling hasn't hurt prolific horror maven Stephen King, either, who placed third on our list with a take of $34 million, $8 million of which we estimate came from backlist sales"
posted by madajb at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2010


Remainders usually have a mark on the top or bottom of the pages.

So that's what that is.
I always just figured librarians were a bit careless with the magic markers!
posted by madajb at 10:54 AM on August 23, 2010


fungible: The guy found a way to take the mostly unprofitable business of writing in the 21st century and make himself rich through business savvy. Who wouldn't want to do the same?

Well - at a guess - maybe any writer who writes primarily for some reason other than commercial gain? The ones who aspire to art, or originality, or insight, or unique reportage? The ones who, sure, want to be paid for their work, but do it mainly because it's a calling, a passion, in a surprising number of cases pretty much their primary reason for being? Which is to say the overwhelming majority of writers in the history of all literature? Including pretty much all the ones who I could list by surname only and expect you to recognize?

I write for a living. I know many, many people who do the same, or aspire to. I have never met a single one who expects to one day have a half-dozen full-time staff and an estate in Palm Beach, and still they write. Some years I've been a very, very poor writer, and other years I've been in the top quartile, incomewise, for working Canadian nonfiction writers. I've been every step in between. None of it's mattered much, really, to the work I do. I'd do it in the downtime from my joe job if I (still) needed one. It's just what I do.

The way Patterson found a way to take the unprofitable business of writing and make himself rich is by almost completely divesting himself from the writing itself and paying basically no attention whatsoever to craft and bringing only a factory foreman's sense of quality control to bear on the product. He's indifferent to or dismissive of almost everything I love about writing. He could sell a billion copies a year, and still I wouldn't want to do the same if I had to do it the way he does.
posted by gompa at 11:08 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like I said very early in the thread, my initial reaction is always 'ick' to folks like Patterson, but then I realize he's giving people what they want, so yay to him.

We talk a lot about wasted paper or wasted shelf space. But publishing, like most everything else, isn't a zero sum game. If there were more people wanting to read better books, they'd find the shelf space. Patterson is not the problem here.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:17 AM on August 23, 2010


There is absolutely no difference in sleaziness between the publishing industry and the fast food industry.

The fast food industry sells only to those with a taste for fast food. The publishing industry sells material for every taste and need.

How many new writers that we might've fallen in love with, will we never get to know?

I wouldn't worry that much about it. If they're any good, they will presumably turn up somewhere sooner or later. Possibly at Little Brown.

Truman Capote said he appreciated James Michener because the money Michener brought in helped pay for lesser fry like Capote. You think Patterson doesn't do the heaving lifting for the lesser Little Browners? (Yes, I read the bit about how he singlehandedly changed the company. Like nothing else what happening in the biz at the time? Check the web site. It's not as if they're All James Patterson, All the Time. They still carry a bunch of niche interest, loss leaders, and no-hopers. Some probably even worth reading.)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2010


I want to save the trees, but, as I told my writers group, if ebooks mean that fewer poor kids read, I want to murder the concept of ebooks in the face.

There is a huge fucking digital divide. So what the fucking fuck.


Hey, this will change. Readers will get cheaper.

Now, the *books*, on the other hand, I don't know about that. With no clear replacement for lending or used book sales, it isn't looking real great for those who choose not to spend wildly on books.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:56 AM on August 23, 2010


Who?

Seriously. Never heard of this guy.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:10 PM on August 23, 2010


Actually, I'm impressed by the lack of haterade here. I expected to hate him after reading this, but it sounds like he's just a guy with a very clear, ambitious agenda and has done a fine job of executing it. There are some disturbing issues about the publishing industry that lurk under the surface of this story, but I don't think you can blame Patterson for that. I may actually go try to read something of his. That first book mentioned sounds kind of good, even though it is apparently the absolute outlier of his oeuvre.
posted by norm at 12:26 PM on August 23, 2010


This article is fascinating.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 12:31 PM on August 23, 2010


IndigoJones: “Truman Capote said he appreciated James Michener because the money Michener brought in helped pay for lesser fry like Capote. You think Patterson doesn't do the heaving lifting for the lesser Little Browners? (Yes, I read the bit about how he singlehandedly changed the company. Like nothing else what happening in the biz at the time? Check the web site. It's not as if they're All James Patterson, All the Time. They still carry a bunch of niche interest, loss leaders, and no-hopers. Some probably even worth reading.)”

That may have been true even twenty years ago. It's not true now. There is one thing anyone needs now to be published: an internet connection. I don't think Little, Brown is providing any service whatsoever to the literary world, or to authors, at this point.
posted by koeselitz at 12:56 PM on August 23, 2010


I don't think Little, Brown is providing any service whatsoever to the literary world, or to authors, at this point.

Distribution, critical recognition, professional editors?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2010


I don't get all the "at least people are reading." What benefits are people really deriving from reading Patterson? The writing isn't good and there's not exactly a lot to think about in terms of story and characters. I've always thought of reading these books as equivalent to watching something stupid on TV or going to see a blockbuster summer action movie.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with reading Patterson, or watching Food Network, for that matter. But the fact that Patterson puts words on paper instead of images on a screen doesn't make what he produces any more valuable, or its consumption any more praiseworthy.
posted by roast beef at 1:09 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is one thing anyone needs now to be published: an internet connection.

That's certainly true, but lots of people don't just want to be published, they want people to read their books.
posted by escabeche at 1:11 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think Little, Brown is providing any service whatsoever to the literary world, or to authors, at this point.

You're certainly entitled to your opinion. I don't think I've ever met a single published writer who shares it, but don't let that get in the way of your convictions.

The industry has problems, to be sure, and it's inevitable and indeed imminent that it will see a period of shake-up and restructuring of the sort the music business is now deeply into. The big problems, though, are structural and managerial, which is a whole different thing entirely from the often wonderful editorial departments that shape raw talent into professional authorship. My books and my life would be significantly weaker without my editors (at Random House Canada, primarily), who I trust more than anyone else I've ever had a professional relationship with. I have never met or read a writer of any genre or calibre who could reach their full potential without their type of guidance.
posted by gompa at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


gompa: “I don't think I've ever met a single published writer who shares it, but don't let that get in the way of your convictions.”

Really? Never met a single published writer that shares that opinion? Apparently you only talk to the people the publishers want you to talk to.

Look, I have friends who work in publishing. They know my opinions on this, and they sympathize. You have to understand that they are selling you something, and that most of the components of that thing they're selling you are available elsewhere at much lower cost.

You say you've never 'met or read' any worth author who didn't need publishing companies or the services they provide. But there are a growing number of authors who don't, and nor did any author you've read who published before 1950 or so; before that time, editors and authors worked much more closely together, and publishing was a small-press affair composed of minor companies that couldn't have conglomerated or competed if they'd wanted to. Publishing as we have it today is a new industry – it's really only about fifty years old in its current form – and I have no doubt that it'll disappear within our lifetimes.
posted by koeselitz at 1:48 PM on August 23, 2010


WRT Stephen King: he does have his tropes that he has repeated more than once, and sometimes they cluster in a single book (I'm looking at you, Dreamcatcher--oh, wait, no I'm not, because you're one of the few King books that I haven't bought, even though there are others that I've literally worn out from re-reading). But he's also willing to stretch himself in ways that are admirable, even if they don't always work, and in particular his work post-accident has had some weird and intriguing twists to it. There's a lot less reliance on standard horror tropes and a lot more use of big bads that are deliberately left not-fully-defined.

I've never read Patterson, but all I think I need to know was in this line from the article: "This is partly because Patterson is so prolific: with the help of his stable of co-authors, he published nine original hardcover books in 2009 and will publish at least nine more in 2010." [emphasis mine] As far as I know, King has written every word that's been published under his name, with the obvious exception of the two books that he wrote with Peter Straub and various adaptations of his books in other media, like comics. (Speaking of which, he's had his work published by Marvel as well as DC, and the DC series (American Vampire) also had contributions by Scott Snyder, who is now the sole writer on the series.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:03 PM on August 23, 2010


You say you've never 'met or read' any worth author who didn't need publishing companies or the services they provide. But there are a growing number of authors who don't

Guess I should clarify. I took your blanket statement - that major publishers like Little, Brown do not provide "any service whatsoever" - to include, for example, the editors whose salaries they pay, and who I certainly would be unable to pay out of pocket, and who as far as I know would not be able to spend days making my writing better if there were not a larger enterprise paying their salaries.

Do I know writers who've been dicked around by publishing houses? Absolutely. Have I personally been driven to exasperation by the cluelessness and arrogance of publicists and marketing people at this or that publishing house? Again yes. Do I have writer friends who've had unfortunate run-ins with crappy editors? Also yes.

But do I think they or anyone else I know who writes for a living who'd be better off without a strong and trusting editorial relationship? Absolutely not, never in a million years. And do I know of another avenue for finding reliable, lasting, professional editorial guidance other than working with a conventional publisher? Nope. And a better avenue for getting good books onto the shelves of bookstores and the warehouses of major online retailers and read by reviewers and tastemakers at the major media outlets who still, even in this wondrous iPad age, conspire to provide most of the legwork between author and reader? Again nope. Not yet. We'll see what the shake-up does to the industry.

In the meantime, if you're going to suggest publishers do nothing whatsoever of benefit to writers and writing, I'm going to point, for starters, to the editorial department at Random House Canada and strongly disagree.
posted by gompa at 2:09 PM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


King is a frustrating writer. He has gifts, but he seems incapable of editing himself. I've read his latest collection of stories, and Under the Dome. There's lot's of great stuff in Under the Dome, but some things (e.g. -- his dialogue skills when it comes to children are just very bad) should have been cut out.

In his short story collection, I think there's one really good story -- Graduation Day. In the afterwords King writes that he got that idea detoxing off of meds related to his accident.

And then I think about the genius of some of his earlier stuff -- stuff he didn't even remember writing because he was so fucked up -- and boy do I wonder if I should be doing more drugs.

Anyways, as others have pointed out, there's a time-honored tradition of writers saying awful shit to one another. I had to reevaulate Mark Twain based on what he said about Jane Austen.
posted by angrycat at 2:44 PM on August 23, 2010


I don't think Little, Brown is providing any service whatsoever to the literary world, or to authors, at this point.

You're making a mistake. Going forward the primary usefulness of a publishing house is likely to be to the reader not the author. Publishers act as filters; they read all the crap in the slushpile so that we don't have to. They also employ editors to make the stuff they publish even more worth reading. Hell, I wish editors were a lot more aggressive than they are. Once an author starts selling enough books they tend to stop being edited sufficiently.

Publishers don't exist to help an author publish. They exist to help readers find books they wish to read. Well, ok, they exist to make money. By helping readers find books they wish to read.

Frankly, I think your attitude is kind of disgusting. If people aren't reading what you think they should be reading you'd prefer that they weren't allowed to read at all.
posted by Justinian at 2:46 PM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


also, yes, agents and editors, as much as i sympathize with salinger's attitude's towards the industry, do a tremendous amount of things for writers

what i don't like is the lemming-like attitude of some authors desperate to be published. to get an agent, one must probably write YA. And so they do. And do. And do. Seems like wasted talent. And there's a breed of agents who thrive on this energy, the people wanting to please them.

but there are assholes in every industry, i guess
posted by angrycat at 2:51 PM on August 23, 2010


This is what the pros over at AQconnect.com are saying about the changes in the industry, btw:


Haven't you noticed that every new agent under 25 is ONLY representing YA/middle grade/children's? And most of the new agents at the bigger agencies are all exclusively looking for these genres?

That's because the YA market is still a relatively "possible" sell for agents shopping debut books from fresh talent while every other genre has severely contracted -- along with the economy. New writers with debut books in other genres can't get sold, period (okay, that a bit of an over-statement, but it's gotten really freaking hard, really fast) because the majors aren't taking the risk in the same way anymore... so the newer agents are compensating by only repping what is selling.

This, of course, is all going to change in two years when ebooks dominate. That's the bottomline, and then it will be everyone's game.

But whatever -- we also screamed like Paul Revere two years ago that "ebooks were coming, ebooks were coming!"

...and all we heard from industry professionals was how much they loved the "look and feel" of a real book, blah blah. And ebooks were 10 years out -- at least. What a joke.

So here you go... our next prediction: in two years, "real" print books and print deals are going to seem old-school, uncool, cumbersome, expensive, and downright environmentally wasteful.

The Revolution is here, friends. We're buying smartphone app stocks, and writing tighter, leaner short fiction, and keeping our electronic rights, and watching agents scrambling to stay "relevant" when all their publishing-editor-"friends" no longer have the power to buy their books.

posted by angrycat at 2:57 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've got enough books. Frankly, they could stop printing books now, and we'd have enough books for a long, long time

No more books for you, until you finish the ones you already have.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:01 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


“Look,” he said, “if you’re writing ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘Remembrance of Things Past,’ then you can sit back and go: ‘This is it, this is the book. This is high art. I’m the man, you’re not. The end.’ But I’m not the man, and this is not high art.”

I've never read Remembrance of Things Past. Is it as good as In Search of Lost Time?
posted by Houyhnhnm at 3:28 PM on August 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Now if we could just get Thomas Kincaid to illustrate a James Patterson book

He's too busy with his own (ghosted) mystery series.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:35 PM on August 23, 2010


Justinian: “Frankly, I think your attitude is kind of disgusting. If people aren't reading what you think they should be reading you'd prefer that they weren't allowed to read at all.”

I've said this over and over and over again, and nobody seems to want to listen – I guess you'll all get it at some point in the next decade: people are allowed to read things that aren't published by the cabal of publishers. In fact, at this rate, people will continue to choose to read stuff that isn't published by those vile little covens. You might notice that they're struggling to stay in business. A hint: it's not because people aren't reading anything. It's because people can suddenly choose what they want to read, instead of what the publishers tell them to read.

That this point of view is painted as some sort of 'anti-choice' view, or as some kind of snobbish or elitist angle – in the face of the massive and decades-long snobbery of the publishing houses! – is a good indication of how indoctrinated by publishing some people are.
posted by koeselitz at 4:00 PM on August 23, 2010


"WTF? I'm pretty sure they aren't cutting down the rain forests to print books."

Of course not. No one wants a soggy book.

"Stephen King has some nuance. I think he's a better writer than people give him credit for. His medium is pop fiction, but he twists it into a sort of fantasy genre. I've been frequently surprised by the quality of some of his ideas."

Wait, how come you read Stephen King when there were already many great books printed you could have read? For shame, hypocrite. Personally, I won't read anything written after the initial run on Gutenberg's press. I just can't countenance it.

"if Patterson-buyers can't find a book they think they're likely to enjoy, in terms of it being a 'safe bet,' while standing at the rack in the rear of the Hudson News in Terminal B"

I can't imagine what it's like to not have a hundred books at home that I haven't read to choose from at any moment. And before that, there were the thousands of books at the library. This just seems like poor planning, esp. if you know you're going to be traveling. Is it the weight? They don't want to carry the books to the airport?
posted by Eideteker at 4:08 PM on August 23, 2010


You guys, I'm not gonna lie to you: I have read metric fucktons of genre fiction, and I am here to tell you that if you are lumping Stephen King in with James Patterson, you may be familiar with the work of one, but you are obviously not familiar with both, other than by reputation. James Patterson is a writer who makes Dan Brown look good. James Patterson is a writer who makes Stephenie Meyer look like a motherfucking genius. If King and Patterson are indistinguishable to you, then you may have a lot to say about Will Self or somebody, but you don't have much to say about this, and I suggest you humbly stand down. You just...don't know. YOU DON'T KNOW.

If I were a person who worked in advertising by trade, I have no doubt that I would find Mr. Patterson's accomplishments staggering. In a way, I do anyhow, because it's hard to get people to pick up a book for free, much less pay for one, much less pay for millions. Yes, it's true that Patterson's dreck has overshadowed the work of his superiors (and within his primary genre, I can cite writers like Joe R. Lansdale, Walter Mosley and Gillian Flynn as writers who have all met with some success, but not one itty-bitty iota the success that Patterson has known, and frankly, that's appalling), but I'm not really convinced that he's directly kept anyone off shelves -- stores buy tons of copies of what they can move, and if it weren't James Patterson, it'd be somebody. Even if s/he were brilliant in all the ways that Mr. Patterson isn't, it'd still be a bajillion copies of the work of one person. I don't think he's hurting anyone, is my point, and he may well be a good husband, father, and friend to motherless animals. But I don't think he's contributing anything much, either.

I guess my feeling about Patterson's success is much akin to what I felt when I read this earlier today. Make of it what you will.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:11 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


That this point of view is painted as some sort of 'anti-choice' view, or as some kind of snobbish or elitist angle – in the face of the massive and decades-long snobbery of the publishing houses!

That's completely backwards. You're not calling for there to be publishing channels outside the big publishing houses, you're calling for the destruction of the publishing houses. There's absolutely no reason why publishers can't continue to exist as a filter between readers and the 99% of books which are complete crap and unreadable AND for people to self-publish in a myriad of different ways and make their work available to anyone who wishes to read it.

So, yes, you do hold an anti-choice view. There should be a choice between going the traditional publishing route (if one's writing is of high enough quality) or self-publishing. But you want one of those choices to go away. For some reason I can't fathom. Hate publishers? Think they are evil? Fine, don't send your work to them for publication. WIN WIN.
posted by Justinian at 4:42 PM on August 23, 2010


Justinian: “There should be a choice between going the traditional publishing route (if one's writing is of high enough quality) or self-publishing. But you want one of those choices to go away. For some reason I can't fathom.”

Well, in the end it doesn't really matter, does it? Publishers are dying off anyhow. They have been for years – James Patterson & co notwithstanding – and I don't think any of us really believes that the publishers will be around in the same form in a generation or so. So in a sense all of this is kind of a moot point.
posted by koeselitz at 5:04 PM on August 23, 2010


People don't seem to have noticed that we live in an age when every single one of us can read books without having to use a single square inch of paper.

Who's this "us" you're talking about?
posted by rtha at 5:07 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess you'll all get it at some point in the next decade: people are allowed to read things that aren't published by the cabal of publishers. In fact, at this rate, people will continue to choose to read stuff that isn't published by those vile little covens. You might notice that they're struggling to stay in business. A hint: it's not because people aren't reading anything. It's because people can suddenly choose what they want to read, instead of what the publishers tell them to read.


The problem with publishing outside of the 'cabal' is that writers bear the complete burden of marketing.

You can't do that and live as a writer. I'm doing the supposedly mandatory twitter/blog thing, and it takes time away from my writing. I survive on SSD and a part time job. As it is, I don't have enough time to write.

You take away the support system of the publishing industry, you hurt writers. If you want to reform the industry, that's a different discussion
posted by angrycat at 5:21 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a place for the traditional method alongside Publishing 2.0. To claim otherwise is severely misguided. The book industry is not the music industry, at least not yet.
posted by JimBennett at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2010


[Walken]

Wow. You guys. A book is something to read. Sure, there is greed, in many businesses... in fact most businesses. But some of us, the people, we read books. We like them. They are made of paper. It's a tactile thing. Maybe some of us like to turn a page by licking a finger. And those E-books, they don't smell right. I like, the paper smell. The smell of age. Or the smell of fresh ink.

While I applaud your thoughts, thoughts about a cabal of people, who are keeping the little guy down... I don't know, and I don't so try not to get all angry here, I don't know if all your anger... If all of your vitriol is spewing the right way.

You seem to be yelling, and like I said don't yell at me now, you seem to be yelling at the consumer. And as a consumer of many things. I like many things. But nevermind now.

You might be better off yelling at the guys that you are angry at. And not us. We like you. Your yelling makes us feel that you don't... well honestly, that you don't like us.

I like bacon. But I know that, and don't get upset here, that they kill pigs for that. If you like bacon do you yell at people who eat club sandwiches? Because that would be... crazy.

[/Walken]
posted by Splunge at 5:39 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You take away the support system of the publishing industry, you hurt writers. If you want to reform the industry, that's a different discussion

Yeah, exactly. I think the argument that publishers save us from junk writing is...well, witness James Patterson. But it does lend an air of legitimacy to writers, and -- maybe more to the point -- gives them publicity muscle they would not have had otherwise (though not always as much muscle as one might think). I'm sure that some writers will pursue a self-published-e-book-only model in the next few years, but just as with bands who've done the same kind of thing, the ones who will be most successful at it are those who've become names in no small part due to the efforts of their former publishers. The end of publishing houses would mean that writing novels would be a part-time endeavor for even more people than it is now (and if you think the average self-publisher who hasn't gone into that game a pre-made name wouldn't very happily sign with a real publisher, koeselitz, I'm pretty sure you're wrong), that it would be a hobby for most writers, and what that would mean is that more writers' lives would suck and generally be miserable. We have that a whole lot already. The publishing world may not directly benefit the reader, but who the hell said that it had to?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:41 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


A few folks from my MFA program have gone the self publishing route. Godspeed to them, but the industry dogma is that self-publishing will not only mean that no publishing house will touch your book, but that even saying you've self published in a query letter (for a subsequent novel) gives your letter a loser-stink to it.
posted by angrycat at 6:25 PM on August 23, 2010


angrycat: “You take away the support system of the publishing industry, you hurt writers.”

People said that about the record industry. Now look at, say, electronic music – I don't think I could name a single reviewed release from the last five years that was released on a major label, at least not a very popular one. And a good chunk of those records aren't even released on some tiny label; they're released by the musicians themselves. Musicians who are doing all right for themselves. Yeah, the rock-star ideal of "one hit record and then I cash in!" is gone – just like the ideal of "one best-seller and I cash in!" will be gone in a decade, too, I believe. But that means that a whole lot more people are able to make a fair living doing it, and it's easier to get to the point where you're getting by. If you call up somebody at Perlon, if you meet one of the guys from Kompakt at a show – or even if you release something by yourself – after some months of hard work, you can put a record into the world that people might review highly, and like very much, and it's much more likely that you'll make enough money to live off of it. It's even something people can plan on, after a while.

This article, I think, makes it clear why the publishing industry's choices have not been very good for writers over the last few decades. Someone above quoted Capote, mentioning that the big sellers pay the way for the people at the bottom; but I think anyone who's been published knows that's not strictly true, publishers demand that every author's books be lucrative at least on some level commensurate with the investment on them, and if your books aren't selling, they're not going to just keep printing them for you just to give you a hand. The thing is that large entertainment industries (like publishing and the record industry) tend to conglomerate until they reach a bursting point, I think; they tend to get larger and larger until they begin to collapse under their own bloat. This means that the drive to get a 'hit,' a 'best-seller,' becomes stronger and stronger; the avenues of market capitalization get broader and broader; the attempt to maximize profit and minimize loss is honed with every new release. That's why there's such a carefully timed relationship between paperbacks and hardbacks. What's more, one notices that waste is actually encouraged – that's what I was het up about above – simply because large, calculated gambles can sometimes be made to pay off regularly. In Hollywood, this means that they're willing to throw a hundred million dollars at Michael Bay and see what he comes up with. In publishing, it means James Patterson.

It also means a hectic and tumultuous climate for writers, a climate where things are not at all uniform or regular. Publishing doesn't exist in a vacuum; the fact is that there is a finite market for books, and publishing exists to maximize its share of that market. As long as publishing exists, it's very, very difficult to sell a book independently, because the 'air of legitimacy' that kittens for breakfast is talking about is solely in the hands of 'published' writers. Just look at self-publishing; this is something we've had the technology to do for at least a generation. It wasn't even prohibitively expensive to self-publish in the 60s. The publishing itself is not the trouble. The trouble has always been that the publishing industry – and all the rest who bought into this, academics, readers, even writers themselves – has snootily looked down on self-publishers, treating them as second-class, not as good as the real writers, the ones who have been 'published.' It's only in the past decade, maybe only in the last five years, that self-published authors have begun to break into the mainstream and make money. We have to ask ourselves why it took almost fifty years for us to accept that someone who writes something and puts it on paper themselves might well be just as good a writer as someone who managed to impress somebody at a large publishing house. I don't believe it's because the editors at publishing houses are magically better than all the editors in the real world.

It's because, yes, publishing has done some good marketing. But the arts thrive in the absence of marketing. If the large publishing houses fell today, the world would still go on reading; there would be book reviews in the New York Review of Books even if the presses were small presses nobody'd heard of. And the vacuum left by the large publishing marketing machine would leave room for a lot of smaller presses – and independent self-publishers – to make their mark and start actually earning a living. I think that would be a good thing.

I know that I started this thread fairly angrily, and I should've probably admitted this a while ago: I'm sorry about that. It was a bit over the top. I don't really need to spew bile to make points. But I do believe that publishing is going in an interesting direction, and I do look forward with some hope to the end of the monopoly the large publishing machines hold over the industry. I know that can seem scary; but angrycat, it sounds distinctly like you yourself have felt the pinch caused by this whole setup. Is publishing as it exists today really supporting you as a writer?
posted by koeselitz at 7:12 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


angrycat: “A few folks from my MFA program have gone the self publishing route. Godspeed to them, but the industry dogma is that self-publishing will not only mean that no publishing house will touch your book, but that even saying you've self published in a query letter (for a subsequent novel) gives your letter a loser-stink to it.”

I know. And the political bosses in Chicago and New York at the turn of the century treated independent politicians the same way: with scorn and contempt. And any band in the 1970s who didn't have a 'label release,' who was outgoing enough to record their own record and release it themselves (which was in some – not all, but some – even more difficult than writing and self-publishing a novel) were seen as amateurs, hacks, wanna-bes. Punk slowly changed that attitude; but I believe the same can be true for writing. It's just writing, after all; and great writing is still great writing no matter what cover is on it. There's even a certain cachet to self-published works, I think. I don't say everything has to be self-published, but I'll be happier when you can make enough money to get by as a self-publishing novelist the way you can (to a certain degree) as a self-releasing musician.
posted by koeselitz at 7:17 PM on August 23, 2010


Koeselitz, just so you know where I come from on this, my novel was rejected by every big house in New York and eventually published by Coffee House, a medium-sized nonprofit in Minneapolis. And I'm still not with you here.

Two reasons:

1. As far as I can tell you think small and medium-sized publishers need to drop off the earth together with Random House and Little Brown. This seems analogous to asking that no music labels exist at all. I don't see why this is necessary.

2. (which I expect you won't agree with) In my experience, book publishing is as meritocratic as it gets. I have read lots of novels. Here is my experience. Most novels are bad. Most novels that fail to get published are really bad. Novels published by small houses are about as good as novels published by big houses. Among novels published by big houses, the ones which get big pushes from the house are a lot better than the ones which don't. I really, truly believe this -- not because I'm a snob, not because I think what great writing is depends on the cover. That folks like Alice Munro, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Franzen, etc. etc. have become establishment literary writers because they are very good at what they do. That the big publishers are extremely good at identifying and promoting real talent, in a way that the big record labels perhaps are not.
posted by escabeche at 7:51 PM on August 23, 2010


Escabeche, I don't even agree with your second point. And we're basically on the same side. There are plenty of excellent writers who come through major publishers, but you have got to be kidding me if you think that coming through a major publisher is an indicator of talent. The subject of this thread is, I assure you, proof that that is straight-up not true.

And anyhow, it's mostly irrelevant. The question of good and bad, I mean to say here. What defines good and bad, you know? If I'm an accountant, James Patterson is a better writer than Cormac McCarthy ever was. You can tell me till you're blue in the face that Patterson is a hack and McCarthy is brilliant, but if I'm trying to buy my third speedboat or my fifth trophy wife, I'm damn glad to be on Team James Patterson. If you're in publishing to make money, a good book is one that will sell lots of copies. A bad one does not. Big houses don't get big publishing nothing but elevated literary novels.

What is relevant, to my mind, is that no one gets anywhere without that big push. The major difference between bands that make money without label support (and I'm willing to bet that's still very far from the majority) and novelists who go all DIY is that novelists don't play concerts. They don't sell t-shirts. They write books. Some writers are also performers, and good for them, but that's not really what writers are known for. If it becomes a thing writers have to be, then look out, because your bestselling books will all be written by loudmouths and hams. You know the type, and you don't want that.

In any event, I think that's irrelevant, too, because I think that what will really happen is that self-publishing will lose its stigma as (a) it becomes increasingly cheap to do and (b) established writers do it because they realize they can cut out their publisher and make more money. New writers will continue to court the attentions of big publishers, because their self-published books probably won't make them shit, just as they don't right now. A small number of self-published writers, mostly insane or independently wealthy, will self-publish happily without a second thought. Some self-published writers will buck the odds and get popular enough that they'll never bother with big publishers, because they will already have arrived at a point where they don't need them. Basically, big publishing and self-publishing will co-exist, with big publishers cherrypicking self-publishers when they start to catch on but still haven't gone huge.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:53 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do believe that publishing is going in an interesting direction, and I do look forward with some hope to the end of the monopoly the large publishing machines hold over the industry.

See, now we're having a conversation, and now I mostly agree with you. Though I'll note, as escabeche did in his first point, that the entire industry is not a monolithic cabal where the evil's evenly smeered across every corner, and indeed you can find oases of literary nurturement and pockets of pure foul market-driven nastiness even along the same hallway inside any given major publisher's office. The thing about it is that there are people whose paycheques are issued by Random House and Hachette and such who care about good books as much as anyone else on earth and deserve their gatekeeping positions in ways your earlier rhetoric in this thread utterly failed to acccount for. And I'll note furthermore that the incongruous and uneven nature of the publishing business as currently construed means that, for example, there are agents (and even wee darling boutique agencies) that deserve the dustbin of digital history much more than certain outposts of megalithic publishing empires.

Anyway, I'll accept your apology and point out by way of some admixture of pedantry and helpful advice that if you'd started with a line like this, we could've maybe avoided a lot of preambly argument.
posted by gompa at 9:01 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry -- what I wrote reads as if I'm saying everybody who gets a big push from the publisher is good. Obviously not true. What I should have said is that in my experience there isn't a lot of really exceptional talent that the system (again, including small houses) overlooks and rejects. I'll be happy to be wrong about this since it means more good novels!

If you're in publishing to make money, a good book is one that will sell lots of copies. A bad one does not. Big houses don't get big publishing nothing but elevated literary novels.

And yet they do publish them -- even though they know, with almost complete certainty, that they won't make money! Why? I think the simple explanation is the right one -- publishers are not pure profit-maximizers, and actually believe that there is some value to publishing literary novels, subsidized by James Patterson. This is certainly what they say about themselves and I see no reason it has to be a lie.

What is most likely to happen is that prose fiction (in the "literary" register) will be captured by the academy, as poetry already is, and there will be no such thing as a novelist who doesn't also teach creative writing. If the end result is that many fewer people read literary fiction (as has already happened to poetry) I think that's too bad.
posted by escabeche at 9:03 PM on August 23, 2010


koeselitz: because large, calculated gambles can sometimes be made to pay off regularly. In Hollywood, this means that they're willing to throw a hundred million dollars at Michael Bay and see what he comes up with. In publishing, it means James Patterson.

Although I disagree with your conclusions and don't really share your anger at the publishing industry, I agree in fact with much of your post, with the exception of this point.

Patterson isn't a big gamble, he's a conservative choice. A high-risk option would be betting on some unknown author's first novel and ordering a big initial run, which might end up getting pulped if they don't sell. That's risky, and potentially wasteful on the downside. But Patterson? He's the other end of the spectrum. I bet his publisher knows with a fairly high degree of certainty how every one of his new books will sell, in hardcover, paperback, book club editions, whichever. Might they still overrun occasionally? Probably; I don't have anything more than an outsider's perspective on the publishing industry so I'm not sure how common that is, but I doubt it's a significant amount of the print run, and it's probably pretty small considering the size of the print run. He's the definition of a predictable seller and presumably that's why they keep paying him (or the interns/ghostwriters/whomevers) to churn the things out.

What some people in this thread seem to want is more risk-taking by publishers, which would carry with it — on the deals that don't work out — a lot more waste and pulped books. That's the downside of going with some new author versus someone 'safe.' Probably due to the decrease in entertainment/luxury spending across the board, plus changing credit terms, I doubt publishers have much appetite for that sort of risk, which might be another reason why Patterson is doing so well. But, as I said before, in the end it's all driven by consumer demand; Patterson sells because he produces (for a suitably loose definition of 'produces') books that people apparently buy.

My guess is that eventually, probably when entertainment spending perks back up and credit becomes easier to come by, we'll see more experiments with PoD stuff; "get an ebook for your device or a printed copy in 10 minutes" sort of thing. Which will open up selection and choices — that Hudson News with its sorry 8 feet of shelf space for books might have the same 'selection' as Amazon's digital section — but I suspect really won't do much to eliminate big-name writers. As we've seen in music, even when the barrier to entry is very low, you still get Ke$ha and Lady Gaga — it's not that hits or manufactured pop-culture artifacts go away so much as your ability to avoid them if you want to gets easier.

I'm unconvinced that PoD systems are necessarily any less wasteful, though. People are sensitive to waste in publishing because it's such a striking image: books being ground up into pulp or dumped into landfills or burned. But there's a lot of hidden waste in PoD or even pure ebook systems; it takes a lot of paperbacks' worth of energy to make one Kindle or iPad, and far more to make a PoD printer. And then the printers themselves produce waste when they trim down from letter sheets, etc., plus you have toner instead of ink...it's a more elegant system, but not necessarily a more efficient one in terms of producing the product.

Just as a sidenote: the average American supposedly buys an average of 10 books/year, but I suspect that this average is skewed heavily by people who buy lots of books; there's probably a very large percentage of the population that's in the low single-digits of books per year. (Not to mention the big chunk that's at or approaching zero.) I'm not sure ebooks will be a good universal distribution medium for a long time yet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:10 PM on August 23, 2010


My plan for the coming global crisis is to stock up on paper books, ammunition, and seeds. Ebooks are for commuters.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:22 PM on August 23, 2010


Wow, this thread got hella trolled by that "books are a waste of paper" thing. Kudos to whoever said it, I can't be assed to find the original comment.
posted by tehloki at 11:22 PM on August 23, 2010


I just wanted to step in and give a big thumbs up to Coffee House Press. They've printed some great stuff by the likes of Selah Saterstrom, Eleni Sikélianòs, Gilbert Sorrentino, and Stephen Dixon, and the entire staff is like six people.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2010


I don't get all the "at least people are reading." What benefits are people really deriving from reading Patterson? ... the fact that Patterson puts words on paper instead of images on a screen doesn't make what he produces any more valuable, or its consumption any more praiseworthy.

Has research shown that reading is more beneficial for children than watching television? Would that research also apply to adults?

Wow, this thread got hella trolled by that "books are a waste of paper" thing. Kudos to whoever said it, I can't be assed to find the original comment.

Loki would approve.

Fascinating article. I've not read any of his books but am curious now.

Fascinating, yes, but I feel the exact opposite way. I was always curious to read one to see WTF they are so popular. Now I have no desire at all.

If King and Patterson are indistinguishable to you, then you may have a lot to say about Will Self or somebody, but you don't have much to say about this...

I loled.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:57 AM on August 24, 2010


King is a frustrating writer. He has gifts, but he seems incapable of editing himself.

He doesn't need to, so why bother?

Story goes that back when Sydney Sheldon was the blockbuster king that the publishers were arguing what to title his next book. In exasperation someone suggested "Sydney Sheldon's Next Book". Branding again.

I'll be happier when you can make enough money to get by as a self-publishing novelist the way you can (to a certain degree) as a self-releasing musician.

Depending on who you are (King, e.g., though there are low-profilers out there as well), that day is here. But alas, it ain't here for the many, and I doubt it ever will be. The market's already more than glutted, and the expansion of self-publishing can only make it worse. Given a choice of rummaging through ten million (unedited) self published titles and one thousand big name publisher titles, I'm going to go with the short list. It's already needle in a haystack territory, but the haystack is a lot smaller and there are fewer clods of cat feces in it.

(NB also, writers tend not to adapt to or excel in the performance arena the way musicians do. Even Lady Gaga counts more on concert receipts than she does on record sales.)

What will be interesting is the degree to which publishers take the opportunity to brand themselves as purveyors of predictable quality, to get back the seal of approval that, say, Knopf had back in the day, before they, like LB, succumbed to the lure of blockbusterdom. Many will screw it up, but I can't think they all will.

Failing that, it's a opportunity for a reliable critic, or critics (a job I would not envy).

Mostly though, be prepared for a whole new wave of marketing.

Slightly off topic, but there's an article on Barnes and Noble in the current NYMagazine that might interest some present.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


to get an agent, one must probably write YA. And so they do. And do. And do. Seems like wasted talent. And there's a breed of agents who thrive on this energy, the people wanting to please them.

Wait what? (I write nonfiction) but my agent's always telling me to do YA. Is that where the real money is or is this some weird agent thing?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:08 PM on August 24, 2010


King is a frustrating writer. He has gifts, but he seems incapable of editing himself.

I believe the reason that his earlier works bother me so much less is that he wasn't yet STEPHEN KING, and so editors still had some power and respect. I imagine he turned in some 1100-page first drafts that ended up rewritten a few times.

But today, while he still has good stories, those 1100 pages go straight to press, when their ideas would have worked better worked down to about 300.

That's what I take away from him, anyway: editors are valuable.
posted by rokusan at 8:02 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, King's books of recent years -- stunningly, I'd include Under the Dome in this, too -- are a lot less bloated than just about everything he did in the '90s. Cell is downright stripped down. I dunno if he's giving his rough drafts to Joe for a lookover or what, but whatever it is, King's books read a lot better lately.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:01 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


rokusan: “I believe the reason that his earlier works bother me so much less is that he wasn't yet STEPHEN KING, and so editors still had some power and respect. I imagine he turned in some 1100-page first drafts that ended up rewritten a few times.”

kittens for breakfast is right. You're right about some writers, but it always surprises me when people say this about Stephen King – I've never read a book of his that needed more editing. Maybe that's because I've never read a book of his from before 1999; I don't know. But his writing seems pretty damned streamlined to me.
posted by koeselitz at 8:03 PM on August 26, 2010


It's not sentence-to-sentence where he needs editing so much as structure, though I haven't read any of the recent ones. He can go off the rails like nobody's business.
posted by Kattullus at 8:23 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


By coincidence I've just started on Under The Dome... my first King novel in years. I'm only a few chapters in and already my inner critic has piped up several times with 'get on with it!' - oh boy, gentle reader, does he love his car crashes. That said it's still a page turner (or a keep-listener as I'm doing the audio version)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:00 AM on August 27, 2010


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