Publishers Doomed by Predatory Book Pricing? So what?

John Grisham on NBC’s Today Show discusses his new book, writing novels versus short stories, and so-called predatory book pricing by large retailers like Walmart, Target and  I like Grisham in this interview.  He’s a good interview and he seems sharp.  He talks about how it’s much more difficult to fix a problem in the middle of writing a novel than to do so with a short story.  So he advises writers to ‘not have a problem.’  The trick is to thoroughly outline your entire novel before you even start to write it so that you know every single thing that happens along the way.  Pretty sound advice in most cases.  Not all.  Some of the greatest novels in the world were written by writers who had absolutely no idea where the novel was going from page one.  It depends on what kind of book you’re writing.  I think his advice is perfectly good for most books that are intended for sale in a grocery store.  Certainly.  But writers should never listen to famous writers.  They’re full of crap.  You write what makes you sweat and drink lots of coffee late into the night and bang your fingers on your keyboard until they hurt.  Or not.  Whatever.  I hate outlines.  Especially in word processors.  Awful things.  They destroy good minds and belong mostly in PowerPoint presentations for corporate managers.  I’m not sure what the hell Grisham is talking about quite frankly.  But then again, I’m not selling thrillers in the grocery store either.

But what mainly interests me in this interview is the discussion about ‘predatory pricing’ by the giant retailers.  Apparently, if you listen to publishers, this spells doom for publishing and book selling as we know it.  When asked what he thinks about his latest book being available for nine dollars at Target, Grisham says:

It’s shortsighted. Short term, they know what they are doing, I think. But if a book is worth $10 then suddenly the whole industry is going to change. You are going to lose publishers and book stores, and though I’ll probably be alright, aspiring authors are going to find it difficult to get published.

Yeah? So what.  So we lose publishers and book stores.  Who cares?  The key in Grisham’s statement is where he says, ‘…and though I’ll probably be alright.’ He means writers will be alright.  The big scary fact of the matter is that we simply don’t give a tiny damn whether or not a publisher prints a book or an author does.  Publishers read, accept, edit, design, print and promote books.  At least they used to.  I don’t care what anyone tells you, but we do not need the editors.  Writers can do that.  You write the book and you edit it and you’re done with it.  Readers are getting used to reading writers without editors.  That’s why blogs are so popular.  No editors.  If you have an editor poking around in a blog, trust me, it’s not a blog.  It’s a corporate front-end.  A writer can also design and print a book.  And sell it.  Writers are publishers.  No reader cares about Penguin.  They care about the guy holding the gun.  The guy holding the gun is put there by the writer.  Writers will make guys, guns and gals forever.  It’s what they do and it’s what readers want.

I don’t care if the guy with the gun says, ‘I’ve been looking for you for a long time, Mr. Peabody.  Smile, because it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.’  Or if he says, ‘I’ve been looking for you.  Smile.  It’s your last.’

The writer can pick.  The editor can go watch Kitchen Nightmares.

There is absolutely no excuse for a writer to work hard on a story, hammering it into existence from nothing, polishing it and making it exactly what he or she wants it to be… and then sit around to wait for some agent or publisher to get back via the U.S. mail so that said writer can be allowed to move on and send out yet another plea for acceptance.  This is old technology.  Twentieth century.  It’s gone.  In this century a writer writes and edits and publishes and sells.  His book can sell in Target for nine dollars or three dollars.  Magnificent.  Literature available to people who don’t make lots of money.  What a novel idea!  If you’re griping about Target selling books for nine dollars, you must not be buying books.  Go watch His Girl Friday and pretend that typewriters still make newspapers.

And you know something else?  The guy with the gun doesn’t care.  He’ll always be there.  He’s not going anywhere.  All the publishers and book stores could burn and all the editors could go to their early graves, and you know what?  The guy with the gun is still gonna getcha.  He’s going to find you wherever you go.  He’s alive.

6 thoughts on “Publishers Doomed by Predatory Book Pricing? So what?

  1. Wow, you are so incredibly uninformed I don’t even know where to start.

    First of all, Grisham meant the he specifically would be alright. He’s a millionaire that will sell books no matter what happens to the publishing industry. The mid-list authors are the ones that will suffer.

    And yes, some people can hone their novels into something that readers will happily digest without a 3rd party to edit it, but those people are extremely rare. Editing a novel is a much more involved process than editing a blog and even that seems beyond many people. I don’t read blogs that are poorly edited. Yes, most of them are edited by the writer, but as I said it’s much easier to edited 600 words than it is to edit 100,000.

    While the publishing industry does seriously need an overhaul, flushing it down the drain entirely is a mistake. Readers will lose immensely not only because of the poor quality of what will make it into the world, but because they won’t get very much from their favorite authors if they are doing all the publishing work themselves. That stuff takes a lot of time and energy. Time and energy that would be better spent by a writer sitting down to write their next book.

    • Yeah maybe? I’m not buyin’ it though. Change is hard but it comes sometimes and it wipes the shoreline clean as a whistle. Me, I like riding the wave, and as it passes over the boardwalk I marvel at all the destruction. I’m just that uniformed. You betcha. And I see clearly that a whole lot of people with nice resumes are heading for unemployment. But the books are going to be cheaper. No doubt about it. I can find an editor for a book in 30 minutes on the web. I don’t need Random House to do it. I can find a printing press in another 15 minutes. I can find an artist in less time for my cover. I’m a little informed about this because I’ve done it.

      I read writers on the web every single day who put to shame what is printed between expensive covers for sale at the local Barnes & Noble. I read it for free and the writers are happy when I read it. It makes no difference to me whether you agree or not. Or whether I’m informed or not. I see reality. And if Candlelight Stories burns up with all the rest of them, ha ha, so what? I’ll start the fire. After all, I’ve got the candle.

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  3. You just contradicted yourself in your comment, Mr. Editor. If writers don’t need editors, then why would you ever hire an editor (that you can find in 30 minutes)? Hell, you even said that there’s no reason to bother polishing a piece of writing. Just put it out there and be done with it…the problem is that most writers who do that are not talented enough. The good ones who can go without editors are far and few between.

    Get your story straight…

    • I think most writers rely too heavily on editors. The world is changing quickly. The model in which editors are working with large publishers is what is going away. The editor found on the web to work on a project is a different animal. The main point is that writers are now in total control of what they want to do. There is no longer the requirement for a publisher. A publisher is a great thing. Who would not want to write a book and get it published by Penguin in a nice thick hardback version. But it’s all gravy. The publisher as an essential part of expression through the written word no longer exists. This is why newspapers are shrinking. They are simply publishers for all those talented reporters. Writers often cannot do a good job of editing their work. But as the dynamic of the entire industry of publishing changes, so too will this change. Writers will grow up with a different perspective on publishing. They will grow up with the casual every-day experience of posting their writing on a blog or web site. It will be second-nature to them. They will not need Penguin or Penguin’s editors. They will think like a new breed of artist.

      Get ready for them. They are coming whether I contradict myself or not. It makes no difference how well I express it or whether my details don’t quite add up.
      The new writer will wonder why there was ever a distinction between a writer and an editor at all. The new writer will wonder how anyone could have written anything at all under the old ideas. This is good news. It is the greatest explosion of written expression in human history. You can’t tie it down with a publisher’s office in New York City and a 40-year-old printing press.

      I love my books. I would not part with them. I love bookstores. I love publishers. But they are yesterday. Just like the cathode ray tube.

      Let’s push the envelope even further: Why is it assumed that editors make books better? I can walk through my local grocery store and pull thirty books off the shelf, all of which stink. They all had major publishers and established editors. And they uniformly stink. But they follow a pattern. They incorporate certain ideas about what makes for a good story and what might sell some copies. It’s like that old screenwriting lesson you read in all the books – a beginning – a middle – and an end. My arm has a beginning middle and an end. So what?

      Perhaps editors and publishers are pattern keepers. They want to maneuver books into general patterns that they are familiar with. I thought that Joyce and Pynchon had long ago proven the editor to be useless. No editor would ever have let Joyce survive even a mild winter. And Pynchon must have given his editor some good LSD because his books are bullets into the head of any editor I’ve ever seen.

      Why do books need to be better than a blog? Why should they follow more of a pattern than a blog? Why not question the existence of editors. Artists question these things. A person who is not questioning them is not an artist – he or she is a business person.

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