Thursday, March 19, 2009


Seriously. Have we learned nothing despite what we know we know? Like many other industries, publishing has been hit hard by this ugly and moribund economy. Lots of layoffs, an outdated business model and a shrinking buying public have led to promises of new thinking, innovation and efficiencies by those in charge and lots of public braying by those saying I told you so. Embracing new technologies like making digital publishing profitable for all involved (author, publisher, bookstore, etc.) seems to be the way to go and the mouthpieces at the larger houses assure us they’re hard at work at it while the rest of us Twitter away as though our very lives depend on it.

So, here sits the publishing industry at the corner of potential poverty and prosperity and what do we do? Hand out multi-million dollar advances to “authors” that have little possibility of earning out as though this industry crash has never happened.

Just today, it was announced that George W. Bush signed with Crown for $7 million. Last week, bestseller Audrey Niffenegger scored herself $4mil for the follow-up to her sleeper hit, The Time Travelers Wife and that was followed by hero/pilot Chesley Sullenberger III signing a two book deal worth $3 million; the second book will be his own inspirational poems.

Now Niffenegger is the only actual actual “author” in the bunch. I thought her first book was tremendous and the professional pep-squads are saying this book is even better. Still, good freakin’ luck earning out a $7 mil advance and don’t tell me it’s only because the book went to auction.

The hero/pilot's story is certainly compelling but what more is there to say? Don’t get me wrong: great job, Sully. You really ARE a hero but how much more is there? Birds hit plane, plane goes down, pilot saves plane and passengers, all in about 3 minutes. And your ‘inspirational poems’? Oh Christ. Not that!

As for W., it was inevitable and spinning the book as a examination of a dozen decisions he made as opposed to a straight memoir is actually great spin considering the esteem in which he’s held these days. But $7 million dollars?!? Will you be among the buying public for this title? I can assure you it sure as hell ain’t gonna be reviewed here.

Look kids, we’re drowning here and money, BIG money, is being thrown at questionable books. Can someone please tell the upstairs execs to quit it. It’s turning into big-money sports and we always say we hate that, right? All that ‘baseball has lost its soul’ stuff when Manny signs for $45 million for two years. So now it’s "well, if author X got $3 mil, we have to get our author 4". Look, I don’t begrudge Audrey a whole wheel barrow full o’ dough--she's a terrific writer. But now? Today? When we’re in the mess we’re in? Some perspective. Please. And maybe just a shred of integrity.

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