Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A little Book Business Q & A

Q: I want to be a big-time publisher but I have my own somewhat left-leaning political beliefs. How can I successfully publish books by right-wing TV and Radio 'personalities' whose ideas I find repugnant?

A: Good question. First you have to get some clothespins. Which isn't easy these days -- so few people in the city hang their clothes out to dry. So you'll have to do some searching. Best are the ones fashioned from a single piece of wood, but even the ones with springs will do in a pinch. Once you get your clothespins, then you apply one to your nose whenever you have to deal with that property. That works really well for me. But there's another strategy you can use if your nose starts to hurt. You can keep telling yourself that you believe in freedom of speech -- that it's so important to allow all voices to be heard -- and it's your job as a publisher to be as objective as possible. Remember: you don't necessarily publish books you like, or even think are any good -- you publish books that sell. There are a lot of nuts with money out there. If we don't pander to them, someone else will. If that happens, our slice of the pie gets smaller and someone's job will be in jeopardy. So really, we have no choice.

Q: What about fact-checking? You publish so
many non-fiction books. How can you insure that the facts put forth in those books are true?

A: Well, we're very strong on facts. We've got a policy.

Q: What is that policy?

A: We rely on the author, of course. You see, publishing is all about
trust. We trust that the author will check the facts, and the author trusts that we won't question those facts. This isn't just lip service, this is policy. We used to use fact-checkers and in-house copy editors and whatnot. But that's when the lists were manageable and we weren't required to deliver double-digit profits every year. Now we can't afford to provide any of that. And you know what? It's worked out well. The authors have responsibility for the facts and we just stand off to the side. The other thing is this: most facts are slippery, especially so-called scientific facts. There's a lot of controversy. And we don't want to get involved with adjudicating and verifying. Not us. We just push the product out into the marketplace and let the marketplace decide which facts are really facts. The marketplace is really very good at this.

Q: You publish so many books by celebrities who really have no background in writing. How do you feel about publishing their seemingly frivolous books when so many serious writers can't get a book contract?

A: Listen. I may be an Ivy League grad, but I'm no snob. I may have read Joyce and Proust and Cervantes and gotten my MA in Russian Literature and spent a year studying semiotics at Indiana but that was a long time ago. Look, I came into publishing with the same youthful passion that every younger generation brings with them. But then you get here and the scales fall from your eyes. You learn what the American People want. What the American People will pay
good money for. Honey, let me tell you, it ain't literature with a capital L. It's Hollywood, it's People magazine, it's Page Six. It's Larry King and Patrick Swayze and Doris Day and Vic Damone. It's the Biggest Loser. People have this idea that we pay attention to the content in the books we publish. Hah. These days it's all about delivering profits. I have no illusions about what we do. Once you get here, you'll see. Just wait. And you know what? After a while, you realize it's not so bad. In fact, you learn to like it. I mean, I love Stacy and Clinton, don't you?

Q: Yeah, I guess so. But who's Vic Damone?

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