The View from the Peanut Gallery

I’ve been hard at work, getting Designation Frejya (Augment Wars #1) ready for publication. But I have been coming out of my cave a couple of times a day and let me tell you, the peanut gallery is a fun place to be right now. No, I’m not talking politics–that’s a whole different can of worms. I’m talking the publishing industry and things going on within it and the adjacent groups/people/etc. You know things are about to get interesting, and not necessarily in the fun way, when even the MSM starts sitting up and looking at what’s going on.

Of course, it took Stephen King testifying against the proposed Randy Penguin merger with Simon & Schuster.

You see, once upon a time, less than a decade ago, Randy Penguin was actually two major publishing houses: Random House and Penguin. Then they merged into one, taking the Big 5 down to the Big 4 and narrowing down the number of publication slots, options for authors wanting to go traditional and limiting the monies to be paid out. Around this time–okay, it started before, iirc, but this didn’t help it–mid-listers found themselves cut loose. Tossed aside by publishers who believed they didn’t need the bread and butter of their financial health, those authors who had a devoted audience and who could be counted on to not only sell through but to deliver on time. But they weren’t flashy and flash was the thing.

Now we are seeing publishing history repeating itself. Randy Penguin wants Simon & Schuster. Maybe it’s the other way around. It really doesn’t matter. The end result will be the same: fewer major publishing houses, fewer imprints because history tells us they will shut down imprints, release employees and cut authors.

But this time, the DOJ has decided to step in. To aid their opposition to the merger, they brought in best selling author Stephen King. I guess doing so was supposed to make the publishers quake in their boots. After all, he is the master of horror and having him, a best selling author and someone the public readily recognizes, coming out against the merger had to be a good thing. Right?

Let’s start with this quote from the trial from one of Randy Penguin’s attorney. According to the attorney, “backlist” is anything published a “very long time ago”. Yeah, nope. It is basically anything that is more than a year or two old–in other words, not new.

Lest you think that’s the only head scratching thing the Randy Penguin attorneys did, consider this: they did not cross-examine King after he spent time on the stand testifying about why and how the merger would be bad for authors. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because they knew he would stick to his story and be believable? Or could it be because they know he’s position is true and the merger would be bad for the industry.

But let’s look at a couple of comments from Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.

. . . Karp acknowledged that a popular industry term, “mid-list writer,” long associated with a broad and intrepid corps of noncommercial authors, a kind of publishing middle class, is essentially fictitious and a polite way of not labeling anyone a “low-list” writer.

Questioned by the judge, Karp also said that while publishers value all the books they acquire, books obtained for an excessive advance — money guaranteed to the author no matter how the book sells — do require special attention.

Now, pardon me while I alternate between laughter and stark horror at the idiocy of the statements. If mid-listers were noncommercial authors, why were they signed in the first place? Why did they have the bulk of the publishing slots month after month after month? Why did publishing revenues fall and reader dissatisfaction increase after these same “noncommercial” writers were set adrift?

And why weren’t they given at least a little of the push these same publishers were giving folks they paid huge advances to for books that would ultimately tank? And many of these large advances books do just that. You can tell even if the publishers won’t admit it by checking the sales tables at bookstores or watching the markdowns online. How quickly do these books show up at large discounts? Gee, why are they there? Here’s a hint: the books aren’t that good, are overpriced and overhyped and too many were printed. It’s discount them or lose even more money.

But this isn’t the only show going on right now. Hit up social media and you’ll see that the problems facing RWA (Romance Writers of America) continue. Members, many who have been with the group for a number of years, are leaving in droves. Chapters are disassociating with the group. The once mighty RWA, an organization I used to highly recommend, is no longer even a shadow of what it used to be. It’s a loss because there was a time when the RWA stood up for its authors, worked for them (all of them) and was one of the best about educating its members about the industry. But no more.

The question becomes what is going to take its place?

All we can do is wait and keep the popcorn fresh because this is not something–either regarding the publishing houses or the various organizations like RWA–that will be solved quickly or smoothly. So hang on and try not to be ejected in the process.

Featured Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

1 Comment

  1. Gee, that first one is a hard one. I haven’t been enthralled with anything King has written (pseudonym or not) since the mid-80s. His political rants the last couple of decades have also made me not really want to go looking for anything of his. The DOJ is so corrupt I wouldn’t trust them if they said, “The sky is blue.” And with the way the publishing houses have been handing out huge advances to lefty politicians lately, regardless of if it seems like they could ever recoup that amount in my lifetime, let alone turn a reasonable profit, makes me think they’re more propagandists anymore than actual business ventures.

    Would it surprise anyone if I said I want them all to fail?

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