Bob Honey: A Cautionary Tale
There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to sign a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. I would have sold my soul, or come close to it, for that opportunity. Over the years, as I did more research into the publishing industry and as more opportunities for indie publishing became available, that changed. It wasn’t just because I no longer had to wait months and sometimes years to hear back from a publisher — if I ever did. It wasn’t just because of the horror stories I heard from my traditionally published friends. All that had an impact on my decision to go indie but what influenced me the most was simply watching traditional publishers, especially the bigger houses, and seeing some of the decisions they made — or didn’t make.
That decision was reinforced over the last week or so as word of actor Sean Penn’s novel hit the internet. I’ll admit right now that I’m not a big Sean Penn fan. Yes, he can act and he’s been associated with some very good projects. But there is something about him I just don’t like. Even so, I know I don’t have to like the person to appreciate their art, their work. There are very few actors or writers I refuse to support simply because of their politics or behavior, etc.
I tried to keep that in mind when I heard about Penn’s book, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. The book isn’t new, at least not completely. It is based on an audiobook Penn released in 2016 under the pen name of Pappy Pariah. Yes, you read that right. Pappy Pariah. That should have been everyone’s first clue that this wasn’t going to be your normal book “written” by a star. Penn initially denied having written the audiobook but later admitted it. That later apparently after Simon & Schuster agreed to publish the expanded written version of the book.
I’ll admit, I expected the media to sing Penn’s praises for the book. After all, Penn’s a self-proclaimed activists. The media, on the whole, loves him for it and he goes after Trump in the book from what I’ve gathered. But nope. Much of the media is savaging the book. That was enough for me to take a look at it. No, I didn’t read it. But I did begin doing my homework, wondering if maybe I’d been wrong and this wasn’t going to be just another ghost-written celebrity book that wasn’t worth the advance paid for it. That question became stronger when I read Penn was being criticized for what he said about the #MeToo movement at the end of the book. Wow, could Penn really have veered from the path?
So, I looked at some of the reviews before checking out the sample. One Amazon review caught my eye. The reviewer had made it through, if I remember correctly, 22 pages. At that point, the reviewer said he would have thrown the book out the window except he’d bought the Kindle version. (On that, the book is 177 pages and S&S is charging $11.99 for the e-book. Then they wonder why readers complain about the high price of e-books from traditional publishers.) Even then, the only reason the reader didn’t toss the book out the window was because he didn’t want to buy a new Kindle.
But that reader wasn’t the only one to savage the book. TooFab collected the five “nastiest” reviews. Let’s just say, this is probably the first time I’ve agreed with HuffPro, the Guardian, and National Review all at the same time. The Guardian’s headline pretty much says it all: Sean Penn’s debut novel: repellent and stupid on so many levels.
Here are some excerpts:
“There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations.”
“Bob’s boyhood essence set him up for a separation from time, synergy, and social mores, leading him to acts of indelicacy, wounding words, and woeful whimsy that he himself would come to dread.” ― page 12
“Silly questions of cherries saved served to sever any last impression Bob might have had of Spurley as a serious citizen.” ― page 94
“There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations.” ― page 125
“His dream’s desert daylight diffusion dictated disturbances in the void of visual detail.” ― page 142
Now, before you think this is just typical literary alliteration, consider this, the description of the book.
“It seems wrong to say that so dystopian a novel is great fun to read, but it’s true. I suspect that Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson would love this book.” —Salman Rushdie
From legendary actor and activist Sean Penn comes a scorching, darkly funny novel about Bob Honey—a modern American man, entrepreneur, and part-time assassin.
Bob Honey has a hard time connecting with other people, especially since his divorce. He’s tired of being marketed to every moment, sick of a world where even an orgasm isn’t real until it is turned into a tweet. A paragon of old-fashioned American entrepreneurship, Bob sells septic tanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses and arranges pyrotechnic displays for foreign dictators. He’s also a contract killer for an off-the-books program run by a branch of US intelligence that targets the elderly, the infirm, and others who drain this consumption-driven society of its resources.
When a nosy journalist starts asking questions, Bob can’t decide if it’s a chance to form some sort of new friendship or the beginning of the end for him. With treason on everyone’s lips, terrorism in everyone’s sights, and American political life sinking to ever-lower standards, Bob decides it’s time to make a change—if he doesn’t get killed by his mysterious controllers or exposed in the rapacious media first.
A thunderbolt of provocative words and startling images, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff marks the fiction debut of one of America’s most acclaimed artists.
This is what publishers are buying and, when all is said and done, will be losing money on. It is indicative of what is wrong with the industry. They buy a “name” because someone is famous in another discipline. Or because that person has the right political beliefs, at least publicly. They will not only internally condemn those who don’t toe the political line but will institute whisper — and not so quiet — campaigns against those who aren’t of the right beliefs. All the while, they forget what they are in business to do. They are in business to publish books people want to read. But it is more than that. They need to want to BUY the book. Instead of raising prices to try to cover their losses, they need to look at what they are doing wrong and adapt.
But they won’t. They will continue to dig their heels in and their market shares will continue to shrink, whether they admit it or not. And indie authors will continue to make money, some ore than others, but at least we are in control of our own professional lives. I’ll take that any day over knowing my book, one I know people would buy because they’ve been buying other books like it that I’ve written, was overlooked by publishers for the sort of dreck they bought from Sean Penn.