As I sit here, trying to decide what to blog about, I turn to the internet. I know, I know. That’s like saying I’m going swimming with the sharks with a bucket of chum being thrown into the water first. Still, someone has to do it. And, it didn’t take long to find more than enough to leave me shaking my head and feeling glad I made the decision to go indie long ago. Between looking at the “most anticipated books of 2020” per Publishers Weekly to identity politics run amok, traditional publishing is as much of a mess as always.
But there is even more going on and I most definitely have not had enough coffee to deal with it.
Let’s start with the first. “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins was supposed to be the next big book. Cummins received a huge advance in a bidding war. According to multiple sources, it was poised to become an instant best seller. Hell, even Oprah chose it for her book club. So it had to be good, right?
Except, gasp, when excerpts started coming to light, that dreaded phrase “cultural appropriation” raised its head. As did “stereotype” and others. Then Cummins was accused of using her Puerto Rican heritage simply to make money or something like that. Apparently, she wasn’t sufficiently non-white before the book came out to qualify as a “person of color”. Now that she’s written a book featuring a Hispanic main character, dealing with Mexican culture, she can’t point out she is Puerto Rican without being accused of being a “person of convenience”.
The book, published by Macmillan imprint Flat Iron, is causing all sorts of headaches for the publisher. I will give it to Cummins. She has been standing up for herself, which is more than the publisher has been doing, in my opinion. Not that the latter surprises me.
Here’s the LA Times article about what’s been going on.
Publishers Weekly has several articles about it. The first deals with Flat Iron’s response and the second discusses how Flat Iron has canceled at least some of Cummins’ appearances. Way to back your writer, publisher. Not only is Flat Iron giving in to a few voices of discontent but it is torpedoing the writer’s career. No employee, which is what an author can be looked at as, wants an employer that doesn’t have her back.
Next up, we have PW’s list of the most highly anticipated books for the first half of 2020. Mind you, “American Dirt” was a highly anticipated book as well. How many of these books will find their authors attacked and derided as release dates near as Cummins has been? Then there are the covers. Very few of them entice me to pick up the book and look at the back cover. Is it any wonder traditional publishing is slowly circling the toilet bowl of success?
And how can we forget the “leaks” from John Bolton’s upcoming book? Oh, I’ve seen the tin foil hat suggestions that the leaks came from within the government. I have a much more reasonable explanation. The leaks (and they aren’t leaks, not really) come straight from the publisher. The book is from the same house that put out Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened”. Have we really forgotten how excerpts from the book showed up before the book was released and how many of those excerpts were critical of Trump? Or how about Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that came out at the same time Trump took office. Then there was James Comey’s book.
Each of those had “leaks”, often aimed at times which were significant in the Trump administration. Whether you are a Trump fan or not, and I’m not a big fan, you have to look at the role publishing, just as MSM, has played in trying to run him out of office. Remember, this is the same traditional publishing that has been more worried about “educating” its readers than in selling books.
So here’s the thing. I won’t discourage anyone from trying for a traditional publishing career if that’s what you want. But before you go down that road, ask yourself what a publisher can do for you. The only real advantage I see right now is that a publisher can get you into bookstore–if it wants to. But for the average new author, no mid to large publisher is going to bend over backwards to do so. Oh, you’ll be listed in their catalog and such, but they aren’t going to push your work.
In the meantime, watch what publishers are doing. Look long and hard at how they treat their authors. Network and listen to what those who have been in the industry for awhile have to say. Then make an informed decision.
In other words, treat it as a business and you are looking for a new employer. After all, that’s exactly what you are doing. Don’t let the stars in your eyes–or the dollar signs–blind you.