Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Paper Training

(NOTE: Talk is fine, action is better. Ethics in publishing has always been a problem. The corporate owners of the big companies in New York demand a profit. Few editors are willing to oblige for fear of developing corkscrew souls. Still the sleaze leaks out. Smart readers need information to avoid stepping in the puddle.)

Judith Regan, head of Regan Books, an imprint at HarperCollins and owned by News Corp., has made questionable acquisitions in the past, but none to compare with the latest. She moved her imprint to Los Angeles for greater synergy between books and media like movies and television, and her big title for the fall was sold blind to booksellers. This is not a common occurrence, where buyers are told to order a book without knowing the title or content. They went along with the ruse until finding out the title was IF I DID IT by OJ Simpson.

Advance against royalties for the Simpson book was reported as $3.5 million, and paid to who knows who? Simpson was convicted in a civil court for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, and fined around $33 million. Would the advance go to paying the debt? Nah. Fox Television scheduled two one-hour interviews on next Monday and Wednesday night, with Regan grilling Simpson. As soon as the synergy was announced, newspapers and news programs carried the story. “I think the media has spun it in the wrong direction,” said Regan in an interview. Fox mad dog Bill O’Reilly countered with, “The Fox broadcasting unit has reached a new low point in American culture.”

What is the right direction? The premise of IF I DID IT is Simpson detailing how he would have committed the murders if he did the murders. Regan said she saw the book as a confession, and as a former victim of spousal abuse, wanted the truth to be told. The argument holds water like a torn lampshade.

Many fine folk raised voices in protest. American Association of Publishers president Pat Schroeder called the publication “sickening” and railed against HarperCollins for the ripe con of buyers into ordering copies. Independent booksellers hollered to be let go and promised not to carry the book, or send the profits to local battered women shelters. Of the chains, Borders said they would carry the book without the usual hubris of promotion and send the net sales to a domestic violence organization. Barnes and Nobel stayed silent. Borders stock went up fifty cents a share and Barnes and Noble went down fifty cents.

Fox TV affiliates screeched they would not carry the interview, or if they did, run the show with PSAs for victims’ rights and abused women. Here is where News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch canceled the book and show. “I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.” Though this reads as: “We would have done the deed had we the slightest possibility of making money, but now that has been squashed, we’re taking the moral high ground,” IF I DID IT is dead. Copies of the already-printed book have been pulped. Only on eBay will the perverse reader find this sludge. Major congratulations to the booksellers who rallied against this monster. May trade publishing finish the year without publicly screwing up again, like the Frey scandal, the JT Leroy scandal, and....


Tuesday, November 14 had me at the Bay Area Editor’s Forum to speak on “The Terrors of Book Publishing.” Instead of going into the weirdness of the industry (see above), I took a different approach and talked about reasons to go with smaller publishers, and recounted bits of what happens when an editor writes and publishes a book. Fifteen people showed, some from when I last talked at the Forum in 1997, and well behaved except for the follicle challenged man who showed late asking what the lecture was about. Only four bought copies of THE DOG. They were allowed to leave and the remaining eleven are still stuck in the fourth floor meeting room of the Mechanics Institute. Unless they come up with the cash to buy a book, they are going to stay there. Checks are accepted with valid identification.

NEXT: Wreaths and Wraiths


Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Great post, Sal.

As always you make the right move for giving the people what they don't THINK they want to hear but really, actually do. That's what GOOD EDITORS do and you, my dear are the best.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Sal Glynn said...

Gosh, I'm blushing. Thanks GGC.

"He who still laughs has not yet been told the terrible news."
—Bertolt Brecht

7:50 AM  
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