How The Publishing Industry Can Save Money

July 2nd, 2007 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Word on the street is that Donald Rumsfeld is shopping his memoirs. If I recall correctly, it sounded like he was paying courtesy calls to the major publishing houses. “Hi, pleased to meet you. I’ll be expecting you to offer me a lot of money soon.” And it doesn’t matter what a publisher’s political bent might be, the response wasn’t so much starry-eyed as dollar sign-eyed.

Though I am clearly not one to give fiscal advice, I can say this: stop the madness! While it seems like a coup to score the memoirs of the moment — these are not even the memoirs of the month, year, decade, or even century — nobody will notice nor care. Or rather, nobody outside of your rather small, insular publishing club will notice nor care.

Over and over, industry watchers have read about major deals being signed with the likes of George Tenet. They are handed fistfuls of money and off they head to a write a book. The book is published to a general lack of interest from the reading public. Why? Because these men, and they have been largely men, aren’t saying anything interesting.

They can’t and won’t and there is nothing more tedious that reading hundreds of pages of drivel.

Discouraging large payments to authors of books that don’t expand our minds will also lead to an even more welcome development: the end of the ludicrous embargo. Again, this is a largely industry-only event. Do you honestly think that the American people are camped out, willing to sleep outside for Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs? Harry Potter, yes. Rumsfeld, no.

The embargoes are designed, largely, to prevent the media from revealing that one itty, bitty nugget of information that the world at large doesn’t already know. Presumably, this bit of knowledge is what makes buying the book worthwhile. If it is shared, then book buyers will move on.

That alone should give the publishers pause: what is the value of a memoir? Assuming that Rumsfeld and/or his ghostwriter is capable of telling a story in an engaging manner, is there something so revelatory in the man’s biography to justify a massive outlay of cash? It seems to me that the money that would line the man’s pockets would be better spent on other authors. Authors who, for example, are likely to offer a return on investment.

I know that when the shopping of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs begins in earnest, publishers will forget this advice. They will convince themselves that this book, unlike all the others, will change the course of history. They will see the intensity building in their peers and the strength to resist will be drained from their bodies. More than a few will shout, “We must sign this man!”

And after the afterglow, when the bills come due and the book is remaindered like so much Christmas ribbon, there will be a more pitiful, “Never again.”

Until the next administration official goes shopping on Publisher’s Row.

File Under: Square Pegs

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