Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Book publishing isn't dead. As long as guys like Steve Bodio and Tom McIntyre (via Bodio) can continue to get their work published, there's hope.
Or maybe there's not, at least for some publishers.
I like Lena Dunham. But her $3.7 million book deal with Random House, after a bidding war involving all of the major publishers, is emblematic of what is wrong with corporate publishing today. My first publishing job, in 1987, was at Random House. Bennett Cerf’s publishing company, the home of Faulkner, Capote and Dr. Seuss, is now only one of a handful of “major” publishers, by which I mean publishers who are corporate, bottom-line-driven, freighted with massive overhead and generally reactionary. The Dunham deal smacks of a search for the “Barton Fink” touch, as in get me the next “Bossypants” — stat. I realize that Dunham is an easy target — only 26, from an artsy New York family, the creator, star and director of her own HBO show. And there is an element of sexism in the backlash — a young, strong, independent female scores a big deal — but I have no problem with her agent, Kim Witherspoon, shaking down the dinosaurs on her client’s behalf. What the market will bear. I imagine Dunham’s book will kick ass, yet it will also get its critical ass handed to itself because of the advance. If Random House is already hucking it as the next Tina Fey meets Nora Ephron meets David Sedaris (no pressure, Lena), then the critics will be expecting Fey meets Ephron meets Sedaris.
Needless to say, I don't (or at least didn't, prior to reading about her book deal) know who the hell Lena Dunham is. I love both Tina Fey and David Sedaris, so I guess Lena Dunham is some new wunderkind in that mold, only younger?
I don't watch her HBO show (mainly because I don't have HBO). I'm assuming it's about a group of smart, funny, good-looking, fashionable, affluent, artsy, slightly cynical, slightly neurotic (but in an endearing Woody Allen kind of way) New York-based twentysomethings trying to figure out their crazy, complicated lives while having more fun and engaging in more great sex than you or I ever will.
Because, you know, we've just never had a show like that before. I'm sure this one's different. It's probably one of those "voice of a generation" shows that come along only about, say, a thousand or so times every generation...
At any rate, sour grapes aside, the rest of the Salon story is interesting, and goes on to postulate what some publishers could have done with that $3.7 million if they had had it to spread around and perhaps roll the literary dice with some unknown authors. Which I'm assuming is what publishers actually used to do.
The more I read about deals like this, the more I come to believe (and the article points this out) that small publishing companies and presses are the future, and that the Random Houses of the world are like huge, buoyant turds slowly circling the low-flow toilet. It's gonna take a few revolutions around the bowl, but they're assuredly headed for the septic tank.
But it's their money, and if they want to gamble it on such things, more power to 'em. As for me, I will buy Steve's new book and I will buy Tom McIntyre's new book. But I won't be buying Lena Dunham's new book. Mainly because it's going to be an advice book for young women, and I'm a fat, unhip, 41-year-old man. And, well, that would just be kinda creepy, don't you think?
Posted by Chad Love at 1:17 PM