Thursday, April 25, 2013

Konrath on Patterson

Perhaps you've seen the ad James Patterson recently ran in the NYT.

If you don't want to squint at the jpg, here's what Patterson wrote:

"If there are no bookstores, no libraries, no serious publishers with passionate, dedicated, idealistic editors, what will happen to our literature? Who will discover and mentor new writers? Who will publish our important books? What will happen if there are no more books like these?"

Then there's a list of 38 books, including All the President's Men, Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, etc. I agree that many of them are great.
Then he ends with:

"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books? Or if the answer is state and local government, where are they? Is any state doing anything? Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines? Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"

I respect Patterson for his marketing genius. I also like many of his books. He makes 94 million dollars a year, so he's obviously doing quite a bit right.

But I'm not finding much to agree with here.

"what will happen to our literature?"

Perhaps writers will write it? Aren't they the ones who wrote all of those books on that list?

One of those books mentioned above was Different Seasons by Stephen King. Does anyone think King will quit writing because the publishing world keeps changing and evolving? Is there anything that could get him to stop writing?

There are thousands of authors self-publishing. I'm sure some of them are writing great, important literature.

Bookstores, libraries, passionate editors, and publishers don't write books. They help books find readers. Like Amazon does, by connecting readers and writers.

Except Amazon has no barriers to entry, and gives writers a better royalty rate.

"Who will discover and mentor new writers?"

When did writers become invalids who are incapable of growing, learning, and improving without hand-holding?

Are books such rare, delicate hothouse flowers that the utmost care must be given to their nurturing and feeding or they'll perish without it?

With ebooks, the readers are the ones who discover new writers. And those readers actually have a chance to discover more books than ever before, because many of them were never mentored by the establishment.

I'm reminded of the story behind the publication of The Confederacy of Dunces. The author, John Kennedy Toole, was rejected by publishers, was supposedly very upset about it, and eventually killed himself. His mother took up the cause to publish the book posthumously, and eventually it was--by Louisiana State University. And then it won the Pulitzer.

Would Toole have been so disheartened if he could have self-pubbed via KDP? We'll never know. But here is a case where a great work of art in search of a mentor didn't get one, and only through the determination of the dead writer's mother did it go on to become recognized as one of the greatest works in literature.

Toole needed less mentoring, fewer roadblocks, and more opportunities to get his book published. Which self-publishing allows.

"Who will publish our important books?"

I'm the first to admit that I'm an entertainer. That's all I aspire to be. Whiskey Sour will never be Catcher in the Rye, nor was it meant to be.

But I'm pretty sure there are writers who have important books in them. And rather than go through what Toole--and no doubt countless others--had to go through with the legacy system, they now have the opportunity to publish those works themselves.

Perhaps, without the legacy system, there will be no Maxwell Perkins to guide those geniuses of tomorrow. But there have always been, and always will be writing classes. And critique groups. And freelance editors. And peers. A writer doesn't have to work alone. And in exchange for getting this assistance, the writer doesn't then have to pay a large percentage of royalties, forever.

Passive Guy has some smart things to say about the nurturing aspect of publishing:

"Does nurturing even belong in a healthy business relationship?

PG says maybe some baby authors want nurturing, but most grown-up authors don’t. If you simply must have nurturing, maybe a dog or cat is a better idea than an agent or publisher. They’ll love you to pieces and never ask for a contract (unless the cat hires an attorney).

Like many things in traditional publishing, maybe you get nurturing whether you want it or not.

Here’s an idea. Let’s make nurturing an à la carte option that the author can pay for:

Agency Commission – 15% with nurturing, 7.5% without nurturing

Publisher Ebook Royalties – 25% with nurturing, 50% without nurturing"

While there are substantive differences between mentoring and nurturing, I must say that while I was taught many things about legacy publishing by those in the business, I didn't require any mentoring, nurturing, or hand-holding. I was lucky to find a good agent, Jane Dystel, who believed in me and was willing to work hard on my behalf, even when countless publishers rejected my books. Books that never were traditionally published, but have gone on to earn me over a million dollars.

The publishing industry did not teach me craft. I never required much editing. And though I never considered my books "important" I sure tried in vain to get my publishers behind them. Which never happened.

But I'll answer the actual question. If the true concern is that great books (like the 38 on the above list) will get lost in the ebook tsunami of crap (which I debunked, but I digress), then I have a perfect solution:

James Patterson's Important Literature Series

All Patterson has to do is hire a group of editors to sift through self-published books, looking for great literature. Authors can also submit their work to this program. Then, when worthy books are discovered, Patterson can make a big announcement, re-publish it with a lot of press and fanfare and his name behind it, and these important books won't get lost in the kerfuffle.

I don't see this costing very much to do. Oprah did it with her book club. There are people other than those in publishing who can discover great books and help get them noticed.

If Patterson won't fund it, why not get a government grant for that instead of a bailout?

"The Federal Government has stepped in to save banks, and the automobile industry, but where are they on the important subject of books?"

While our nation does have an unfortunate history of helping the careless, uber-rich upper class continue to stay uber-rich by cleaning up after their greedy mistakes by using the tax money of the middle class, how about instead the publishing industry simply tries to compete? Maybe by embracing technology instead of repeatedly trying to halt its progress? Maybe by lowering the prices of books so more people had access to them? Maybe by treating authors fairly?

Barry Eisler and I did a post on this two years ago, showing publishers how they could compete.

The Federal Government doesn't need to intervene. Unless they can somehow force every executive in NY Publishing to read my blog. 

"Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"

Last I checked, books don't need saving. Ebooks are thriving.

Our libraries would be thriving as well, if the publishers Patterson is pleading for actually played fair with their digital rights. I have a solution for that, too.

And bookstores? Well, as my friend Ann Voss Peterson said, look how every musician stopped making music once all the record stores went out of business.

Oh, wait. People are still making music. Good music, in fact. And lots of it. Even without record stores in every town.

I also need to point out that there are a lot of great books released by legacy publishers that fail to ever find their audience, and then go out of print. Publishers can discover important novels, and then fail to properly promote them. Which brings up an interesting point: All of those important books on the above list are big bestsellers.

What about all the great books that don't hit the NYT list? Who speaks for those?

Patterson recently was interviewed in Salon to talk about the ad, and I didn't find much to agree with there, either.

"E-books are fine and dandy, but it’s all happening so quickly, and I don’t think anyone thought through the consequences of having many fewer bookstores, of libraries being shut down or limited, of publishers going out of business — possibly in the future, many publishers going out of business."

Because without libraries, bookstores, or publishers there will be no more books?

Of course there will be books.

Will there be places to get books?

Sure there will.

And the books will be cheaper, and the authors will make a higher royalty.

I'd also argue that books will be more accessible. Some people don't live near bookstores or libraries. But a Kindle allows people anywhere to buy ebooks, and to also get them for free.

If Patterson is worried that the poor won't be able to afford Kindles, how about asking the government to buy Kindles for all libraries to loan to patrons, and forcing publishers to drop DRM and sell ebooks to libraries as I described in my link above? Doesn't that seem like it will be more helpful, practical, and less expensive than a bailout?

And if the government doesn't do it, well, 94 million dollars would buy 1,300,000 Kindles. There are 121,000 libraries in the US, so each one would get ten.

Patterson is doing a great deal of good for the world, with, with his scholarships, with all of the books he gives away.

But maybe the industry he's working in doesn't serve the greater good. Maybe he should be backing a different horse.

Is Patterson really concerned about important books being lost? With his money and fame helping important books get publicity, and with every library having access to Kindles and inexpensive ebooks, shouldn't that alleviate his concerns?

"In Germany, Italy, and France, they protect bookstores and publishers. It is widely practiced in parts of Europe. I don’t think that’s outlandish."

I'm all for my tax dollars funding museums, protecting some endangered species, and even helping start-up companies with low interest loans.

But I don't want my tax dollars going toward capitalist ventures that are no longer valid because technology is changing while they continue to cling to outdated business models.

Great books will be written without the Big 5. People will be able to buy books without brick and mortar bookstores. And any enterprise that exists to make money should do so because it is good at what it does, not because the government is bailing it so it can continue to make bad decisions and inevitably fold anyway.

"There might be tax breaks, there might be limitations on the monopolies in the book business. We haven’t gotten into laws that should or shouldn’t be done in terms of the internet."

I'm all for limitations on monopolies in the book business. I call it collusion. Like the DOJ does. Scott Turow spoke of a "rich literary culture" which Barry and I took him to task for.

But I'm not for giving tax breaks to a billion dollar industry that hurts authors and readers.

"The press doesn't deal with the effects of e-books as a story. Borders closing down is treated as a business story. Where we are in Westchester during the summer, you’d think that’d be a bookstore haven, and there’s nothing. And that’s not unusual. I don’t think we can be the country we’d like to be without literature."

If you own a Kindle, Mr. Patterson, you don't need a bookstore in Westchester, and you don't have to worry about being without literature.

If you can't afford a Kindle, let's use our tax dollars for that. Get Kindles into all libraries, so everyone has access to ebooks.

Borders closing is a business story. They didn't close because people are reading less. They closed because people are finding their books elsewhere.

"I was in Nashville last night to go to a kickoff at Ann Patchett’s store. One of the things we agreed on is there are too many people talking about things who don’t do anything. She did something. She bought a bookstore. To some extent, it’s a symbolic act. But it got a lot of coverage. And it has to be out of love."

Just because libraries and bookstores are where people used to discover great books doesn't mean that without them people will never discover great books.

Just because the publishing industry published great books doesn't mean without them no more great books will be published.

Paper is only one way to deliver a story to a reader. And it's actually an expensive, archaic, slow, and extremely limited way to do so compared to ebooks.

I like bookstores. A lot. I visited over 1200 of them, signing books.

But it is possible to love books without patronizing bookstores. And it is possible for books to thrive without them being sold by bookstores.

That said, two years ago Blake Crouch and I came up with some ideas to help save bookstores. Not a single bookstore contacted us.

"I don’t think we have a real strong spokesperson in the publishing community, someone who can stand up. If they were, they got distracted by lawsuits [against Amazon and publishing houses]. That scares publishers, as it should. It doesn't really matter. I’m stepping up a little. But it’d be nice if it was the head of a publishing company."

What would be nice is if publishers actually cared about readers and writers, instead of their own continued existence. But I don't blame them for worrying about their stockholders. That's capitalism.

Which is exactly why, if the system is failing, they SHOULD NOT be bailed out.

They ran the industry. They were the gatekeepers. They made their fortunes, and also helped Patterson make his. Now they aren't needed. And it is entirely their fault they aren't needed. And asking the government to help them is like asking peasants to use their money to buy Marie Antoinette cake.

If James Patterson wants to step up, ads asking for the government to bail out the publishing industry isn't the way to lead a crusade to save libraries and important books.

Patterson could use his considerable weight to get publishers to work with libraries, instead of against them.

He could use his fame and money to help discover and promote important works of literature.

He could use his fortune to make sure all libraries get ereading devices, or he could lobby for that cause.

He could.

Addendum: After writing this piece, I read a blog by August Wainwright on this issue, and he brings up some interesting points that I missed.


Aaron Patterson said...

Good post. James Patterson is a marketing genius and this kind of thing is like posting ads to keep people from killing puppies. If anyone fights against it they must love killing puppies!!! lol

Maybe I can get him to meet me in NY and we can work on a plan to "Help" the publishing houses join all of us in the modern world.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

The model he is trying to protect kept me out of the book writing business, and in the business of flipping burgers for a living. Yeah, let's protect that business model because I made such a better burger flipper than a writer. *wink*

Brian Drake said...

"James Patterson" and "important literature" are mutually exclusive and I'm stunned he's made as much money as he has writing such poor books. But I digress. Perhaps he's another Turrow who thinks the sun rises and sets on the Big 5 (what happened to the 6th?) but, despite your excellent suggestions, Joe, I don't think we'll see much more from him. In the end this ad will be him "doing something" instead of just talking about it, yet nothing will change. The old will pass away and the new will continue and people like him will scream that the sky is falling when, in reality, we just moved the party.

Anonymous said...

I shouldn't be surprised by this after Scott Turow's noise, but I am seriously disappointed that Patterson is not more evolved. This is the old story of big business against the little guy who invented a better, less expensive mousetrap. They are going to fight all the way down. I love libraries and bookstores, but I love that the road has been cleared for so many writers to share their valuable words. As for readers, we are great at schlogging through and finding the good stuff. This is more, more, more for less, less, less. Only big business and their pet authors could cry about it.

Laura Resnick said...

I love libraries, and given how busy my local libraries are (and how often I have to reserve a book because others are reading it when I try to check it out), I would say the threats to their existence are all in budget cuts, not the changing book industry.

I also love bookstores, and I love visiting them, and I hope some remain open near me and near all of you, you. But I -also- love online bookstores, and I'd like to see more them--not the ones we've already got (I'm so disappointed in, iBooks,, Diesel, etc.), but more GOOD ones, more that adapt and experiment and evolve into great online bookseller business models. When one door closes, another opens. If there is less demand for physical bookstores, there is more demand for online bookstores--something that didn't even -exist- during my first few years as a writer, yet now probably the most common way to buy books. The change in venue is a change in venue, not a destruction of book culture.

Similarly, there's plenty of room in the new and changing book world for publishers and editors. There's less room than there used to be for the old business models, and there will be still less room in future... while there is meanwhile lots of room, rapidly expanding, for all sorts of new business models. I was just reading an article today, via The Passive Voice, about the Kindle Single program--great example of a selective editorial publishing program operating in a new business model and releasing stuff for which it has long been very hard to find a publishing home (works of 5,000-20,000 words in fiction and nonfiction).

I don't believe the big houses will disappear (though we may well see more mergers, so that there will be fewer of them), though I do think they'll need to change and adapt their business models (since breaking federal law didn't turn out to be such a great solution to the challenges they face in the 21st century), and we're meanwhile seeing the rise of small presses, midsize presses, epublishers, freelancers, a resurgence of the short fiction world (thanks to the low production costs of epublishing)--not to mention how many more books you can "read" in a year now that audio formats are becoming more affordable and accessible, too, which also gives writers access to an additional income stream.

And, yeah, I am TOTALLY AGAINST using the middle class's hard-earned and hard-paid tax dollars to bail out more big corporations just because they're run poorly. The major houses are huge companies with a lot of resources; they can work out their new business models and adaptations without picking our pockets to do it.

Ryan Schneider said...

Imagine it's 100 years from now. 2113. A man is riding the monorail to work. He is reading a book. Some trashy horror thriller he found online.

A man standing beside him suddenly seizes the book, rips it from his fingers and darts out the door of the train just before the doors close.

A plainclothes cop witnesses the crime, draws his weapon, fires, and kills the man. The cop then returns the book to its rightful owner. Because the book is an antique worth several hundred dollars. It's an actual book. And only rich people can afford actual printed paper books.

This is the future as I see it (as described in my SciFi novel which is currently #60 in Amazon Free SciFi hooray!). Maybe not the getting shot on sight part, but the rarity of printed books. It's coming. If we extrapolate even a tiny bit, we can compare books to records or 8-tracks or cassettes or CDs. They're not the medium by which people consume their entertainment. (As Joe has illustrated many times.)

Little kids in school are already being given iPads instead of textbooks.

Patterson is a wealthy writer. So is EL James.

Prepare yourself to see a lot more EL James's, and a lot fewer James Patterson's.

Just keep writing.

Angry_Games said...

You really can't fault Patterson for being the shill-puppet for Big Publishing. They are the ones who helped him get to the point in his career where he's earning 94 million dollars a year. You can bet when he releases a new book with his name on it that the publishers demand all the book stores carry a zillion copies and set them all up on tables that physical customers have to pass on their way in the door.

But just because I can't really blame him for that doesn't mean I like or respect his opinion on the matter. The Little Guy is setting the rules and the pace of the game now. You can sense Big Publishing is getting worried when they start bringing out their big guns to shill for them...

Nick Stephenson said...

Mr Patterson is either backing a dead horse (or is that flogging?) or this is a ploy for publicity - it can't fail. On the one hand, with this ad spot he cozies up further to the Big 5 and other proponents of trad pud, and on the other - he enrages the indie pubbed community enough that this story gets some major blog traction (as we can already see). I wonder how many more books he'll sell as a result of this?

I'm not being cynical - I admire Patterson and even enjoy (most) of his books. If this is a publicity stunt, it's a damn good one - and he doesn't even have to say anything particularly controversial.

Richard Stooker said...

If government intervention works so well, why, after hundreds of years of government-run schools, does Patterson need to help promote childhood literacy?

(Kudos to him for doing so, however.)

His thesis is geographically biased. Even at the peak of B&N and Borders, many people in the US lacked convenient access to superbookstores. They had to buy what their local supermarkets and drugstores stocked . . . the bestsellers, often dominated by James Patterson. They rarely had the choice to buy most midlist books.

Now they can buy a Kindle and select from hundreds of thousands of titles.

And the numbers of independent bookstores are actually growing. Maybe some of them are thriving by offering readers more choices, instead of shoving only the current bestsellers into their faces.

Last but not least, this ad makes me wonder if big name royalty checks are now going down. I don't know how detailed, meticulous, comprehensive, and therefore, accurate Forbes' income estimates (and they are only estimates, not leaks from the IRS) are, but in August it will be interesting to see if the big names in 2012 made more or less than 2011.

Susan May Writer said...

Mr Patterson has a vested interest in the old fashioned paper publishing industry. He most likely doesn't own the ebook rights to his hundreds of past 'works', so he needs those bookstores open to sell his product (which has become a long way from literature-so who is gate-keeping there).

He, like a lot of those authors, are most likely too scared to mix it up with the indies because maybe he won't have all the advantages that he and the contrived best sellers have enjoyed in the past.
This story reminds me of that joke where God sends 3 boats, and a helicopter to save the religious guy who turns them away whilst awaiting a miracle and when he drowns and complains he wasn't saved St Peter tells him I sent you 3 boats and a helicopter. Are you crazy?

Keep praying for the miracle, Turow, Patterson and the publishing industry, we are already on the boat.

Unknown said...

A great post, Joe, and a great rebuttal of Patterson's nonsense.

I would actually respect Patterson more if he actually RESEARCHED his subject instead of being a mouthpiece for his distraught employers.

Anyway, he's now the Man of the Moment and loved by everyone in the publishing world but his soul has just gone a shade darker and his books are still over-rated and over-priced.

Iola said...

"if there are no idealistic editors"

You mean there still are? I thought profit was driving the Big 5/6?

And I don't think comparing the US with France or Germany is fair. I don't know anything about the author/publishing subsidies in those countries but I do know they are keen to protect their own national identities. I would assume any financial benefits are for authors writing in French, German etc, not for authors writing in English.

My guess is the governments are trying to promote authentic local literature written in the local language. With all due respect, America already has plenty of local literature written in English.

Perhaps Mr Patterson is suggesting federal funding for those writing in minority languages, in order to better acknowledge and promote the contribution Native Americans and non-English immigrants have had in US history?

24/7 in France said...

I totally agree with your rebuttals to Patterson's arguments - the industry will keep evolving and those who aren't willing to keep up will always blame someone else! Thanks for a great post.

Paolo Amoroso said...

Patterson writes:

"In Germany, Italy, and France, they protect bookstores and publishers. It is widely practiced in parts of Europe. I don’t think that’s outlandish."

I am Italian, and I get the impression Mr. Patterson has no idea what goes on here and why. If he does have such an idea, what he advocates is sinister.

We got such protectionist laws in Italy most likely because the publishing lobby, which slept on its arse for decades and did nothing to innovate, got scared by the digital revolution and Amazon, and demanded protection from political power. That’s it. No love for literature or important books.

Mr. Patterson might want to consider whether there might be any correlations between the most influential politician in Italy owning or controlling a media empire (most of the TV networks and major publishing houses), not to mention the political debate, and such protectionist laws. These laws keep book prices high and do nothing for literature. By the way, since when does “bestseller” imply “important book”?

Back in the 1990s, I stopped buying books from my own country and totally switched to overseas bookshops and distributors, including Amazon. Both Italian publishers and bookshops were completely clueless and hopelessly inefficient.

Want to order from a bookshop an out of stock title? Wait months even if the publisher warehouse is 1 km away. Want to order a foreign book? Pay a fortune and wait months (no express delivery options available, not even if you handed the bookshop a couple more gold ingots).

I started to get all my books by (snail) mail order from UK and USA. They provided excellent service: affordable prices and shipping fees, reasonable delivery times, wide selection of titles from up to date paper catalogs they periodically sent me (good luck getting a full catalog from even the best Italian bookshops). I eventually switched to Amazon, and I never lost that grin.

As for “nurturing”, here is a data point for Mr. Patterson from the trenches of the Italian publishing industry. Around the time the Kindle first appeared, here are the conditions for a typical midlist nonfiction book deal with a publisher that was considered among the most author-friendly (those you didn’t have to pay for publishing or gave you nothing, that is):

Advance: 500€
Royalties: 15%
Print-run: 1,000-2,000
Paperback list price (no hardcover): around 15€
Marketing support: srsly?
Expiration date of the full intergalactic rights: doomsday

The money had to be split among all the authors of a title if more than one.

I don’t know about France or Germany. But the Italian publishing industry deserves to collapse, and is no model to follow.

M.R. Lambert said...

I wonder if Patterson, or the Big 5 have visited a Library lately. Though my town of 18k is obviously not the standard, they have already implemented e-readers, individual audio books, and various other media. It astounds me that a Library can seem to adapt to the various formats to which books are moving, faster than the publishers themselves seem to be able to.

G. M. Frazier said...

Regarding A Confederacy of Dunces, Walker Percy was largely responsible for getting that book published. Toole's mother was the driving force, but Percy got her foot in the door.

Unknown said...


Is Patterson a banking executive?

That's a ridiculous figure!

Good on him though! lol

Ty said...

Putting aside any nostalgia for the "old days," or financial fears of clinging to what used to work, I'm still baffled by those who can't see the tidal wave rolling in upon their shores. The market will set the future for books and e-books alike, and the consumers are speaking with their wallets every single day. For better or worse, it's got to be faced and dealt with, or face annihilation.

I'm not taking sides here in any of the constant debates of the publishing industry's future, e-books vs. books, etc., but come on ... there's a time to pull one's head out of the sand and recognize reality is not what one wants it to be. Screaming and bemoaning and sometimes even threatening will get one nowhere ... the market is speaking, and the market will have the final say.

Brian J. Jarrett said...

Books aren't going to go away because there are no profit-driven publishers around to give us another Snookie novel (or another ghost-written Patterson novel).

Government bailouts? Seriously? For what?

What we should care about is ensuring our kids are reading. Fostering their interest in books is what matters.

The only way books will disappear is if no one cares to read them anymore. My eight year old has his own Kindle and reads every single night before bed. I buy him as many books as he can read.

He's the next generation of reader who'll support the next generation of writers. Readers and writers...everyone else is a middle man.

Patterson is already focusing on getting kids to read. That's great. This just seems like misplaced effort and a lack of understanding of how the reading and writing world is changing.

Alan Spade said...

In France, only 30% of published authors get advances equal or superior to €3000.

In my writing field, Sf, fantasy and Fantastic, most of the book sold are translated ones from the english.

I guess for some english or american authors in these fields, it represent a not so modest part of their royalties. Good for them.

We have exactly the same problem like Paolo Amoroso, with government successfully protecting traditional publishing.

I also feel a lot authors do not speak very freely about the situation in France, to say the least.

For myself, Amazon has represented 65% of my 700 ebooks sales in 2012, but I don't know if I'm representative, because no one speak about their numbers.

Still, I think Kobo and a company named Bookeen are not so bad competitors for Amazon (by the number of devices sold), but alas for authors, they rather fight alongside traditional publishing. And their websites are way less successful than Amazon's.

Here, we have an elitist mentality greatly detrimental to indies, which opposes to the American way of life "everyone has his/her chance".

Anonymous said...

Government "bailing out" the publishing industry for the sake of "ensuring" the availability of "important" books? With government money involved then, who would determine which books were "Important" enough to publish and which were not? (that's a rhetorical question, btw - the answer is clear) Taxpayer money going to fund elitism and promote group-think? No thank you, Mr. Patterson.

Barry Eisler said...

Great post. One of the things I've found most interesting about the revolution in publishing is the logical fallacies it seems to reveal, and one of the primary ones is the conflation of a function with the entity that has traditionally provided the function.

What we call "publishing" is a collection of functions essential to turning a manuscript into a finished book and making it available to readers. Editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, packaging, printing/formatting, distribution, marketing -- this is "publishing." These functions will always be essential -- but it doesn't follow that the functions will always be provided in the same way, or by the same entities. Patterson's fallacy is equivalent to someone decrying the advent of the pen, "because how will we be able to write without quills?"

No. The quill is a way of writing. It isn't writing itself. Legacy publishing is a way of publishing (and an increasingly creaky one, at that). It isn't publishing itself.

Why does someone as intelligent and well-meaning as Patterson not understand this? Because of another thing the revolution in publishing has revealed (not that any further proof was required, but still): that most people are reactionaries. And people are especially likely to find themselves in the grip of a reactionary world view when the world they're looking at has worked out well for them personally.

J.M. Ney-Grimm said...

"And asking the government to help them is like asking peasants to use their money to buy Marie Antoinette cake."

Yeah! Tell it, Joe!

Man, but Patterson's ad makes me mad. Love it that you refuted his every point so eloquently.

Barry Eisler said...

Oh and thanks too for the link to Wainwright -- you were right, excellent.

Mark Feggeler said...

I had the opportunity to hear Patterson speak a few weeks ago, thanks to a program sponsored by our local Literacy Council. He said very little of consequence during his 30-minute ramble -- I was hoping for some industry insight or, at the very least, some direct or anecdotal writing advice -- but he did explain that he often drafts a 50-70 page outline and then hands it off to another writer to complete a first draft. Then he takes over, rewrites it and sends it off to print.

Not that this doesn't take talent and imagination, but it essentially makes Patterson a franchise. While I admire his business savvy -- if I had writers tripping over themselves for the chance to draft out my rough ideas and outlines, I certainly would take advantage of the situation -- I have to wonder what some of the literary masters he references in his ad would have thought about the way he has learned to play the industry to his benefit.

Aimlesswriter said...

I've found many great author on Amazon who probably wouldn't have found a home with a regular publisher. To let the big 6 control what we read hints at dictatorship. Why should they make this decision for readers?
Amazon is the liberation of both authors and readers. We now have access to books that probably never would have made it into print and can finally make our own decision on what we want to read.
I stopped reading Patterson when he stopped writing his own books. He's a great writer, some of his ghosts? not so much.
"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!..."

Mark Terry said...

It's not as if these changes occurred overnight. Even before Amazon produced the Kindle, everybody in the industry was discussing the potential of digital publishing. Some publishers even made attempts of selling books on DVDs. So easily 10, 15, maybe even 20 years, most everyone in the industry had an inkling that it was only a matter of time before digital downloads became a legitimate possibility. But instead of doing something about it - hiring programmers, having people assigned to working up approaches to it - they just waited for someone else to do it. And he did - Steve Bezos.

Mark Terry said...

Barry at 7:13.
When I gave talks, I used to define a publisher as "someone with money who wants to publish books."

After all, most publishing conglomerates started as somebody who started as small business.

But thanks to digital publishing and the current business model, the definition of a publisher is "someone who wants to publish books."

The definition of a publisher that someone involves "someone with a better sense of taste than you" wasn't part of my definition, it was created by legacy publishers as they took control of distribution channels. Maybe it was created by consumers when they realized some companies created better books than others (although I'm not really aware of most readers connecting their reading experience to specific publishers, and the way in the last 20+ years that publishers created so many imprints, it was tricky even for people who cared about this sort of thing - i.e. writers and editors and other publishers - to figure out what writer was affiliated with which publisher).

Anonymous said...

No one even needs to buy a kindle to read ebooks. People can just download the free kindle ebook reader for their computer. Besides possibly having kindles for loan, libraries could have the free reader on their existing computers for patrons to read while at the library.

Unknown said...

Joe (and Barry too),

Thanks for the shout-out. I really appreciate it.

You know, the one area that this discussion did bring up that I'd like to see explored more is the one concerning libraries.

I don't have a very good grasp on how libraries essentially operate, but it seems to me, that if authors would get more interactive with libraries, not only could there be revenue for the author, but books, both commercial and "classics", could find there way into the hands of a completely new generation of readers.

I can't imagine many of the iPhone/iPad generation going to bookstores to find new information. And I absolutely can't imagine them wanting to pay $16 for a paperback they could read on their phone for $3

But I could definitely envision a resurgence in neighborhood depositories of information, where families could go to hangout and learn - I've even got a name they could use... Libraries.

David Gaughran said...

I've so many issues with James Patterson's stance. For starters:

1. Libararies are facing a twin threat, but neither of them are caused by the changes Patterson is railing against. Funding cutbacks have nothing to do with e-books and the internet, and the fact that publishers are charging so much for digital sales to libraries is squarely at their door.

2. As you have pointed out, books aren't under threat. Print is in decline, but it's being replaced by digital - which is leading to an upsurge in reading, not a decline.

3. The number of independent bookstores in the US has risen over the last few years. Maybe he's talking about chain stores, but I have little sympathy for them.

4. The digital revolution is giving more opportunities to writers - new and old - than any development ever.

5. The number of publishers is increasing, not decreasing. Every self-publisher runs their own publishing company. Perhaps Patterson is referring to large publishers - and, again, I have little sympathy there.

6. The fixed price laws of Germany, Italy, and France (and Spain) are certainly something that the US does not want to emulate. It institutionalizes the kind of illegal price-fixing agreements that we witnessed recently in the US, which obviously drive up prices. Why are some people so afraid of cheap books? It makes reading more accessible. It makes reading less of a minority sport for the well-off. When books are cheaper, people buy more of them, and more people read. These are good things! (Unless you are an extraneous middleman being disrupted by this change.)

Anonymous said...

It's hard to make "art for art's sake" when you are struggling to put food on the table or worse--you can't buy food because you need to pay the rent.

Independent editors can struggle too. Is it a choice between nurturing a societally important hopeful, or editing for a hot new genre author who can pay you big bucks?

It is easier for large companies to fund a purely artistic endeavor, and sometimes they do so just to get the publicity.

"Who will save our books?"

Right on, James Patterson--and write on too. :)

Realist said...

Come off it, Joe. Kindle is a godsend for certain books, yes, but not serious literature. You know as well as I do that there's no Kindle writer today on par with John Kennedy Toole, Thomas Pynchon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and the other writers that Patterson lists.

I will grant you that some Kindle authors are very good for what they do but there are no Faulkners, Fitzgeralds, or Hemingways among them. Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.

Kevin Michaels said...

Great post
Patterson is also 100% off-base re: bookstores. The failure of Borders as well as the inevitable crash and burn of Barnes and Noble are business stories. Poorly run organizations, inept and incompetent management, .excessive inventory, poor pricing models, and an inability to compete in today's marketplace are business-related, not literature-related. And if we are pointing fingers about the failure of book stores and book chains, shouldn't a significant amount of blame be levied against the publishing companies for their Draconian business practices in regards to shipments, inventory, and returns? If we want to lament the loss of bookstores, lay the blame at Big Box retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart who buy a significant number of titles and discount them at prices that leave brick and mortar competitors unable to compete on price. Wal-Mart has done more damage to bookstores than e-readers ever have….. When one of the Big Boxer stores come to a new market they crush the competition, and smaller stores (as well as larger competitors) need to find new ways to compete. The Mom and Pop that carries jeans and tee shirts has to change their business model and their assortment, or hang up a “Going Out Of Business” sign.

The lack of a physical book doesn’t mean literature and reading is dead. I live in a beach community and see people reading books in the sand, but I also see a tremendous number of people reading their Kindles. Eight tracks and cassettes didn’t kill music. The Walkman didn’t kill music. Itunes hasn’t killed music. Customers find ways of buying what they want – new artists and new music are out there, the same way new writers are being discovered and new books are being read.

David Gaughran said...


Comparing the output of digital self-publishing - which is really only two or three years old - against the literary canon is more than a little unfair. I'm sure there are fantastic literary writers out there that haven't gained traction yet.

In fact, I found one the other day. It's a book called "Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti" and it's written by a guy called Ted Oswald. It's his first book, and I'm sure once he has more out, and experiments a little more with his marketing, he'll start making waves. It's genuinely brilliant and I'm sure it will be read in years to come. You can check it out here:

Anonymous said...

"James Patterson's Important Literature Series"

This is an absolutely brilliant idea. I am not sure if Patterson will take you up on it. You should contact him and direct him to this post.

If not Patterson, who is an entertainer after all, then why not the people whose job it is to nurture and find great writing? It's a complicated situation but trust me the editors and publishers of literary journals, from The Paris Review and Virginia Quarterly Review on down to The Nervous Breakdown, Black Warrior Review, Idaho Review, Sewanee Review and Carolina Quarterly (not to mention The New Yorker, Electric Literature, etc) absolutely hate self-published authors and they hate the KDP indie revolution. They would never have anything to do with indie writers. In fact the writers who are published in these journals are almost entirely college professors, so it's an "old boy's (and girl's) club" of school teachers patting each other's backs. Writers who are outside of academia are not welcome in that club.

So although this is a laudable idea you have, you are going to be very hard pressed to find anyone in a position of authority in the world of literary fiction who is willing to actually go though KDP titles and look for quality literature.

Even so, I would love to see it happen. Maybe it will finally shake literary fiction outside of its current doldrums.
Has anyone even begun to do this? Are there undiscovered Tooles putting their work out with KDP and completely outside of the literary fiction / academic establishment? Great thought, but can't say I can name even one.

JA Konrath said...

Come off it, Joe. Kindle is a godsend for certain books, yes, but not serious literature. You know as well as I do that there's no Kindle writer today on par with John Kennedy Toole, Thomas Pynchon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and the other writers that Patterson lists.

Thanks for reading several hundred thousand self-published ebooks to confirm that for the rest of us.

According to my fan mail and thousands of reviews, some folks happen to think I'm on par with Stephen King. But why let the unwashed masses decide what has value?

Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.

Like truly good music needs big producers?

Like truly good movies need Hollywood?

Like Shakespeare--the most popular writer ever--needed editors, agents, and traditional publishers?

Correlation does not equal causality. We'll see important literature appear on Kindle. Bet me otherwise.

Adam Pepper said...

Patterson seems to have his heart in the right place, but talking government bailouts with sequestration going on is completely out of touch. It's not gonna happen politically.

Realist: how do you know there aren't brilliant writers toiling in obscurity? There does seem to be an opening for a curator type group to find those hidden gems. But I also wonder why you assume editors today are finding them. Would Faulkner find his way to the top of today's slush pile?

Anonymous said...

You might be on par with Stephen King, but Stephen King is not among those listed above because he is not in the business of creating literary art, which is what's being discussed here.

Kevin Michaels said...

RE: REALIST -Come off it, Joe. Kindle is a godsend for certain books, yes, but not serious literature. You know as well as I do that there's no Kindle writer today on par with John Kennedy Toole, Thomas Pynchon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and the other writers that Patterson lists.

We're going to trust the same gatekeepers - big publishing companies and literary agents to find the kinds of writers listed? Publishing is a business - their bottom line has everything to do with money and nothing to do with literature....if there's any doubt, just look at the book lists that include great literary works by Snooki, The Situation, or any of the Real Housewives of f'ing wherever. And the lies and falsehoods about those books "funding" the development of new talent......ain't happening.

Larissa said...

I loved reading this post, you make such excellent, valid, and very realistic points about the book publishing industry. Books will thrive, whether in print or some other form.

Joshua James said...

I wonder if Patterson gets the same royalty amount on ebooks that other writers get...

Seems to me he has a lot of leverage, he churns out about ten books a year, he could write his own ticket now if he wants to... and demand whatever royalty a publisher is willing to pay...

so it makes me wonder if he's getting more, why wouldn't he?

JA Konrath said...

You might be on par with Stephen King, but Stephen King is not among those listed above because he is not in the business of creating literary art, which is what's being discussed here.

Look again. And try reading what I wrote.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

"Who will save our books? Our libraries? Our bookstores?"

So far as libraries go, they've never been much of a money making operation. Most are operated by states or municipalities and stay in the expenditure column, not the revenue one for what should be obvious reasons.

Moreover, last time I checked, Project Gutenberg had more than 40,000 classics available for free. I think the continued existence of these and other works are pretty well assured.

Barbra Annino said...

James Patterson: $94 million

Stephen King: $39 million

Janet Evanovich: $33 million

John Grisham: $26 million

Jeff Kinney, $25 million

Bill O'Reilly: $24 million

Nora Roberts: $23 million

Danielle Steel: $23 million

Suzanne Collins: $20 million

Dean Koontz: $19 million

JK Rowling: $17 million

George RR Martin: $15 million

Stephenie Meyer: $14 million

Ken Follett: $14 million

Rick Riordan: $13 million

Multi-billion dollar employees. Which means the publishers are making at least 2-3 times that just on these authors alone.

This is an industry that's hurting? I doubt the assembly workers at Ford were bringing home those figures, Mr. Patterson.

Barbra Annino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen M Holak said...

Different spin on the same subject I blogged about this morning. My take was embarrassment and pity for the Luddite who is not only well-fed, over-insulated,and clueless about the problem, but admits that he has no real idea what the solution is. (Thar stems from his disconnect on the problem.) He and Turow are simply frightened and trying to protect the ivory tower they helped build; they are not concerned with readers, authors, and literature--they want their cheese back.

Jude Hardin said...

Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.


And what is "true literary art" anyway? Define that for me. Go ahead and give it a try.

People who think they can define art for the rest of us have been brainwashed by academia, and the academics perpetuating these myths were brainwashed by the professors who preceded them. None of them will admit it, of course, because they're too drunk on their own Kool-Aid.

And yet I've never heard one of them come up with an adequate definition of "serious literature."

They can't come up with one, because there's no such thing. Art is totally subjective, and anyone who says otherwise needs a few good deprogramming sessions.

Adam Pepper said...

Fine art and literature is not dependant on mammoth corporations. If it truly does require the love of editors and publishers, the small presses will survive and carry that torch.

Stephen M Holak said...

Jude Hardin said...
Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.


And what is "true literary art" anyway? Define that for me

Not sure either, but I'll definitely know it when I see it, like porn. ;-)

Alan Tucker said...

A bailout? Brilliant!

I’m just very glad that companies who made things like 8-track tapes, tractor feed printers, and carbon paper didn’t have Mr. James I’ll-Stick-My-Name-On-Anything-And-Make-It-Sell Patterson around to suggest bailouts for them! Or those poor monks who slaved over their inkwells in candlelight to copy books by hand. Those guys definitely needed a bailout.

Mr. Patterson, Mr. Turow, stop. Just. Stop.

Ty said...

"Why are there no impassioned editorials in influential newspapers or magazines?"

Perhaps because newspapers and magazines have already spent a decade (or longer) going through what has only hit the book publishing industry in the last few years (give or take), and they think book publishers should suck it up and come up with new business plans, which is what newspaper and magazine publishers have had to do?

Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.

Yes, of course. Because none of the following people ever self published without agents and trad publishers:

James Joyce
Mark Twain
Walt Whitman
Bernard Shaw
Virginia Wolff
Edgar Allan Poe
D.H. Lawrence
Rudyard Kipling
Henry David Thoreau
Alexandre Dumas

... I could go on.

Unknown said...

Does Mr. Patterson have kids? All you need to do is look at the youth of today to find out they are indeed the disposable & tech-obsessed generation. New phones, laptops, notebooks each year. (How many people on this blog stood in line for the new iphone 5 when there previous phone wasn't more than a year or two old?) Point is, my 3 daughters LIVE on their electronics. Drag them away from their tablets to go to the bookstore? they'll just spend the time on their phones. If I want them to read a book, I stand a much better chance of putting it on their tablets, so they can read it in their down time.
If anyone is going to be bailed out, would someone please go back and save the video stores. I really, really miss my local Blockbuster.

G. M. Frazier said...

Literature, true literary art, needs editors and agents and traditional publishers.

Really? Let's see...for decades, Maxwell Perkins got credit for making Thomas Wolfe the "great writer" everyone acknowledged him to be. (Faulkner rated him #1 at the time when asked.) Then, a few years ago some scholars decided to dig up the manuscript for Look Homeward Angel before Perkins got his hands on it (when it was entitled O Lost). And what did they discover? Perkins' edit and the revisions he forced on Wolfe had actually hurt the novel. It became clear that Wolfe was, in fact, a literary master in his own right and his first novel, with just some simple line-editing and proofreading, was fully-formed and ready to go.

J.E. Mullany said...

Does Patterson enjoy a competitive advantage with traditional book selling that would go away if government doesn't step in to intervene?
Sadly, perhaps his motives are not as selfless as he'd like to tell himself and us.

Unknown said...

I suspect Patterson is playing the Woody Allen role from The Front.

John Kusters said...

What about bookstores? Well, honestly, looking at the independent bookstores, they're doing a good job at saving themselves. I note the success of a particular genre-specific bookstore in San Diego that has recently opened a new outlet just up the coast. They have a strong following in their local community because they offer services beyond just selling books. They have a very busy schedule of author visits and book signings, they sponsor reading groups, they participate in Comic-Con (a HUGE popular media event in San Diego), and they also now have an online ebook store. They are growing in a time where Borders collapsed and Barnes and Noble is on it's way out. They are learning what the big box retailers did not, and that is you have to offer more to your customers than simply a place to buy books. You have to foster community, build excitement, and make personal connections. That's the way you keep bringing people through the doors.

Daniela said...

I'm always a bit surprised that people are so focused on the publishing industry and that they are the only ones who should publish books. Even before self-publishing via eBooks became possible people self-published and not only with vanity pressed.

Virginia Woolf and her husband founded their own publishing company (Hogarth Press) where they published their own books (even hand printed the first ones when it was still more a hobby than an actual business) and later those of friends.

In the early 19th century a number of writers published magazines and collections of their own works and those of their literary circle.

And before printing or even writing was invented people told stories around the camp fire.

So literature will survive. People will continue telling stories and writing books. The mediums are changing but that's something that happens all the times. One only needs to look at the impact Gutenberg's invention of the movable letters had on the printing industry but even more so on society. Suddenly everything could be printed and passed around much more easily and cheaply. People had access to information like never before which was a scary and threatening situation for the establishment.

And I guess we're back to that once again. The establishment feels threatened and parts of it lash out while other parts adapt and survive.

Ty said...

If anyone is going to be bailed out, would someone please go back and save the video stores. I really, really miss my local Blockbuster.

And let's not forget retro video games. Could we get a couple of hundred million for Atari? I'd really like to see them finally get Pac-Man right for the home video game market.

Dan DeWitt said...

@Anonymous 9:14

You might be on par with Stephen King, but Stephen King is not among those listed above because he is not in the business of creating literary art, which is what's being discussed here.

Whatever the opposite of touche is, you just did it.

JA Konrath said...

Whatever the opposite of touche is, you just did it.

It's called "foot meet mouth".

But it's okay, because he posted anonymously, which means he doesn't have to apologize or defend his words. o_O

Sage said...

Bookstores are not protected in Germany. They ask the government for subventions for years now, but they don't get anything!

The only thing different is, that a book or ebook has to have the same price everywhere at the same time.
I can have it on amazon and itunes for 10 Euro today and change the price tomorrow to 9 Euro. But it can't be 10 in one place and 9 in the other on the same day. That's it!

Bookstores close here just like in the US. Many people buy online. Bookstores have the top 10, some dictionaries and other school books and a few selected famous authors. If you want to buy a book, that was recommended in a newspaper, you're welcome to drive to a bigger city.
Some bookstores tried recently a campaign, to get more people in the stores, to buy local. But when you look on their numbers and compare them to last year, it wasn't a success. Some say it was, but they compare month to month, instead eastern 2013 to eastern 2012 and eastern 2011.
Was the timing of the campaign a coincidence? I don't think so.
I was in a few bookstores at the time, even the big ones. You didn't really see much about the campaign.

You can sell books local, but you need a different concept.

Anonymous said...

Joe, this is a fantastic rebuttal to such a ridiculous claim by Patterson. Just really a great point-by-point logical response to an emotional cry that has no basis in reason.

A bailout? Is he serious? Is it just me, or is anyone else getting really tired of hearing rich celebrities ask the government to spend more tax money?

Unknown said...

What's more telling are the authors Patterson omitted. No Shakespeare? Dickens? Poe? Hm, I'd have figured they were a little more important.

Merrill Heath said...

"Who will discover and mentor new writers? Who will publish our important books? What will happen if there are no more books like these?"

Since the publishers only publish a miniscule percentage of the books written each year, you could make the argument that they have done more to prevent important books from being published than they have to assist in that endeavor.

How many great authors were never mentored because their work went into a slush pile and never got honest consideration? How many important books never saw the light of day because some low-level editor didn't understand them or agree with their point of view or because it wasn't enough like the current best-seller? What happened to all those great books that the publishers didn't buy because they didn't think it would sell or they simply already had their quota for that genre?

Publishers are in the business of making money, not printing and distributing great literature. Anyone who doesn't know that is very naive...or they have an agenda, as is the case with Mr. Patterson.

Jill James said...

When I saw that ad/post the first thing I thought was, what will joe say? Thanks.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

My response to Mr. Patterson.

James said...

Me too Jill. lol

I.J.Parker said...

I'm with those who have no respect for Patterson, either for his writing (he is now spokesperson for literary art???) or for his concern for writers (yes, maybe those like himself who have a million dollar writing empire as long as the status quo isn't threatened), or for readers. It's readers who are threatened by the status quo which increasingly caters to those like Patterson, thus removing other choices that readers used to have when looking for books.

David L. Shutter said...

"Does Patterson enjoy a competitive advantage with traditional book selling that would go away if government doesn't step in to intervene?"

I think JP contradicts himself somewhat by suggesting that publishers get or need a bailout. Apparently they're doing better than ever. Bookstores would be a different story which raises a key question: what happens when the major bookstore front tables and windows for posters are (theoretically) all gone and everyone's new book is a thumbnail?

Well, Patterson and every other mega-seller have ebook versions of their works too. Go see where some of them are ranked.

And also note who they're being outsold by in many cases.

mutter said...

To the anonymous poster that made the blanket statement that no literary greats are coming out of self-pubbing:

Try searching this very blog for "Kiana Davenport" and maybe also try reading her books.

mutter said...

I don't mean to imply that Davenport is more legit than any of the authors here, only that she meets today's perception of "literary" - and that she's damn good.

I would add that Wilkie Collins in his day was described as a "sensational" author - that era's equivalent of the thriller or pulp novelist.

Anonymous said...

Great article. You know books on tape really had an impact on publishing. Oh wait. I still bought paper books. Never mind.

Publishing as it is, is afraid of change that takes money out of its pockets. Who will discover talent? Same people that always have. Consumers. I am pretty sure when Homer was writing there was no big six company. You don't need traditional pubbing to write. Nor do you need them to be good at writing. Pretty sure most of my teachers would do that or did do it. No contract required. The big six are almost like figureheads and I think they fear the tide coming. You can either change or go away.

I certainly do not agree with bailouts for publishers. How about we use tax money for something better like affordable housing or food or anything but another big industry bail out. When you start bailing out businesses it really isn't Capitalism anymore.

I also love the idea of giving Kindles to libraries! Now that would help everyone IMO.

Daniela said...

The bookstores and publishers in Germany are whining just as much as the ones in the US. They also aren't protected or subsidized by the government. While we do have a fixed price system the lack of customer orientation and service combined with missing innovative thinking is driving customers away.

And when I look at some of the numbers of Random House (one of the biggest German publishers belonging to the Bertlesmann Group) they don't seem to be suffering. Mr. Patterson really should do his homework a bit better. As a writer he should know about the necessity of proper research.

The industry also seems to have more than enough money to start big campaigns like this one: (by the organization of the German book industry consisting of publishers, intermediate book traders, and book stores). Not really sure I see their point. Ever since I bought a Kindle I've bought more books than ever before. And I've started to buy a lot more books by small indie publishers and self-publishers.

I still remember a time when the best way to buy English Fantasy books was a trip to London. German stores didn't carry them and ordering them could mean waiting for months (the longest I had to wait was 6 months for a book by E.M. Forster ordered at a bookstore that catered to students, including those studying English lit). And then when they finally arrived they cost three times more than they would have in the US or UK.

In some ways it's still that way. People wanting to read English ebooks are still considered exotic and of no real interest to German bookstores, even those selling ebooks. The few that do sell ebooks (aside from Amazon) do so at inflated prices, usually at least twice as much as on Amazon. Their argument is: 'Well, they don't fall under the binding book price so we can ask whatever we feel like.'

Normal bookstores have school books, bestsellers (usually translations of varying quality) and maybe some regional books, rarely do they actually carry 'literature' unless it's a one of the really cheap Reclam booklets that schools use. Ordering books from indie publishers is only advisable if you're feeling masochistic or have the patience of a saint.

David Gaughran said...

If you pretend e-books, Amazon, and self-publishing don't exist, Patterson almost has a point.

Mark Feggeler said...

In any case, hasn't it been just during the past couple decades that people (readers and authors alike) have been bemoaning the death of local, independent bookstores at the hands of the big box bookstores?

Shouldn't the shrinking and/or death of the big box stores and the recent growth in the number of independent bookstores be a thing to celebrate rather than fret?

Mean Teacher said...

That's kind of a wierd list of books Patterson chose to include in the NYT ad. A lot of them are certified classics, sure, but did he use the same computer software to put it together that is used to compose his books? It's a good thing Maya Angelou and Jonathon Franzen are on there. They are true literary...uh, artists.

Laura Resnick said...

M.R. Lambert: "Though my town of 18k is obviously not the standard, they have already implemented e-readers, individual audio books, and various other media. It astounds me that a Library can seem to adapt to the various formats to which books are moving, faster than the publishers themselves seem to be able to. "

My thoughts, too. I live in a town of 40,0000 in Kentucky. My physical library building is always crowded and busy (and there are always peeople there checking out print books), and it has a good local historical archive.

It also has decent website, and good, well-stocked systems of digital services for ebooks and digital audiobooks, with separate digital services for children's books and for magazines. (And my library =gives= away several downloadable MP3 songs per week to all patrons, so clearly it has some sort of licensing deal with music providers.)

Recently, I filled out a survey that my library system emailed to all patrons with survey questions about how to improve the library's services, with a focus on its digital services.

I'm concerned about funding for my library, but not about its ability to keep a strong book culture alive in the digital era.

Scott said...

I'm "only" a reader, but I have a Kindle and I have found the following authors: Steven M. Moore, Edward W. Robertson, Lindsay Buroker, P.J. Druce, William Malmborg, Mark Terry, Michael Meloin, Steve Umstead, Derek Canyon, Robert Gregory Brown, Annetta Ribken, and Karina Halle all because of my Kindle, not in spite of it. How many of them would I have found if I was limited to B&N or a sort-of-close indie bookstore (Anderson's in Naperville)? I think the answer is Zero. I would not have found any of them. So much for the "new author discovery" thing...

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Someone beat me to the listing of famous classics that were self-published!

As to Realist, who said, "I will grant you that some Kindle authors are very good for what they do but there are no Faulkners, Fitzgeralds, or Hemingways among them."

I beg to differ. Here is one Fitzgerald, at least.

Tony Hursh said...

"there's no Kindle writer today on par with John Kennedy Toole, Thomas Pynchon, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway"

Every single one of those writers is available on Kindle, and is thus a "Kindle writer" by definition. Every. Single. One.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I think you fail to see Realist's point.

Patrice, you made me laugh.

Anonymous 8:48, you may be right.

Tony Hursh said...

You're quite right. If he has a point, I can't imagine what it could possibly be.

Violet Graves said...

A lot of these articles supporting traditional publishing (which has its place in this wonderful wide world) read like that scene in GoT where Eddard Stark confessed to treason.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Mutter said: "To the anonymous poster that made the blanket statement that no literary greats are coming out of self-pubbing:

Try searching this very blog for "Kiana Davenport" and maybe also try reading her books."

I couldn't agree more. In a review I did of one of her books more than two years ago, I said that I believed she was one of America's greatest living literary talents.
She's independent now because her big six publisher dropped her. She wasn't making them enough money.

If you haven't read her work, do yourself a favor.

So much for Patterson's theory.

Brian Drake said...

Mickey Spillane once said, "Literature is what people read." If you try and sell me a book and call it literature, I'm probably going to tell you no. When I hear "literature" I think "boring." I didn't read Fitzgerald or Hemingway for years and years because they were always called "literature" and then when I did read them (I wanted to see if Hammett had indeed learned from them or if it was the other way around) I discovered, no, these are good books about people going through a struggle--if I may boil them down to that basic description. But they aren't sold that way. It's why I don't like labels. Some people have the same reaction to "genre" as I had to "literature" but as has happened throughout the ages, a lot of "genre" books carry a lasting impact.

Patterson is putting the wrong emphasis on what he's trying to save. And by the way, what are the modern classics? Wasn't everything Patterson listed written over 100 years ago? Does that mean "literature" as Patterson sees it is already dead?

Brian Drake said...

Mickey Spillane once said, "Literature is what people read." If you try and sell me a book and call it literature, I'm probably going to tell you no. When I hear "literature" I think "boring." I didn't read Fitzgerald or Hemingway for years and years because they were always called "literature" and then when I did read them (I wanted to see if Hammett had indeed learned from them or if it was the other way around) I discovered, no, these are good books about people going through a struggle--if I may boil them down to that basic description. But they aren't sold that way. It's why I don't like labels. Some people have the same reaction to "genre" as I had to "literature" but as has happened throughout the ages, a lot of "genre" books carry a lasting impact.

Patterson is putting the wrong emphasis on what he's trying to save. And by the way, what are the modern classics? Wasn't everything Patterson listed written over 100 years ago? Does that mean "literature" as Patterson sees it is already dead?

Suzy said...

No one needs to physically own a Kindle. If you go to any Amazon page, look to the right and you'll see "Download the Kindle app free to your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet."

So there's that.

Michael W. Sherer said...

Does Patterson really not understand that it's not the big, bad Amazon that's destroying bookstores, but the archaic, medieval practices of traditional publishing that's killing bookstores (and traditional publishing)? Traditional publishing did nothing for me but cast me aside, and while I don't write great literature either, Joe, at least somebody thinks it's good enough to nominate for an ITW award. Books, even physical books, aren't going away anytime soon. Many are just catching up with the 21st Century.

Great post, Joe!

antares said...

"Who will . . . mentor new writers?"

I have not finished reading your article, because I got angry at this point.


When in the name of all the gods did publishers or editors ever mentor a writer? When did bookstores do so?

I got critiques and encouragement from my writers' group. That's what newbies need: critiques and encouragement.

All I ever got from publishers and editors was "I don't like this", "Not good enough", "Doesn't fit in our marketing scheme", "Good but not a fit for our house", and so forth. How is that mentoring?

I find myself aghast at the amount of willful ignorance and gross arrogance being touted as wisdom by James Patterson, Scott Turow, and their running dog followers.

A plague on their houses.

PS Who nurtured Frank Herbert, author of Dune, through eighty-eight rejections?

Robert Dean Hall said...

Would I like to see my novels in print? Yes. Does the fact that my novels only appear in electronic format make me feel they are any less entertaining or even important than those I see on the shelf of my local bookstore? Oh, HAIL no.

I was only going for entertaining, but I've had people compare my first novel favorably to some rather 'important' works by some very influential science fiction writers.

Sorry Mr. Patterson, but the important literature you speak of will be even more prevalent if my indie author friends have anything to do with it. We applaud your ability to rise to the top of the old empire, but the revolution is in full bloom and egalitarianism is the order of the day.

The king is dead, long live the democracy...

J W said...

Sounds like he's auditioning to be president of the "author's" guild.
Pretty much a shoe-in I'd say.

Merrill Heath said...

Virtually every rejection letter my father received started out: "Your novel is great literature, but..."

Anonymous said...

Let me just say something about mentoring.

I was, in fact, mentored by an editor at one of the Big 5/6 insofar that very specific revisions were requested and expected if the publisher were to make me a final offer. It provided interesting insight into the industry, because I could see exactly which demographic the publishing house was targeting. And really, that's all it was about -- targeting that demographic, full sweep. Don't color outside of the lines. And you know what? I actually get that. I understand. Publishers must be frugal with their time and resources these days. All companies want to survive, and why should publishers be any different?

I don't always agree with Joe on all points, and in fact, he really gets me riled up at times. But he knows a little something about something, I'll give him that. Mentoring may have been possible and even useful 20, 25 years ago. Today, it's a different ball game. I don't think that what I got was mentoring as much as it was a set of specific instructions, and I wanted to write books, not churn out product. That's the bottom line.

I chose to self-publish, by the way.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Scott, I want to thank you for the shout out. That was very kind of you. You label yourself as "only" a reader, but you're exactly the person authors like me want to reach, without having to get permission from someone else to do it.

To my mind, the gatekeeping system is the real culprit when it comes to stifling "great literature," or even popular fiction. I once ran a workshop at a writer's conference in which many young writers read their work, and I was blown away by how good so many of them were.

I even said out loud, "Why haven't you people been published?"

It turned out that most of them had already been rejected multiple times by traditional publishers for reasons I simply couldn't fathom. It made me wonder how many more writers are out there waiting to be discovered. I can only hope that they will latch onto ebooks and self-publishing so that readers like you can discover them.

Johny Depp said...

That's a great insight you shared with us today, Mr Joe. I'm into online marketing field since long and earning well by writing articles, stories (both fiction and non-fiction) for my readers. I must say that it is one of the very interesting way to entertain people and earn money for that.

Thanks for the article, buddy.
Make Money Online

Anonymous said...

just an opinion, but James Patterson has NO idea how other authors are treated by big pubs. He is in the stratosphere nearing hypoxia, or however one spells that word. Patterson is salivated over because of his great co-writing trick, lending his name, letting others do the hard work. I may be wrong, but it seems like the equivalent of a painting factory like Kinkaide inaugurated; others painting en masse the patterns he set, only in different colors.

I HATE to see libraries, bookstores become rare. They have ever been a place of refuge for many, for many different reasons.

I find no clear message in such an ad, especially since it looks like The author picked a highschool reading list for 'the wonderkins' that made publishers a pile of money; the absolute lion's share.

THere are no eccentric works, no works of art, no books representing ... well, you name it, its probably not on his list.

Oddly, since newspapers are going down the toidy and Chi Trib, LAT and other huge formerly prosperous newspapers are up for sale, it seems weak to take out an ad in the NYT, a paper that so few read compared to say Daily Beast or even Huffpo, Drudge, etc.

THe motive seems different that the face of it all.

Anonymous said...

I know this comment is barely worth reading, but thanks for doing what your doing, Joe. It really does mean a lot to the unwashed masses.

Unknown said...

Patterson is salivated over because of his great co-writing trick, lending his name, letting others do the hard work.

The hard work? Please. I WISH someone would give me an 80 page outline to work from. I'd be able to knock that book out in about two weeks.

Scott Weber said...

Arguing that publishers need protection in order to foster great literature in the same year that "50 Shades..." delivered monster profit for a publisher is hysterical.
Comparing Patterson to Marie Antoinette is so fitting. Patterson should be concerned about the rest of that metaphor.

Janet Hartman said...

Long live the entertainers! I write some things strictly for entertainment and I'm tired of hearing that everything must have a message. Sometimes we all need an escape, and sometimes it's the library.

Frank Coles said...

I met with the same publishing house that you and Barry were talking about two years ago just the other day.

They didn't understand books/TV/Film need exposure to gain traction.
They didn't understand brands authors/subjects/characters need to be built.
They didn't understand that shorter print runs and lower advances are not appealing to business-minded authors.
They couldn't justify how they stay in business with their model apart from the sudden increase in funds from the 17.5% scam that the cartel publishers have forced on unsuspecting writers.

However, I do think libraries of some sort are essential. They are public places that yes, serve to store books (for free - some people can't even afford 0.99c for a download) but they also have many other social functions. Libraries can be digital, reading spaces perhaps, proprietary devices aren't essential either. But, in an ideal world, there should always be somewhere that isn't the preserve of the monied where people can read.

And, frankly, while I love my kindle/ipad/desktop/notebook for reading for certain subjects printed still works best (not all mind you), some textbooks/kids books for example. Yes, you can annotate, but device suppliers can also mess with your notes or remove them altogether without consent, batteries run out, etc, etc, yadda yadda.

Ebook readers are nice, books are nice, words are great.

Publerati said...

And of was Walker Percy (an author) who was able to get Dunces published through his ongoing efforts. I doubt any publisher would have published Dunces otherwise because it "was not like anything else I can measure against." That is the truly dumb part of publishing, always looking for something like something else (which then begs the question why do we need it at all?) This helps make oodles of money in the Patterson way but does it support literature? I really doubt anyone will be reading Patterson 100 years from now. His work is not original enough to endure across generations. The Moviegoer just celebrated its 50th anniversary by the way, worth rereading, and there is an excellent documentary about him written and produced by Win Riley (search online). It is a deeply moving short film well worth the time.

Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

I like Patterson, and his campaign to get kids to read, but he is way off base with the ad. He is showing his naivety of the situation, and his inability to see what life is like for other authors out there who were not as lucky as he. The real shame is that so many writers have been silenced over the years. Be yourself and be free…be someone’s mouthpiece and you are inside a box and cannot see out. Small bookstores can still survive, if they place themselves where there are book browsers, just like always. However, we also need the on-line markets and support for the digital readers. This is what our society wants – this is how we reach readers in our digital age. Book, ebook, all formats should be supported, and available for readers. I agree – writers will always write. We are lucky that today they have a chance of being read too.

Adrian said...

I've never been completely clear on what constitutes "great literature" anyway. I've been forced to read what I've been told is great literature by various high school teachers and college professors and most of it really, really sucked.

"Literature are the books everyone talks about but no one reads." That's attributed to Mark Twain; no idea if he really said it, but it's accurate.

So I don't much care about literature or protecting it, but as a reader I do care about stories and there are many, many good stories from self pubbed authors out there. Some stinkers too, but I've read plenty of bad books from the big publishers as well.

It's a bit frustrating to see guys like Patterson (who I used to read but don't anymore...too expensive) get all defensive to the point of demanding the government step in to protect his little fiefdom. The rarefied job (and be honest, it's just a job) of "author" isn't just for anyone, you know. Please.

I have never and will never make as much money as Patterson, but I suppose I can see why he would be afraid of the eBook revolution. But have the decency to admit that your concern is for yourself (there's not a damn thing wrong with motivated self-interest) and your concern for poor kids being able to access "literature" is, at best, secondary.

Anonymous said...

@Frank Coles -- I had the pleasure of attending a guest lecture given by the head of libraries at my university, who explained how libraries are changing and evolving from repositories of hard copy to archives of rare printed materials (especially on the academic front). Librarians view their new mission as ensuring that these -- and other books -- are scanned and preserved electronically so that more people can access them, rather than a select few. There was also a lot of talk about how libraries are turning into open spaces and group rooms, where people meet to study and discuss, as well as learn new methods of researching.

All in all, it did sound encouraging.

Anonymous (10:37 PM)

Jenni Wiltz said...

"Save our books?" Give me a break. Books themselves aren't going anywhere. Patterson meant, "Save the big-box bookstores that give my books prominent shelf space to the exclusion of all these other people's books that keep showing up online." Nobody needs three full shelves of a single author's books at any bookstore.

That goes for Austen, Dickens, and other beloved but overstocked authors. Why did Borders close? In my opinion, partly because half the shelf space in the fiction section contained twelve different editions of classic books that you can get at any library. Heaven forbid they don't stock 10 different editions of Gatsby, leaving no room at the inn for small press titles. Had they cut down on this kind of massive overbuying and devoted more space to up-and-coming or indie writers, maybe they'd have found a niche market and stayed afloat.

David A. Todd said...

Some of my favorite things: books, bookstores, libraries. But e-books are books, and Amazon is a bookstore. Both just in different formats.

And I wonder if libraries are as necessary now as they once were. Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries. I'm in one almost every week. But they developed at a time when book production costs (hand copying; later manual printing presses) were sky high. Paper was a precious commodity. Even ink was expensive. So purchasing books was out of the question for the average family. And there was no such thing as a database to even know what books were out there to be purchased. So a library served as a low cost way to access books you couldn’t afford to buy and barely knew existed.

Now book costs are cheap, no-cost databases of available books are available, so the library is less necessary than it once was. I hope the publicly funded lending library does not go the way of the home-delivery milkman, but if it does it will be because something better replaced it.

Ripley King said...

I can't help wondering what all this is really about. My local library is doing just fine, and has been offering e-books for the last two years. The place is always busy, and during the day they cater to the kids. Reading is exciting.

I've read the classics, but I wonder how many of these classics were duds, and then built momentum as time passed. A few, I'm sure. Readers nurtured those books.

To me this whole thing smacks of "All of us suck, and they don't!" type crap I've seen since '96.

Do you honestly think this is the first salvo launched at congress to save the publishing industry?

This is a below-the-belt cheap shot at all who self-publish.

The thing is they have been trying to destroy our credibility for years, only that isn't going to happen. They saw to that with their greed. Once one of reaches a certain point, they offer us contracts!

Readers get it, but where is our offensive?

BTW, I got a freebie available until Monday.

Ripley King said...

I just read everything again, and I still say this is nothing more than a cheap shot aimed at us, but I will amend the we suck part and they don't. If they could blame all of us, as their ivory towers crumble and fall, their cornerstones of clay, they will. Not would, but will, and are.

If they can't discredit us, they try to blame their stupidity on us.

A cheap shot is still a cheap shot.

I would love to see Joe, testifying before a congressional committee. Wouldn't you?

I really need to leave this bitterness I feel toward big publishing behind, but it's not easy. Not easy at all.

Rambling Expat said...

Hi there,

You wrote:
"One of those books mentioned above was Different Seasons by Stephen King. Does anyone think King will quit writing because the publishing world keeps changing and evolving? Is there anything that could get him to stop writing? "

Well Annie Wilkes come to mind...


Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Mr Patterson being a man of such influence and wealth can find ways to find talented authors who he can mentor to produce "important" novels and somehow do something promoting them.

For the rest of us who like to be entertained, ebooks are fine. Although I do love bookstores and real books. There will always be a bookstore somewhere, even if its small.

Great post.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

The same thing is happening over here in the UK, and library closures is indeed a terrible thing, and yes the government should step in. But they won't, though. I'm not fond of Patterson's writing but I agree with him on this one hundred %. Libraries should be there for people who need them.

Kriley said...

@ Ripley King - you said "
Readers get it, but where is our offensive?"

Our offensive is good books that the readers want to read at prices they can afford. What other offense do we need? It's something the Big 5 can't/won't be able to defend against.

Sharon said...

Growing up in West Africa, there wasn't a library anywhere near us. I had to rely on second hand books sold by the roadside. Kindle has been my saving grace. I agree that there should be libraries for those who need them, but for the rest of the world where survival is a matter of where to get the next meal, Mr. Patterson's ad is irrelevant. It would make more sense if there are mobile reading stations that lend out Kindles. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the government should bail-out the countless lamplighters who lost their jobs because of the incandescent light bulb...wait, they're all dead.

Anonymous said...

James Patterson? Sorry, not a fan. Can't consider him a serious author when he hires others to write "his" books for him. Now, of those he actually wrote, yes, they were fantastic. But he's given a couple of interviews and revealed to the world how his books are written.

Note the other author on cover and that's the person who wrote the novel. Also note how large his name is and how small the real author is. Marketing genius? No, he made money from movie deals and then hired out authors to keep his name on the best sellers lists.

Ripley King said...

@Kevin Riley Torow with his press hyped diatribe, Patterson with his ad, various bloggers chimed in, and then there is Salon. I'm watching Joe and Barry make point after point as to why Torow and Patterson are oblivious, yet I don't see anything like a rebuttal in the press. There is no give and take in the public arena of their choice. I don't see the Times busting their asses to present fair and unbiased rebuttals. Has Salon approached anyone?

Shouldn't the public at large be told the truth?

Fran Baker said...

If the government sponsors books and or authors, they can also censor them.

I.E.: look at all the politically uncorrect language in, say, Mark Twain's books.

Do we want the government editing what we read and write? I think not.

Jamie Maltman said...

For libraries, EReaders are so much more than just Kindles. Our library uses Overdrive, and my wife found it a godsend for getting books to read on her phone one handed while nursing our little guy.

Have libraries show everyone how to make their smartphone, even the cheapest android one, into an EReader and you help the cause. Maybe the government has can pay for the video and public service announcements instead?

Curation is the answer to the literature deficit JP mentions. Not big publishing house curation, because they only want bestseller literature anyway.

Smaller boutique publishers who care, and get it, or literary magazines, or esteemed literature programs at universities, or groups of esteemed literary greats or whoever... Can curate lists of literary greats that self publish. All it takes is their time to read, and I'm sure the aspiring literary authors would be happy to send them the link and query for their self published work. Oh, and if they're smart they can profit from the sales as an amazon partner.

There's so much potential in curation and trusted recommendations... Without it being a gatekeeper to getting published. I'm excited to see what happens in that space.

And it won't be big publishers making the rules.

Jaime said...

I don't read this blog but found this post and it's talking about ideas that have been a concern of mine for some time.

Mr. Konrath, you seem to be well ahead of the game and are truly a pioneer in e-publishing. One thing to keep in mind is that serious literature (and not everything in Patterson's list falls into that category, not at all, but then neither does Patterson), takes a long time to write. I understand that commercial novelists can write 3 or more books in a year; for literary fiction, an author will be lucky to have one book in 3 years. Most of them take longer than that.

And that is where I am skeptical about literature (in other words books like Catcher in the Rye, etc) ever finding a home in this new model that the commercial novelists have found. Because commercial novelists make their money on bulk sales of bulk products. You have lots of books out, and for $3.99 or less you sell them by the thousands.

Serious literature is rarely a mass market paperback. Sometimes this happens, but it's rare. Most presses that specialize in literary fiction only print a run of 10000 books. Sometimes, a serious book will only be printed in a 5000 or 7500 copy run. If there are only 10000 potential readers for a book, and it sells for 2.99, and it takes 3 years to write it, how much can a writer even expect to earn? I don't think the same model that works for commercial writers will work for literary writers. It would be exciting if it did, but searching far and wide through Amazon's Indie Books section I don't see very many literary writers at all, and the "numbers game" is probably the reason why.

Jude Hardin said...

If there are only 10000 potential readers for a book, and it sells for 2.99, and it takes 3 years to write it, how much can a writer even expect to earn?

$2.00 a copy, about the same as s/he would earn from a publisher with a hardcover priced at $25. Only s/he will earn more, because more people will try an author for $2.99.

David Gaughran said...


Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. Graham Green spent the same amount of time writing The Confidential Agent in the mornings, while writing The Power And The Glory in the evenings! Anthony Burgess said A Clockwork Orange was “knocked off for money in three weeks.”

There's nothing inherent in the genre of literary fiction that requires or demands a radically slower pace. An argument could be made that genres such as epic fantasy or historical fiction are more challenging in terms of time because of the necessary research and world-building. And anyway, as most writers will admit, words that pour out in a crazed torrent are often much better than those labored over ad infinitum.

Literary fiction has always been a small genre, made to seem larger by disproportionate coverage in both the media and the review pages - at least partly because of a snobbery towards other genres. If you're not seeing many self-published literary writers making an impact it's partly because of that, and partly because readers of literary fiction have been slower to switch to digital thus far.

The reasons for the sluggish switchover are many and varied, but it's not helped by backlist books in the genre being horribly overpriced (and often poorly formatted too), and the slow pace of digitisation of that backlist (I keep recommending books to people and then see there is no e-book edition!).

The self-appointed guardians of our literary heritage seem to think it's acceptable to take a shoddy OCR scan and upload it without checking the contents for errors, and then charge $9.99 for it.

David Gaughran said...

P.S. Iris Murdoch hit #5 in the overall Kindle Store charts last August with a backlist novel. She's hardly at the more commercial end of literary fiction. How did she manage this feat? Her publisher dropped the price to $1.99 and ran a couple of ads.

Merrill Heath said...

Jamie said: ...for literary fiction, an author will be lucky to have one book in 3 years. Most of them take longer than that.

Why, for crying out loud? If you only wrote a page a day you'd have a 365 page novel done at the end of 1 year - and most literary novels aren't 365 pages. For a book of that length to take 3+ years to write, it would mean the author wrote only 1/3 of a page a day. What's that, 2-3 paragraphs? How long does it take to write 3 paragraphs and what is the author doing the rest of the day?

3 paragraphs a day is not writing. That's a hobby.

Adrian said...


I have to assume that print runs of "serious literature" are so small because that's about the level of interest in serious literature. I know there are people who enjoy, or say they enjoy, literary fiction but I don't meet many of them. Still, if these small print runs sell out that's great for the authors and their readers. But wouldn't both be better served in the digital world where a print run never sells out and the author earns more per copy which he is able to sell to the reader at a lower price?

Maybe, as previous commentor implied, serious literature isn't actually a business but is more of a hobby. In that case, the economics of it don't matter as much and literary authors and fans shouldn't care about eBooks one way or the other.

J. W. said...

Not to pile on, but I also wanted to say that right now there seems to be a bit of a shadow over the whole literary fiction when you separate this out from any genre.
People who read the form for magazines and, God help them, who have to read heaps of it for the Pulitzer and prizes of the like have been making the same cry for years now (that authors in the field just tune out) that it all sounds the same. The same themes, the same handling of the themes, the same cadence, the same everything. It's like someone wrote a guide on how to sound literary and handed it out and that's what they're getting in return. Over and Over again.

Sally Ferguson said...

"Nurturing authors" is an element that happens at Writers' Conferences. As people rub shoulders, we find answers to the publishing maze.

Anonymous said...

"David Gaughran said...
P.S. Iris Murdoch hit #5 in the overall Kindle Store charts last August with a backlist novel. She's hardly at the more commercial end of literary fiction. How did she manage this feat? Her publisher dropped the price to $1.99 and ran a couple of ads."

That means that all the Indie authors underneath her on the list got BUMPED ONE SLOT DOWN.

That's what happens when people go out of their way to provoke trad publishers and trad authors into using indie pricing and indie sales strategies--thus creating more unecessary competition for themselves.

JA Konrath said...

That means that all the Indie authors underneath her on the list got BUMPED ONE SLOT DOWN.

That's how bestseller lists work. This isn't new to ebooks or Amazon.

That's what happens when people go out of their way to provoke trad publishers and trad authors into using indie pricing and indie sales strategies--thus creating more unecessary competition for themselves.

Because anyone who buys Murdoch's ebook will never every buy another ebook by anyone else ever again. So Muchdoch's sale is a loss for the rest of us.

Or... wait a second. I think some readers do buy more than one ebook. And by "some" I mean "all."

And with low ebook prices, those readers will be able to afford to buy more than they used to, which benefits all authors.

And if an author gets bumped off the bestseller list, that's okay. There will be another chance, because ebooks are forever.

My ebook The List has been in the Kindle Top 100 four different times. And it'll hit the Top 100 again. Because in a digital world, every ebook is brand new to somebody.

And unlike the print world, books don't have to fight for shelf space, or get sent back to the publisher if they don't sell quickly.

Jude Hardin said...

Posted by James Patterson on Facebook today:

Join me for a Twitter chat with iBookstore on Wednesday, May 1st at 1:00PM PST/4:00PM EST. Ask me anything.

Tag your questions on Twitter #AskJamesPatterson and I'll scroll through and answer as many as possible.

Joseph said...

Brick buildings do not keep fine literature alive, lit professors do.

Ty said...

Brick buildings do not keep fine literature alive, lit professors do.

I was thinking something similar. The university presses will keep literary fiction alive for a good, long time, I'm sure.

M. Ross Leighliter said...

I appreciate Realist offering a contrasting point of view. But I would like to look at the literary writers and what else is contained in these few short lines.
Scott Fitzgerald, of course…Hemingway, a lot of myth in the man there, but great literature too; William Faulkner, a hero of mine, but Malcolm Cowley arguably saved Faulkner from obscurity in 1946 when he edited the Portable Faulkner anthology, which is considered to be the turning point in his reputation. Cowley also gave the same treatment to Fitzgerald and others during the same period. Thomas Pynchon…at least you have chosen one writer who is alive, albeit he's so private that who would know (I see you only chose male authors). However, I think the most interesting choice here is Toole.
John Kennedy Toole wrote the frantic and hilarious Dunces and got it in the hands of legendary editor Robert Gottlieb (S&S at the time), who eventually rejected it. The string of events that followed led to Toole's suicide. A decade later, Toole's mother and Walker Percy (another great New Orleans legend) got the book published. It won an award, I believe.
The problem here (and not just Realist's) with the whole discussion is that it makes the same mistake Gottlieb did. No one today needs to imitate the modernist moment. There is too much going on and too much change in this post-modern world and writers today need to capture it. That's the power of writing at any point in time. To dismiss ebooks as a "godsend for certain books" is to pass judgement on people whose passion and goals are the same as generations of writers: to reach readers.
Joe and Barry have taken up the cause for ebooks and have made me a believer. Joe is probably the hardest working writer I know of, and Barry has put a lot on the line to go independent. I see how the record industry perished in the face of digital music. I see how critically acclaimed shows are now made by networks like AMC (Mad Men), and not the big four. But I didn't see what was happening to publishing.
When I stumbled across Joe's blog a few months back, I had one thought: Once, this guy was a reason to believe in traditional publishing, so what happened? But you read discussions and pretty soon you know.
It's pretty easy to see that things are going to change quickly and no one really knows what writing, editing, or publishing are going to look like in a few years.
For my part in this, I took a completed novel that I had set aside over a year ago and saw it in a whole new way. I spent a few weeks preparing and then epublishing it. I'm not too worried about any literary praise, but it has the chance now to connect with readers (other than agents, critique groups, etc). For me, that's the magic of it all.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing inherent in the genre of literary fiction that requires or demands a radically slower pace.

No, but those who set out to write a literary novel (for example) in a month often end up realizing that what they wrote was dreck!

dafaolta said...

In 2009 Patterson signed a contract to produce 17 books in 3 years, for $150 mil. The Forbes article called him a fiction factory. And it's around this time I first heard him complain about the Amazon $9.99 price point as being unsustainably low. I also read comments by other writers to the conclusion that what he would most likely be doing would be cleaning out the odds and ends drawer in his desk & doing more in the way of supervisory work on stuff his "partners" would be producing under their joint bylines.

Patterson's case of Stockholm syndrome is even more advanced than Turow's. I do not understand why either of them, or Roberts, or King, or Steel need the Publishing Industry. Granted, Industrial Publishing has been good for them, but they came along at a time before the only thing the industry knew how to produce and promote were the Blockbusters Hollywood loves so much. They all have a formula and their audiences line up for each installment cash in hand without a care as to what media format the stories are served up in, so long as they get their fix Now.

Now, if Industrial Publishing could be a little less penny wise/pound foolish, the libraries Patterson complains about needing help might not be in as bad a state. A lot of their funding comes from local sources like property taxes and we all know how stable and fruitful that avenue has been. So many Industrial Houses have decided that Libraries are second only to Amazon in their evil pantheon that ebook sales are either hideously expensive per unit or require titles to be replaced as soon as they've gone out 16x. The theory is that even more than physical books, ebook sales to libraries mean fewer ebook sales over all. Still haven't figured how that came up except that someone figured libraries would have to replace a printed copy that had been stolen because they'd know it wasn't back, but that even with DRM there might not be any way to tell how many times a title had been stolen.

I've been reading ebooks since the 90's. I started on my b&w Palm III was able to hold 2-3 average titles. I started with Palms because they worked so easily with the family Macs. I stayed with them because their screens got bigger and they started using SD cards to store extra data above and beyond the megs of data each device could offer. I bought my first (refurbished) iPod Touch because it had the eReader app and I could transfer most of my collection to the new platform.

As an aside, B&N has lost whatever sympathy I might have felt for them over how badly they handled the whole eReader/FictIonwise debacle. Why waste all that time reinventing a badly wobbly wheel when they had these 2 sites up and running? Why all something "the Nook", which then had to be explained to Everybody when they had the eReader Site AND Software? It was like IBM walking away from the term PC. With a little vision and forethought, B&N could have been a lot closer to parity with Amazon and the Kindle.

Merrill Heath said...

Anonymous @ 2:33 said: No, but those who set out to write a literary novel (for example) in a month often end up realizing that what they wrote was dreck!

Sometimes those who set out to write a genre novel (for example) in a month often end up writing dreck.

Perhaps this is more a result of the writer's talent than the time frame in which the novel is produced.

Some people can't write literary novels. Some people can't write a decent mystery, matter how long they work on it and no matter how many times they rewrite it.

I don't write literary fiction. I've read a lot of literary fiction and enjoyed some of it and not cared for some of it. But my mind simply doesn't work that way. If I spent 1 month or 3 months or 3 years trying to write a literary novel the result would be pretty much the same. Time is not the issue. It's talent.

That's not to say that writing genre fiction doesn't require talent. It does. it's just a different type of talent than what it takes to produce literary fiction.

Arial Burnz said...

Here's what really burns husband found a Publisher's Weekly article that posted the sales figures for the Big Six EBOOK SALES (the titles they would share...not all of them). I'll let the article speak for itself (, but in short...why the HELL are they complaining about financial hardships and wanting to be bailed out??? If you look at that report (which shows titles that sold 10,000+ copies), they're making PLENTY of money from the ebook explosion! SEVERAL titles sold over 400,000 copies. Kiss my unicorn (I have one tattooed on my backside), Big Six!!! And these are the 2010 and 2011 figures. Surely those figures have gone up. SERIOUSLY?????

Arial Burnz said... more point. ALL publishing was self-published before the big publishers stepped in and started dictating the industry. Back then, the little guy couldn't afford to publish his/her own books. Printing cost way too much and big guys were able to take on the financial burden. It's now back in our court with the inexpensive method of digital publishing...where it should be!

As you said, Mr. Konrath, the big publishers are NOT interested in promoting literature or they'd take more chances on good books versus books they think will sell. When E.L. James was named (by Publisher's Weekly) the author of the year for 2011, I almost choked. They even stated the reasons why was because she made so much money. NOT because she wrote great fiction. What a freakin' joke! They're NOT opposed to the change in the industry or they wouldn't be publishing e-books at all (see said report I liked in my other comment). Bottom line is all they care about and I think the publishers are trying to milk this whole situation to line their pockets.

That's my two pence...

J. R. Tomlin said...

Great post, Joe!

Do you mind if I repeat the main point, because it is an excellent one: Patterson could use his considerable weight to get publishers to work with libraries, instead of against them.

There is no way I can say it better.

Walter Knight said...

I think it is amusing that Joe is a liberal, but it is the controlling liberal New York approach to business that he fights against.

The New York Publishing Establishment wants governemnt solutions to stifle competition. They want laws to stop inovation in favor of thought police gatekeepers. They want government overreach to control what is allowed to be published, no matter the market.

Joe still panders to the liberals with his class envey comments about the rich, but it's the liberals who would shut him up if they had the chance. It's ironic.

David Gaughran said...

There's nothing like the blind application of reductionist political labels to really raise the bar of the discussion.

"I'm a communist, Bezos is Republican, let's call the whole thing off!"

Anonymous said...

The problematic issue with the 'Patterson Ad' is begging for the government to save the Publishing Industry under the guise of 'please help protect literature'. Literature doesn't need protecting. The establishment needs saving, because, apparently, it's incapable of saving itself. Just like the automotive industry turned out to be incapable of saving itself.

However, the automotive industry is incomparable to the publishing industry. Self-publishing is older than the publishing industry. Many authors who wrote 'literature' were, in fact, self-publishing their literature long before there was a publishing industry. In fact, the only comparison between the automotive and the publishing industry is that automation and mass-production killed the cottage industry. Self-publishing became expensive and difficult. Also, the book stores didn't sell ALL books. They sold selective books, published by publishing companies. Which made self-publishing a fool's errand and laughing stock, so writers weren't considered 'serious authors' if they couldn't break through the gatekeepers, who were not really looking for the next literary talent, but for the next commercially viable literary talent. And who can blame an industry for not representing quality, but commercial viability. So, people with money to set up a business to publish books became 'the establishment'. And the publishing establishment is not interested in publishing good quality literature unless it's also commercially viable.

Of course, commercial viability in publishing 'literature' is a hit-and-miss proposition. Many literary books deemed commercially viable fail. So, the publishing industry sells a lot of books that cannot be called literature by a long shot to cover the cost of these failures.

So now, here comes a way to publish without getting a second mortgage to cover the costs. And your self-published book will be in the same stores as the trade published books. So, where is the threat for the publishing industry? If the publishing industry is so threatened by these self-publishing upstarts, is it that they are unable to find suitable competition for the self-published crap that threatens them? Or is it because they think that readers won't care about quality and just go for the cheap books selling for less than publishers can afford to dump their own crap? And if they're incapable of dealing with such issues, should they be saved?

Anonymous said...

RE: discussion of literary fiction,
David Mamet and self-publishing

Thank you for doing this blog.


Barry Knister said...

Mr. Konrath: "I'm the first to admit that I'm an entertainer," you say. "That's all I aspire to be." This is true as well of James Patterson, and of me if I ever get that good.

But assuming Marshall McLuhan's dictum still applies ("the medium is the message"), it's not pointless to ask questions about delivery systems for language.
Nor is it irrelevant to speculate on the effects of speed and simplicity of delivery, and the huge influence of social networks on literature. Especially literature that aspires to be more than entertainment.

Yes, these days the author of The Confederacy of Dunces would probably not have been driven to take his own life because no one would publish his work. The suicide would have come later, when he saw his book sink into oblivion. Almost certainly it would have, as he watched clever, prolific writers gaming the Amazon system, while he struggled to figure out the intricacies online marketing.

What's funny to me, though, is that Patterson seems to be championing a cause with no relevance to his own goals, all of which seem to be commercial.

Vanmind said...

Someone who deliberately conflates art with the product-of-art remaining after the art is finished is someone who wants to defraud you.

Why had I never heard of this Patterson nobody before today? I have a BFA in Creative Writing and I read a decent amount, so how could such self-professed "important literature" fail to grab my attention?

Here's the thing: after they put down the pen/brush, artists cease being artistic until the process begins anew -- but mercantilist fraudsters remain mercantilist 24/7.

Anonymous said...

Konrath is right. Period.

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S. Peterson said...

Something I think is funny is that I never heard of Patterson until I started reading your blog. I'd seen his books around, but his covers are so generic I never thought to even read the back of one or notice who wrote them. Now, thanks to this blog, I'll know to never read that generic book factory's works anyway :) Thanks Konrath!

Anonymous said...

SO how many of these brilliant publishers turned down Harry Potter?

these publishers would't know a great
selling book if it bit them on the nose.