Saturday, February 22, 2014

Konrath on Patterson Deux

James Patterson, in an unprecedented act of good will, is giving $1,000,000 to more than 50 indie bookstores.

It's a generous act.

It's also a misguided one.

Last year, Patterson committed another misguided act, buying an ad in the NYT asking who will save our books, our bookstores, and our libraries, and then suggesting the government needed to step in.

He was wrong, and I explained why in great detail.

I'm going to quote Patterson from the recent NYT article, and from things he said on NPR, and show why he's wrong once again.

Patterson: We're in a juncture right now where bookstores as we have known them are at risk. Libraries as we've known them are at risk, publishers are at risk, American literature is at risk, as we've known it, and getting kids reading is at risk.

Joe: I agree legacy bookstores are at risk. They're at risk because people are buying their books online, and in different formats than paper. That doesn't equate to books becoming extinct. It indicates a change in customer preference, both where people buy their reading material, and what format they buy it in.

Libraries, like Bibliotech in Texas, are able to directly meet the new demand. For the link-lazy, this is what Bibliotech is doing:

Provide all Bexar County residents the opportunity to access technology and its applications for the purposes of enhancing education and literacy, promoting reading as recreation and equipping residents of our community with necessary tools to thrive as citizens of the 21st century.

Through BiblioTech, residents of Bexar County will be able to access over 10,000 current titles through e-readers that they can check out to take home or read on the premises.  Residents will also be able to use their own e-readers or tablets to access the collection.  

BiblioTech currently has 600 e-readers, 200 pre-loaded enhanced e-readers for children, 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets to use on-site.  Additional e-reading accommodations will be made for the visually impaired.  

Am I the only one who wants to live in Bexar County?

So, no, I don't believe libraries are at risk. Nor do I believe American literature is at risk. Books are written by authors, who are able to self-publish. More American literature is available to readers than ever before.

Patterson: (Via CBS Good Morning) If we don't have good publishers, who is going to find the next Infinite Jest or To Kill a Mockingbird?

Joe: The readers, Jim. You know, the ones who have embraced those books and made them bestsellers.

Patterson: The government has stepped in to help banks, automobiles, anything where money is concerned, but nobody seems to care about books and our bookstores. And I'm telling you, American literature is in jeopardy.

Joe: Jim, once again you're conflating brick and mortar bookstores closing with books no longer being available. Amazon is a bookstore. Ebooks are books.

Asking the government to bail out a business model that is no longer attracting enough customers to support itself is just throwing taxpayer money away.

I like bookstores. I've visited over 1200 of them. I also liked record stores, and my 35mm camera, and renting VHS tapes. But I didn't call for the government to save Tower Records, Kodak, and Blockbuster when customers' preferences changed.

Books are still selling very well. Authors are doing well. Middlemen such as publishers and indie bookstores are no longer needed to fulfill the public need for books.

I understand that brick and mortar bookstores and publishers helped make you very rich. It's nice that you want to help them out. But stop confusing the trouble they're in with literature being in jeopardy. Literature is not in jeopardy. The way customers acquire literature is changing. That's all.

According to NPR, Patterson will give up to $15k to each store on his list.

Patterson: It ranges from Andover Bookstore, where a son and daughter wrote and their father hadn't had a raise since 1988. ... Children's Bookstore in Baltimore, they give books to schools and they want the kids to be able to keep the books. Book Passage out in California will do more book fairs with it. Little Shop of Stories down in Decatur, Ga., they're buying a bookmobile.

Joe: You're doing a nice thing, Jim. But is it a smart thing?

If a store has been having difficulty since 1988, $15k won't do much to help it. I don't want to be cruel, but perhaps it is time to pull the plug. No one owes anyone a living. My father was a small businessman who owned several shops. It was his dream, and his passion. Not all were profitable, and he closed the ones that weren't. That's how business works.

Giving books to schools is noble. I've donated a few thousand dollars to, giving books to children. But I also bought my grandchildren tablets for the holidays. Let them download the ebooks they want. Ebooks they'll own forever (unlike my childhood books, which were read to pieces).

And bookmobiles? Driving paper books around in a truck to sell to people sounds labor intensive and expensive. With a Kindle, there are no dead trees, no fossil fuels, a much bigger selection, and instant delivery.

Perhaps that's why ereaders far outnumber bookmobiles.

Again, I'm not trying to be mean here. But perhaps we should listen to what readers want, rather than romanticize the days of old.

Patterson: I just want to get people more aware and involved in what’s going on here, which is that, with the advent of e-books, we either have a great opportunity or a great problem.

Joe: If you consider ebooks a problem and are truly concerned about the future of bookstores, you could always refuse to release your work in ebook format, Jim. I'm guessing you earn more on ebooks annually than the $1M you're giving to bookstores.

If you consider ebooks an opportunity, and want to help children learn to read, I bet would accept a donation of 100,000 Kindles from you, loaded with all of your children and YA work. I bet that will get kids reading.

Patterson: I’m rich; I don’t need to sell more books. But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go into bookstores more. It’s not top of mind as much as it used to be.

Joe: Why do people need to go into bookstores more, Jim?

I love booksellers. I thanked thousands of them, by name, in the acknowledgements of my novel Dirty Martini. I've been to a bookseller's wedding. I've gotten more than my fair share of booksellers drunk.

Sometimes, when you love someone, you need to let them go. Life support can be crueler than just allowing nature to take its course.

With the advent of tablets and ereading devices, there is effectively a bookstore in every person's home. And those who can't afford ereaders can borrow them from libraries. Ebooks are cheaper, easier to read (backlights and adjustable fonts), are delivered instantly without having to travel anywhere, and a much wider selection is available on Kindle than in even the largest brick and mortar bookstore.

I tried, years ago, to help booksellers, showing them a plan on how to compete. Not one took me up on my offer.

I've mailed signed books to bookstores, for free. I've signed thousands of bookplates for bookstores. I've signed used books and galleys for booksellers (which they can sell by don't earn me any royalties). But those days are in the past, and nostalgia isn't a good enough reason to invest in an archaic technology.

You're a generous guy, and your heart is in the right place, but you aren't going to change customers' buying preferences by throwing a bit of money around. Bookstores won't be saved by your $1M, or by a government bail out. They'll continue to exist only if customers continue to support them. And customers are voting with their wallets.

If I were a cynical man, I'd believe this offer of yours is a PR stunt. $1M is a nice, large number, but you reportedly make over $90M a year, so this isn't straining you financially. So you make this donation, get a lot of press, and both publishers and bookstores love you for it, while you slyly resuscitate the meme that ebooks and self-publishing and Amazon are bad--zombie talking points that further the legacy agenda. As a former ad man, you know how publicity works. And at the end of your CBS piece, you hawked your newest novel. I bet all those bookstores you're helping will be selling more of your backlist than ever before. You've certainly incentivized them to.

Maybe that isn't the point, and you truly are worried about the state of American literature. But you mistakenly believe indie bookstores are somehow the guardians of it.

They aren't. Good books, and good authors, will survive without bookstores. In fact, more than ever before are thriving in this new environment.

Your agenda is wrong, Jim. If your main concern was getting kids to read, and making sure American literature survives, there are much better ways to spend $1M. Like gifting Kindles to needy kids, or running your own book club or imprint. I believe these are just flowery talking points for your ultimate agenda, which is to make sure paper continues to remain the dominant format for your books.

See, you have a huge advantage over me in paper. Your books are available everywhere, often heavily discounted. You don't want to lose that advantage, because on Amazon, you and I have the same amount of shelf space. Naturally you want the status quo to continue, because it has made you wealthy. Of course you want as many outlets for your work to exist as possible.

Because if more and more bookstores close, and more and more readers switch to ebooks, all of that shelf space real estate you once owned becomes worthless. If spending $1M and doing a media tour helps bookstores stay around a bit longer, you're directly helping yourself.

There's nothing wrong with that. But let's tell it like it is, and drop the "save literature" and "it's for the children" talking points.

BTW, I predicted this in 2011. One day, Jim, you will be self-publishing your new release as a $2.99 ebook. The bookstores that still exist might complain, but when they're no longer a viable revenue stream for you, you'll go where the money is. Like any smart businessman does. Of course, that will also mean abandoning your publisher, but that's fodder for another blog post.

You can't stop technology. You can't change customer preference. And you're not going to get caught on the losing side of a revolution.


Athena Grayson said...

Leaving aside Patterson' PR and legacy water-carrying, this isn't such a bad thing in itself for two reasons:

First, giving money to libraries is rarely a bad thing. They serve communities in vastly more ways than just book repositories. In addition to keeping physical records of local interest, they promote a mindset and worldview that embraces knowledge. It is still important to have a physical reminder of that, aside from economic forces.

Second, at least as far as "the children" are concerned, a physical book is still a treasure and serves a tactile purpose that we should not discount. Book stores still can serve a purpose to the culture of reading (and that, more than Commerce, will be what saves the survivors).

Something tells me, though, that 15k will buy a lot of premium shelf space.

James Reasoner said...

Joe, you say, "Ebooks are books." I agree with this, but there are a lot of people who sincerely, even fervently, believe just the opposite, that no, ebooks are NOT books and never will be. And unlike people who read ebooks, many of whom still read print books as well, there's an active hostility toward ebooks from that segment of the population. This is particularly frustrating to me as a writer because I know that it doesn't matter whether I'm writing a book for a New York publisher or one that I'm going to self-publish as an ebook, the actual writing process is EXACTLY the same.

When I used to talk to writers' groups, someone would always say, "Oh, I could never write science fiction" or "I could never write a thriller", my response was always, "Sure you can. It's all just words on paper." These days we have to amend that to "It's all just words", but the idea is still valid, I think.

I believe Patterson means well, but the sky is a different color in his world.

Joe Konrath said...

@Athena--He's giving money to bookstores. I didn't notice he was giving any to libraries.

but there are a lot of people who sincerely, even fervently, believe just the opposite, that no, ebooks are NOT books and never will be.

These people are either in the legacy industry, or are known as technological laggards. They will be assimilated. They always are.

Does Patterson mean well? Sure. Maybe. But I my bloggers don't know 1/10th of the charitable acts I do. Hell, my good friends don't even know. Because my intention is to be charitable, not to make people think I'm a nice guy, not to sell something.

Patterson smartly says his $1M giveaway is also to raise awareness for the "problem." So that conveniently explains away the TV and radio and newspaper coverage, but it doesn't skirt the issue that TV, radio, and newspaper coverage directly benefits Patterson and his book sales.

If he said, "I don't want bookstores to go away, I like them, so I'm helping them," I could believe that.

Bringing up children reading and the death of American literature is, simply, bullshit. Spending 1/3 of his CBS segment hawking his new book really takes away from the focus of his cause. Plus, his logic overall is flawed. You don't give a sinking ship a bucket when the ship can't be repaired. You abandon ship.

Mark Edward Hall said...

"There are a lot of people who sincerely, even fervently, believe just the opposite, that no, ebooks are NOT books and never will be."

And there were those who believed that televisions weren't radios and automobiles weren't horse drawn carriages. And they were right. But that didn't change the tide of history.

In Maine I've seen the total destruction of a great wilderness forest because of man's insatiable greed for paper, and now they're raping the Amazon jungle.

Enough already.

These days the only paper books I buy are used ones. Almost all my reading is done on kindle.

Jeff Bach said...

I have a bit of a problem with Patterson putting book stores in a separate category from the myriad other retail stores. If you look at myriad other categories, e.g. outdoor recreation, you will see that retail stores in nearly all those categories are struggling with many similar issues. For example, people go to the outdoor rec store and try on the $300.00 Marmot rain coat and then go home and order it online, once they know it fits them.
In my opinion, retail stores are part of a legacy wholesale distribution network, regardless of what each retail store sells. Like publishing, the legacy distribution network is under attack by newer methods as well. Book stores are nothing special, they're vulnerable legacy institutions, like many other pieces of our disruptive, innovative culture.
I think libraries will endure for awhile. It seems to me that a library is not carrying the same set of price sensitive purchasing-related issues that retail stores all carry. Libraries suffer from being public institutions staffed by people that have little interest in change. Happily, they are frequented by customers who still love the legacy experience and are not motivated by issues like window shopping.
I think libraries will suffer from funding issues sooner than they will suffer from book format issues. Stores though, imo are slip sliding away. To paraphrase some one's famous quote, "...Change stops for no vertical category..."

Edward G. Talbot said...

I've always been a fan of Patterson, which sometimes invites ridicule among fellow authors. His actions and comments in the past couple years have certainly shown that he either doesn't get how things are changing or is specifically trying to stave it off.

I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it's the latter. Which doesn't change your point at all. He's doing what some many in the legacy publishing industry do and equating the existence of quality books with the existence of bookstores or publishers.

So many of them talk like this that I'm convinced most of them actually believe it, just as they believe the tsunami of crap argument. This despite no evidence supporting these arguments. Good books are still being published and readers are still finding them in the steaming pile with no problem.

So I think they believe these arguments in many cases, but it's a lot like the Upton Sinclair quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Mackay Bell said...

I don't think books are the same as VHS tapes or 35mm film or records. Those things require keeping outdated equipment to use, a book is self contained. People also still continue, and I suspect will continue for some time, to buy books simply as pretty objects. I don't see any reason bookstores are going to go away, but every time I walk into one now they are either selling lots of toys (mostly based on movies) or coffee. $15,000 can help out a small business, so I see nothing wrong with what Patterson is doing, even if it's a just PR ploy.

Clearly it worked. We're writing about him.

Anonymous said...

It's great to hear you're giving, Joe. People who are in a position to help others, and then do, are the best in the world.


Joe Konrath said...

Those things require keeping outdated equipment to use, a book is self contained.

I'll argue that paper is outdated equipment.

Give a quick read this two part blog I wrote in 2010:

And while books are indeed self contained, they have limitations. I buy an ebook, my device breaks, I still have the ebook. If my paper book breaks (gets wet, falls apart, gets old and moldy) I gotta get a new one. Paper can only be read with a light. Paper weighs more. Paper is unwieldy. Paper can't change font sizes. Etc.

I partially agree with you, though. I still own 5000 paper books, But if I could snap my fingers and have them all digitized on my Kindle, I'd donate them all to charity (I've already donated a few thousand). They're pretty, but so is art that could be hanging in their place.

Paper books have been around for so long we forget it is a type of technology. Before paper, papyrus scrolls. Before scrolls, chiseling into rock and painting on caves.

The new tech--electronic files--is better than paper in almost every single way possible.

Anonymous said...

Call me a cynic but I immediately thought of the NYT ad when hearing of this donation and considered it is another chess move by a master advertiser. Who could get this much publicity for a mere $1M?

Nirmala said...

Guess what? Amazon wants to "help" stores also:

Amazon made a similar offer to bookstores a while back, but the stores for the most part were not interested:

Except one bookstore is willing:

I am not sure why existing stores would not want a share of the sales Amazon is stealing away from them. It is cooperating with the perceived enemy of their way of doing business, but the enemy will still be there even if they do not take advantage of the opportunity to benefit from their own customers online purchases.

Anonymous said...

This whole argument comes back to the "tsunami of crap" argument.

It's really simple -- despite the millions and millions of eBooks published by legacy and indie authors, I never see the ones below a certain rank. I always see the bestsellers when I visit Amazon and browse. I always see the hot new releases, the new and popular, the movers and shakers. I go looking for specific books I've heard about through friend recommendations or on my Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter feeds.

The tsunami of crap may exist, but it existed before. Back before Amazon, I didn't have the time to sort through each and every title on the bookshelves in my local bookstore. I was distracted by the tables with books on display, paid for by the publishers -- co-op, in other words.

There's really no difference except now, a solid proportion of the books Amazon puts in front of me on its pages and in its emails are self-published. A solid proportion of the books my friends recommend are self-published. A solid proportion on my Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook feed are self-published.

No one knows and no one cares who published the books everyone is talking about. All they care is that they're good reads. As has shown, that's increasingly self-published authors.


Richard said...

I scratched my head when Patterson said that publishers find great books.

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, by John Kennedy Toole, was rejected by every publishing house Toole could contact. Despondent over his failure to publish his book, Toole took his own life.

A publisher finally published the book as a favor to Toole's aggrieved mother. Lo and behold, A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES is a classic.

If Toole had lived a few decades later, he could have self-published.

If Toole can get rejected ,and Snookie can publish a book like substance, then publishers are failing at their self-proclaimed role as literary shit-screens.

Jude Hardin said...

If we don't have good publishers, who is going to find the next Infinite Jest or To Kill a Mockingbird?

I think that's where he might have slipped up a bit in that interview. He was talking about helping independent brick and mortar bookstores, and then all of a sudden it was about publishers.

Of course he knows, as we all do, that publishers will have a tough time surviving without bookstores. The wide distribution of paper is pretty much the only advantage they have over self-published authors, and once they lose that they'll have nothing.

Independent bookstore survival = Big 5 publishing survival.

But will most of the independent brick and mortar stores still be around in five or ten years? Their argument (the bookstore owners) is that there will always be a substantial community of book lovers, people who enjoy the feel and smell of a "real" book, people who relish interaction with other book lovers and the sellers themselves.

But is that community strong enough to keep bookstores alive? I don't know. Time will tell, I guess, but things sure didn't turn out so great for the record stores and video stores.

Karen Cantwell said...

Mr. Patterson, bless his heart, is myopically focused on a small unit of time in the long, long, long history of storytelling and can't seem to see the proverbial forest for the trees. If he saw himself as a true storyteller, he probably wouldn't be so painfully tied to "saving literature" by preserving print books. It seems to me that if he truly cared about about the future of literature, his money and efforts, would be better spent on encouraging young people (especially those in at-risk communities) to write and to entertain by telling a good tale.

Anonymous said...

Once I decided to make a go at getting a novel published, I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace and kept it up for several years. At first, I was on the fence about self-publishing, not sure whether to take the red or blue pill. When I saw an announcement that Snooki got a significant deal for her books at Gallery and S&S, I knew the apocalypse had already happened. :) My doubts about the whole "merit" BS argument about the need for publishers to sort through the crap to find what deserves to be published fizzled. I decided to publish at that point, my delusions about the need for these 'protectors of literature' all dead.


P. S. Power said...

It makes sense that Patterson would resist the change to a new way of thinking or doing things.

The old, the tired and those that feel they can't possibly do any better for themselves always do.

Old men have always sat in their worn and creaking chairs, lamenting the advent of the new breed. Those doomed to fail, because they weren't doing things the same way as before.

James Patterson is on top of the game right now. As the old saying goes, the champion doesn't change. He'll keep going, being on top, until he retires in ten years.

Probably disgusted that the world changed and left him behind. It won't be that his work has failed, but rather that his plan of refusing to adapt to the river of change that has.

He does ask one provocative question however, that I feel everyone would be well served to pay attention to and it is this:

How will we get the new classics?

Joe isn't wrong, but there is a certain sense to the other viewpoint in this.

Most books of great "literary merit" are well written, highly edited, and force people to think and consider things that they hadn't before.

No one really likes that. There is merit to having those works, but counting on the market to promote them is a poor plan. It will leave us with a market filled only with popular, well crafted efforts that pander to what the audience wants, rather than what is good for them.

This makes it sound like I'm speaking against the idea that there is a place for works that won't be popular without a lot of pushing, and that isn't the case.

Just like most of us had to be forced to read the classics in school, there are works of merit that we wouldn't pick up on our own. The vegetables on the dinner plate that the kids need to be guided to eat.

The answer however, isn't in trying to stop the tide. The waves will flood in over the old market, and holding up a hand, even one with a million dollars in it, won't prevent that from taking place.

So, what about the idea of truly free sourced contests? Not things run by legacy insiders, but open sourced, publicly voted on, competitions, with large prizes.

Each person that wishes too could vote after reading a compete text, gotten for free, online, and then the winner would be helped with advertising and promotion of their book? Donations could be taken for the monetary portions of things.

This is just one idea, but I think it would work better to do what Patterson is claiming he wants than grandstanding and pretending that he isn't simply resisting the will of a changing world.

Mir Writes said...

I don't think I"m a unique bibliophie, and this was my trajectory (I'm 54): From the age of 9, my allowance--nearly all of it--went to buy paperbacks at the corner bookstore. From when I became an adult, working and had more money to spend, I'd visit the bookstores on weekends and spend 50+. From when I got married and hubby's income came into play: We'd spend anywhere from $75 to $200 weekly at Walden's/B&N/Border's/Independent Bookstores.

That was part of our date nights as married: dinner out, bookstore, then a movie or live music at some club.

Since ebooks/Kindle/Nook: I barely step foot in a bookstore. Amazon or B&N (mostly Amazon) gets my moolah. I occasionally order a hardcover or collectible, but I'm not an ebook gal.

And I plan to dehoard my couple-thousand book "real" liberary to move to a smaller place.

So, if I, who have adored books and reading sinch my wee days, whose idea of bliss was wandering for hours browsing and buying at bookstores large and small now prefer to browse and buy electronically---bookstores are in deep shit.

Mir Writes said...

Make that "I'm NOW an ebook gal." Not "not." :D

Ty Johnston said...

"Most books of great 'literary merit' are well written, highly edited, and force people to think and consider things that they hadn't before."

1.) And prior to the early 20th Century, more than a few of them were self published.

2.) And very few of them were considered of 'literary merit' (at least by today's standards) at initial publication, or even during the author's lifetime. Quite often today's literary classics were derided by the critics of their time but sold in droves to the hoi polloi.

Joe Konrath said...

It will leave us with a market filled only with popular, well crafted efforts that pander to what the audience wants, rather than what is good for them.

I get you, PS. And I agree. And I disagree.

Seatbelt laws save lives. Iodine in salt, and fluoride in city water, and being forced to eat your vegetables, actually do help, even though it rankles my libertarian instincts.

That said, I can see how artistic works are needed, and may get lost in the popularity shuffle.

But why must gatekeepers be the arbiters of culture? I posed in my previous Patterson post (heh, alliteration) that Jim himself could be like Oprah and discover "great" works.

If Patterson wants the government to intervene, how about grants that have critics sifting through self-pubbed ebooks to find the next great lit author, who then gets money and promotion? We don't need agents and publishers to make sure important books are discovered. In fact, I'll always wonder about the important books that were missed because legacy publishing is mypoic, self-interested, archaic, and often evil.

There are ways to discover the next Pulitzer winner without legacy gatekeepers.

Anonymous said...

Who doesn’t like bookstores?

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say that an independent bookstore has always been a tough business proposition. Two decades ago—long before ebooks were an issue—I considered opening one. I had all the pluses—a good area, reasonable rents, a major city, universities nearby, foot traffic and, importantly, a love of books. I didn’t open the store because the odds of success were too risky and, sadly, even what would be considered success paled in the face of the costs. To open the door, over six-figures in sunk costs—fixtures, rent, staff and inventory. To succeed, ten hour days minimum, seven days a week. Debt carriage—conservatively—was five years. The pay off? Maybe $40K at best, after years of a lower salary to help cover bills and service debt. And that was the BEST case scenario. And that was twenty years ago. (Side note: over the last twenty years, every single indie in this area has closed, all them much loved. Each one ended up competing with a B&N and/or a Borders, to no avail.)

Now, obviously, this is anecdotal, but it goes a long way to explaining why that guy hasn’t had a raise since 1988 (note: LONG before ebooks). Independent bookstores are not the road to financial success. The truly successful ones are the exceptions, not the rule.

All Patterson is doing is acting like a lottery. The winners get to pay off some bills, but it doesn’t change their fundamental business issues. Ebooks aren’t their problem. Rents are. Salaries. Inability to compete with the chains and store clubs---an issue caused by publishers, btw—and, yes, online shopping—which is no different competition as another store opening across the street.

Patterson is a savvy, savvy businessman, probably the most savvy of bestselling authors. The guy’s smart. Who doesn’t like the idea of an independent store that can claim a soul unlike those nasty corporate chains and big box stores? But the fact of the matter is that Patterson is exactly the type of author that makes it difficult for independent bookstores. Faced with an electric bill and a lousy discount policy, is an indie going to stock the darling lit debut and hope to sell 10 copies a month or is it going to stock the latest Patterson and sell 10 a day?

Who doesn’t like bookstores? Especially grateful ones? Smart move, Patterson.

Paul Draker said...

When I hear publishers and other industry middlemen trying to claim credit for the existence of good books, I laugh.

That's like hearing a rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

Alan Tucker said...

Regarding the "finding a classic" statements I'll ask: What is a classic?

Is it something that we can all define and agree on? Maybe, but I'm guessing that most of our definitions would include a span of time in which the story still felt relevant and had an impact. People sometimes throw out the term "modern classic", but, in my experience, that's usually just a marketing term. Something used to sell books.

And there's the crux of the problem with this argument. Publishers don't release a book because they think it's a shining example of literature. They release it because they think it will sell.

Sometimes they get lucky and a book will resonate with a large number of people and it gets hailed as a classic. That's just an added bonus. Does Mr. Patterson want us to believe that the publishers thought Snooki's book would be taught in schools twenty years from now? Or that 50 Shades of Grey would be a critically acclaimed monolith of modern literature?

"Show me the money," said Legacy John.

wb murphy said...

joe, you are always ahead of the curve....i love patterson, love that he sells books, but the days of king canute are over. warren murphy

P. S. Power said...


I agree that we don't need the gatekeepers to judge these things. That's why I put in the part about contests that are derived from public and unbiased sources.

Paid for by the people, judged by them too.

In that was we could, potentially, reduce the current system of publishers and their personal friends controlling who wins such awards.

This would make, as I see happening anyway, the public into the new gatekeeper.

Asking Patterson to do it however is just screaming into the wind. He won't be able to change, because he sees the shifting in the world around him as the problem.

You're suggesting that he see things your way and instantly regroup. Becoming a new person, after a fashion. I don't think that's within his likely set of responses at all.

So any real change would need to be done without him, or the old school publishing industry.

Which I think makes sense.

Melinda DuChamp said...

I think Ty Johnston's comment put the literary merit meme to rest. Anyone who brings up that tired argument doesn't know the history of literature. Hell, of art in general.

I'd quote Shakespeare here, but that guy was such a common hack.

Mario Jannatpour said...

Thanks Joe!! You've been on a roll this week :)

I can't believe I bought a few James Patterson books when I was younger. After the second book I was really irritated by the miniscule short chapters and so many blank white pages in the book. I bought two hard covers. I wish I could get my money back!!

For those of you who are interested I have a work in progress here at

Any story feedback would be cool. I hope I am not over-stepping my bounds by posting this here. If so then let me know.


Hollis Shiloh said...

I'm sorry, but that really burns my buttons. Making kids read "great literature" in high school is far, far worse than making them eat vegetables. At least vegetables make them stronger.

You know why there are so many people in America who do not pick up a book after high school? Because they were forced to read "good literature." Instead of, you know, just being allowed to read what interested them and improve their reading proficiency.

If you wanted to beat the reading enjoyment out of a kid, you couldn't pick a better plan than the current "eat you vegetables" plan of forcing young people to read the heaviest, dullest, stupidest, and saddest books around because it's "good for them."

What a fucking waste.

Brian Drake said...

The "new" classics are at the movie theater. The days of "classic literature" that "influences" the population have ended; books are simply another form of entertainment. If you want to make a splash and make people think, be controversial, make some make a movie not unlike one of those classics of old. Examples may occur to you, none of which will be Anchorman 2 or Dude, Where's My Car?

There is a flaw in this argument, of course, in that every now and then a literary novel makes a splash and the author gets an interview with Matt Lauer, but it's always a small splash, and you never hear from those authors again.

Jude Hardin said...

"To making reading vital it must be enjoyable."

From Russel Blake's blog post today.

Makes a lot more sense to me than what Patterson is trying to do.

River said...

I only wish Patterson would support libraries. I am what you could call a legacy librarian. In 2007, our system had 8 librarians. We lost one or two a year after that. My turn came in 2011. However, because of the many changing elements in the publishing world I now have a cool virtual librarian job cataloging (cataloging!) online. Libraries have more flexibility to change but tradition/legacy still stifles any progress. Nobody ever talked about changing the mission in our system which was to provide 'books for the public'. Therefore, our patrons were elderly and new moms. The director would not allow me (systems admin) to create a FB page for the library or Twitter account (can you feel my frustration?) How do you attract the rising generation, their interest and funding, if you don't meet their needs?
Stephanie Lilley hijacking her dog's account

Joshua Simcox said...

"Bringing up children reading and the death of American literature is, simply, bullshit."

Well...maybe. But Patterson was waving the "We Have to Get Our Kids Reading" flag long before the Kindle came along, so I believe he's sincere on that score.

But I do agree that $15K per bookstore is a trivial amount, especially when one considers that Patterson could easily offer $1 million or more to each of those 50 bookstores. Sure, $15K would cover my personal debt, but would that amount have any substantial impact on a brick and mortar business currently hemorrhaging money? I doubt it. If Patterson's heart is truly in the right place, then his donations are a beautiful gesture...but 15 grand isn't a magic shot of penicillin that's going to save a dying business.

However, I do give Patterson credit for drawing some attention to the plight of bookstores. I love reading digitally, but I love paper just as much. I could never choose one over the other. Joe has argued that a story's delivery system is irrelevant, but for me that's not entirely true. Reading a physical book IS a different experience, and a pleasurable one that I could never entirely give up. I wouldn't part with my Kindle for anything, but I love the craftsmanship of a beautifully designed hardcover or paperback just as much.

So I do appreciate Patterson fighting this fight. But it's disheartening to see how little he's really contributing when he has the means to give so much more.

- Joshua Simcox

Anonymous said...

I'm still on the part where the next To Kill A Mockingbird may never be discovered. How is receiving it in digital format the death of a book? Barry Eisler doesn't seem to be lacking because he released Rain in ebook format. Water now arrives in bottles. Have we stopped using water, or drinking it? Have we stopped eating food because it arrives in a different package than our forefathers? Music, movies now arrive in different formats. Have we stopped listening or watching?

Sometimes smart people can say the dumbest things. As long as you can read the words, it doesn't matter what format it arrives. Did we stop reading because no one uses scrolls and parchment?

Stop the nonsense.

Anonymous said...

McPatterson is a wealthy hack and this is a publicity stunt--one that so far has worked exceedingly well.

Indie stores hate this guy. They know he's a hack and loath the ghost-written garbage he carpet-bombs the publishing world with each year.

I'm embarrassed for those who are so easily bought.

This is Mr. Potter buying off the George Bailey's of the world.

Michael Thompson said...

Brilliantly done, Joe. Masterful piece of apologetics. Patterson, Grisham, King, et al, all came along in a different technology era. You're right … no doubt the publishing world has turned upside down. But, he makes a point which I'd like to see included in a broader discussion. "If we don't have good publishers, who is going to find the next Infinite Jest or To Kill a Mockingbird?" Joe, I realize your answer is "Readers … they'll make the choice."... They'll decide who sells and who doesn't. But … don't you believe that traditional publishers, at least for the next several years, give credibility (sort of a vetting process) to new authors, merely by virtue of signing them on as clients? Here's my concern: Book readers (whether of e-Books or physical copies) are so bombarded by indie writers that we really don't know if the reviewer is a friend, or a PR consultant. I can't tell you how many times I've read fantastic reviews about an e-Book, bought it, and was yawning within five minutes. I wouldn't give up, though. I'd read more. Didn't matter. Writing, awful. Typos, distracting. Etc.etc. But, I have a potential solution: The Indie industry needs a national review board of reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers who can help readers of indie authors avoid terrible reading experiences. If not, the indie industry could be at stake … a few bad experiences, and the "heavy-reader" market will turn back to the works from traditional publishers. New, talented authors will have an even more difficult time breaking through. I feel sure you know how indie authors so fervently seek reviews in order to gain credibility to fuel their marketing efforts. There are so many review outlets now that none can be trusted. What if the indie industry pulled together and formed a large panel of highly respected Reviewers who would post all reviews on a public site? Rules should apply. For example, when a book is reviewed it should be reviewed by no less than two reviewers experienced in that genre. And, if the Review Service was reputable, promoted, and trusted, indie writers should pay in order to fund the reviewers for their time; and the maintenance costs of the site. Please, you're the smart, connected one who could make this happen. It could be the National Author Review Service (SM). Indie authors who've become successful would be asked to contribute to the organization. It would spread out and become the International Author Review Service (SM). Do you and I know enough influential folks to pull this off?

Claire said...

You know, I like James Patterson, I do. I love his books. and I think he's a great writer. However, when I first saw the James Patterson article about saving book stores, I snorted at it. There was one quote in the piece that did it for me:

"But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go into bookstores more."

I have thousands of fans, who are kids that read ridiculously large amounts of literature online every single day. I often get comments from them, which indicate that e-books inspire more kids to read.

Here's a message I got this morning from a younger reader about an e-book of mine.

"I really don't like reading, but I read this book nonstop."

If writers like me are reaching younger readers and inspiring them to enjoy literature, how or where they do that doesn't mean a damn thing. And from my own fans comments, I know that we are inspiring more readers to read. There is more choice, there is more variety and therefore, reading is more attractive to more people.

Most kids read e-books on their mobile phones, where ever the hell they want to.

I don't see what a brick and mortar bookstore has to do with kids reading books. You'd have to ban the mobile phone to get them interested in sitting in a store with paperback again. Times have changed. It doesn't mean literature is coming to an end.

It's very nice to give away money to help book stores. I hope book stores do survive by updating their technology. I hope the stores invest the money in building websites that can sell e-books because then they too could stock a vast variety of e-books online and attract readers of all ages to their endless supply of indie books.

I don't think book stores are in danger. I think they will evolve to be electronic too. Then maybe we can build a nice park where that massive multi-store was and sit in the park on a sunny day and read a book on our mobile phone?

Crazy, I know but. Does a plastic table and a couch in bookstore really have more use than a park for children to play in?

All that article said was: 'We must save these buildings!' because the books will be fine in e-book. The stores can choose to be fine in online sales. The staff will be fine working in the online store. It's really just the building that is at risk, isn't it?

Maybe National Heritage can help? they save buildings too.

Rex Kusler said...

Patterson will be okay. It takes a little longer for those at the top to go down the drain.

Laura Resnick said...

Libraries are in trouble because state, county, and local gov'ts are having financial problems, not because people don't use libraries anymore.

I belong to two separate library systems. (I live at the edge of my state, so I can easily make the 5 minutes drive the other state if their library has something that my library does not.) Both of these systems are immensely popular and much-used. They're also actively embracing the present and future, diving into digital books and technologies as comprehensively as their budgets all--including offering free classes every week or month to teach patrons how to use their new digital systems, download digitals books, music and movies from the libraries, use their digital devices, use the libraries digital devices, etc. All this in addition to book clubs, reading groups, writing groups, children's story hours, story dogs (kids learn to read aloud by reading to a dog), history lectures, hosting political debates, big historical archives, and--yes--they also still have lots and lots of print books. Whenever I go into any branch of either of these library sytem, they're busy.

Moreover, in both of these systems, voters have repeatedly let the governments know, when voting on txes and issues, that we love our libraries and don't want them damaged or held back. I can't think of a single ballot or issue in the past decade in either of these systems wherein voters have NOT supported these two library systems.

Libraries are in danger because of funding. Not because people don't use them.

Shelly Thacker said...

If a retail business can only survive by accepting charitable donations, it's no longer a retail business; it's a charity.

Do the retailers have to pay taxes on these $15K grants? Won't they have to declare it as income? Or perhaps Mr. Patterson is picking up that tab for them, too. Unless, of course, they're all re-organizing as non-profit, tax-exempt charities.

I'm surprised he hasn't suggested that. Yet.

Suzan Harden said...

@Michael Tucker

No, no and no. I don't need another set of a******s telling me what to read.

If writers don't provide a good experience to readers, they will sink. Period. When will writers start trusting readers? This patronizing crap of knowing what's good for me or any other reader needs to stop.

And before you get on your high horse, I've read everything is my home town and school library, including Homer (in English), Plato (in English), and Julius Caesar (in the original Latin). If I want to read Joe or Sasha White or L.M. Ironside, I don't need your little seal of approval.

I know what I like to read, and I have no problem finding it. Quit treating readers like we're stupid.

Richard Stooker said...

This artificial nostalgia for bookstores burns me.

I grew up in a small town in Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis. When I was growing up, no bookstores, indie or chain, considered my community worth the business.

I learned to love reading at the library.

And when I was 9, I began buying comic books and paperbacks at a drugstore and newsstand.

I bought tons of SF magazines, the entire line of Ace Science Fiction Specials, the entire line of Ballantine Adult Fantasy, and the first stories published by Stephen King, at newsstands.

Newsstands sold tons of pulp magazines and paperback books to millions of people who either had no bookstores to go to, or didn't bother because they sold only expensive hardcovers.

Anonymous said...

Calling on government to save literature? Are you FUCKING INSANE!?!?
"Government" is made up of individual congress people in the House and Senate. They never "give" anything. Every piece of legislation is a horse-trade.
Jimmy P. is saying we should give the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich power to decide which author is or is not "good" for the American culture.
How could anyone think this is a good idea?

@Morgyn Star said...

MN, spoiled out of our minds by librarians that were so far ahead of the curve, that they left most of the nation in the dust. Embraced online searches of the catalogue and ability to reserve books aeons ago. Quit being bean counters and getting their undies in a bunch if a book got back late. Opened massive reference libraries for online searches. Been loaning ebooks for couple of years. And like a bookstore, if ya gotta, you can wander around and pull stuff off the shelf.

R.E. McDermott said...

Well, at least we seem to be getting close to the last argument. Anytime the opposition gets down to:


The end of debate is nigh. Hopefully.

Joe Konrath said...

Well...maybe. But Patterson was waving the "We Have to Get Our Kids Reading" flag long before the Kindle came along, so I believe he's sincere on that score.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, he's been pro-kids for a long time, and good for him. But as noble as that is, is it really any different than cartoon characters to sell cigarettes?

Of course we want kids to read. It ensures our future as authors.

That said, there is no direct correlation between kids reading and saving publishers and bookstores. Kids will read based on the opportunities their parents give them. Do the parents read bedtime stories? Do they buy their children books? Do they take their kid to the library?

It has nothing to do with B&N staying afloat, or Random Penguins vetting picture books.

Joe Konrath said...

That's like hearing a rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

LMFAO, Paul.

Joe Konrath said...

joe, you are always ahead of the curve....

Warren Murphy!

I miss you, brother. Give Chiun a hug from me. :)

Anonymous said...

Michael Thompson, we don't need a national review board for indie authors. It's simple, really -- readers have several ways of determining if a book is for them and don't need no stinkin review board.

They can:

1. Take a look at the cover of an eBook to see if it catches their interest. If the cover art stinks, that might -- or might not -- be a clue the rest will be crap.

2. Read the blurb to see if the story seems up their alley. Sounds cliche and derivative? Move along.

3. Read the excerpt, which often equals a couple of chapters for longer works. A couple of chapters should give a reader some idea of the prose and characters, story and how the narrative feels.

4. Read the reviews and see what criticisms reviewers bring up and see if the flaws mentioned are important to them as readers. Yes, reviews can be purchased -- by both indies and legacy authors and publishers.

5. Buy the book from Amazon and if they don't like it, they can return it within 7 days of purchase.

If that isn't good enough, I don't know what will be.


Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that the man gave $1MM to independent bookstores. That probably allowed moms and pops to give themselves a wage that they been deferring or minimizing for months. They were able to pay mortgages, buy clothes for their kids, and just feel a little better about their own worth.

I don't care what the man's motivations were. I don't care if he gets good publicity, or reciprocal treatment, or kudos. He gave a gift and it's going to benefit good people.

Will it save bookstores, make people read more books or better books, or deflect the inevitable march of technology? Of course not. It's still a good act, though. Kudos to him.


Joe Konrath said...

But … don't you believe that traditional publishers, at least for the next several years, give credibility (sort of a vetting process) to new authors, merely by virtue of signing them on as clients?

No. I sincerely don't believe that.

The Indie industry needs a national review board of reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers who can help readers of indie authors avoid terrible reading experiences.

I'd be curious to see how that worked. But I'll be honest: I think professional critics are douchebags.

While I wish the average Joe would be able to deliberately articulate why they like/don't like something, I believe those who have the elitist belief that their subjective opinion is really objective clarity need to be bitch-slapped.

Siskel & Ebert actually manipulated box office receipts with their inane elitist bullshit. Fuck them, twice. When some asshole gets so much power they can influence whether people see a movie or not based on their review, there is something wrong with the world.

Would I like to see a Kindle reviewers be more in depth? Yes. But let's not let critics make decisions for us.

Joe Konrath said...

He gave a gift and it's going to benefit good people.

And he touted his goodness in on NPR, CBS, and in the NYT.

That doesn't diminish the good he's done, but it sure makes one wonder about the true motivation.

Again, my best friends don't even know the extent of my charitable causes. Because I do things because I feel the need to do things, not because I want to be lauded for doing them.

Joe Konrath said...

If a retail business can only survive by accepting charitable donations, it's no longer a retail business; it's a charity.

I wish I'd said that.

Joe Konrath said...

Calling on government to save literature? Are you FUCKING INSANE!?!?

This is why I have a blog. And why I allow anonymous comments.

Because every once and a while, someone says something so smart and funny that I applaud.

Kudos, Anon. :)

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Of course we need gatekeepers to tell us what to read. And what better gatekeeper, than the United States Government? Can’t you imagine a Department of Homeland Book Review, or the National Selection Agency to insure that people are reading what they should in their homes? Perhaps the Central Intellectual Agency to keep tabs on all of those foreign ebook authors. Maybe the Federal Book Investigators to make sure that organized crime does not take over the ebook industry, and the only thing we’d be able to read were Mario Puzo novels. Contact your Congressman today!

Anonymous said...

a national review board of reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers

I was a management consultant for 10 years, and this is exactly the kind of well-meaning, idealistic, but wholly impractical recommendations we'd put in our "Reports" and then leave the poor client to figure out how in hell to actually implement it in the real world.

My comment is not directed at you specifically, Mr. Michael Thompson--I actually thought your suggestion was fine and intelligently argued-for, and I'm sure many indie authors would agree with you. So this is more for those folks than an attack on you.

So, (ignoring the initial need to create a Review-the-Reviewers Board that guarantees the chosen reviewers are truly scrupulous) how many "reputable, totally scrupulous" reviewers would we need to read and rate the 1.5 million indie books that are already out there and also keep up with the 10,000 new ones that come out every month?

So there'd have to be some basic filtering to stop the vast majority of these indie books from even landing into the TBR pile of our reputable, scrupulous reviewers.

So, what? The board charges a fee, right? Maybe the folks who are ready to pay $99 or $399 or whatever to get a reputable reviewer to say "Yes! You're good to go!" is a good enough filter. (Kirkus charges $399 for reviewing your indie book, and I don't see many takers in the indie world, so our new board would need to be higher profile and more reputable than Kirkus at the very least.)

But then aren't we getting closer to "buying" reviews? After all, right now Kirkus will show you the review before publishing it, and if you say no, they will hide it away and no one will ever see it. In other words, for $399 you get either a good review or no review. You never get a bad review.

So our Board will publish the bad reviews, to stay reputable and totally scrupulous. And then what happens when the word spreads that for your $399 you're getting slammed in public? Who's going to sign up?

Unless you're arguing for Amazon and itunes etc. to implement a "Get Certified by the Indie Board or you can't sell on our site" thing. Which sounds very close to Steve Z.'s dream of having a sticker put on every self-published book to mark it as such.

No, of course we're not arguing for that. So this Board Certification will be voluntary--self-selected. So who will take the $399 risk? Only the indies with "quality" manuscripts? I mean, "quality manuscripts" and $399? I mean, "quality manuscripts," $399, and an inferiority complex?

Sounds like a vanity scheme to me.

And it will sound like a vanity scheme to the public.

And eventually readers will actively AVOID the books that have this "paid-for" stamp of approval.

The star rating is here to stay, love it or hate it, trust it or not. It is easy to buy 10, 20, maybe even a 100 reviews. But people aren't stupid. The market will eventually value the book correctly. (You all do realize that Snooki's book got bashed in the Amazon reviews...)

I remember seeing an indie book that was linked with one of mine last year: It had 42 5-star reviews within two days of being published. Most of the reviewers had never reviewed anything else. It was selling over a 100 copies a day. (Ranked about 1,000 overall.)

I checked it a couple of months later. Still 42 5-star reviews, but one scathing 1-star review with the reviewer congratulating all the friends of the author for writing those reviews, and then admitting that he feels like a fool for being tricked into buying that book.

The book was ranked below 300,000 at that point, which meant it hadn't sold a copy in days.

Have some faith in long-term market forces and the universal truth that a large number of ordinary people can come to an aggregate decision that is better than what the smartest individual comes up with.

Anonymous said...

Adam, Didn't Bradbury write a story like that?

Samuel Morningstar said...

All this "Let's save the bookstores" noise will have about as much effect as the "Let's save the music stores" noise did a decade ago. The world has evolved and it's not going back. It's stupid for guys like Patterson to think he can close Pandora's Box now that it's been thrown wide open. I admire his effort, but he's only prolonging the inevitable. His money would be better spent helping those people transform their businesses into something that is viable in today's world.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

First, I have to say... Joe has grandchildren?! Did I read that right? Or do you mean prospective grandchildren?

Secondly. If we're looking for great literature, I don't think Patterson would be in the running. Entertaining, certainly. But serious, important contributions that will be immortal in literature? Sorry, no. Pass on Patterson. Next author?

Joe Konrath said...

First, I have to say... Joe has grandchildren?

Shh. Don't tell my wife.

Kristi said...

I love what you and Barry have been doing letting newer writers know why indie publishing is a much better option than traditional but personally, I'd be much more interested in knowing what an author can do to increase sales besides, the correct cover, genre, description, and great first few pages. Any tips about that? I've read your previous postings about that topic but any more insight would be much more useful.

Elka said...

The Indie industry needs a national review board of reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers who can help readers of indie authors avoid terrible reading experiences.

People had already tried this. Just google The Awesome Indies badge, where having a AI badge on the cover should be some kind of Seal of Approval. It doesn't work, really. I think that the main problem is finding reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers that would be respected and known to majority of readers. Though there are some services like for example Bookbub , which even though authors use it as a promotion tools, have by wetting the books appearing in their newsletter earned their subscribers' trust, and they offer great value to readers and authors, much more than any badge.

Anonymous said...

As I recall from the documentary on Harper Lee, the publishing company was completely blind-sided by the popularity of Mockingbird, as were the bookstores.

I've seen a lot of this lately. Crediting publishers for spotting that rare gem of a book, when really they had no idea.

Paul Draker said...

Roosters claiming credit for the dawn...

William J. Thomas said...

I think that the main problem is finding reputable, totally scrupulous reviewers that would be respected and known to majority of readers.

PSSSHHHHH, not hard at all. In fact, it's already in existence, is known by everyone, and trusted implicitly:

Harriet Klausner.

5 stars = A literary masterpiece, a must read.

4 stars = Utter crap, avoid at all costs.

Been in existence for years, alreadey vetted thousands of legacy books for us.

Now we just need to somehow convince her to start reviewing our self-pubbed ebooks.

Dang, sorry, nevermind. There's no way she could sell our ebooks for profit after "reading" them like she does the free advance paper books she receives from legacy publishers.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Kiana Davenport said...

I totally agree with Joe. It was a chess move, a publicity stunt that Patterson can easily write off.
If he REALLY wanted to help readers, he would endow more millions to libraries like Bibliotech in Texas.
Kudos to them! What they are doing for their community is brilliant.

And by the by, publishers DO NOT make bestsellers. Readers do. Which is how TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD became a classic. Ditto, CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. Ditto, MOBY DICK, etc.

Thanks, Joe.

William J. Thomas said...

One of my fav web comics - today's strip applies perfectly to this discussion. Totally apropos. Very funny, and Patterson should read it!

Anonymous said...

Might I also add that apparently Mockingbird got some fairly scathing reviews at the time of publication.

Cribbing from wikipedia, the Wall Street Journal apparently made reference to a "repository of cracker-barrel epigrams". The New Yorker criticized the unstable narrator voice.

Aren't we glad these two arbiters of taste didn't get to decide for everyone?

Anonymous said...

This is all so funny. As if Monsanto announces they were going to save the family farm by giving a small group of farmers a thousand dollars of so apiece.
As you said, I don't see Patterson announcing that HE will stop selling his own books in ebook format.
He wants attention and publicity, and of course, another chance to hawk his OWN books.
Send the guy a case of Alka-Seltzer. How much more of the market can he cram in his mouth?
He's worried about access to literature? He should be. He's the puddle that took over the shelf space.

Alan Spade said...

If Patterson's scheme succeeds, it will only accelerate bookstores irrelevancy.

Grateful booksellers=more Patterson's paper books on the shelves

More Patterson's books on the shelves=less choice for the readers in bookstores

Less choice for the readers in bookstores= more readers browsing Amazon

Franklin Kendrick said...

I used to walk into a bookstore every week. It was called Borders, and I always walked away with something in my hands. If they didn't have the book I was looking for (usually found online and verified that it was there before I walked into the store), I always found something else that I wanted. None of the book stores around now do this sort of service. I'm impatient, and will generally buy something in print only if it's available for sure that day in a store nearby. Books-a-Million doesn't do this. They're the closest "big" bookstore to me. There are a few indie bookstores that have the ability to verify that a book I want is in stock before I leave my house, but they also sell other items such as movies and music. I don't even go to the library sometimes without something specific in mind. Basically, we, the readers, are in charge now. We want what we want, and we would like to get it into our grasp with as little effort as possible. For the most part, it's all entertainment. As the movies shows us, there's no amount of advertisement or money spending that will force us to go to see a dud. The old way of buying books is quaint, but it's certainly not an effective blockbuster.

Nancy Beck said...

Harriet Klausner.

ROFLMAO! Who doesn't know her/him/it/they? Every time one of her/his/its/their review came up, I'd roll my eyes and look to the comments section for those who were tearing a new one.

Classic. Definitely would be a worthwhile big ass reviewer. Not. :-)

Scott said...

My boys love books because we treated them as something to be valued. And today, they really don't care if they're reading on their Kindle, their smartphone, their tablet, or off the paper pages of a "real" book. I love "real" books, I treasure my "real" books, and my kids treasure the ones on their shelves. But they're perfectly happy reading something in any number of ways. That's today's kids. It's been said by others but worth repeating: Valuing reading comes from the kids' parents, not from a bookstore.

Elka said...

Who doesn't know her/him/it/they?
I didn't. Had to google it. :)

Renee Pawlish said...

Joe, you keep touting that you have "the solution" to help indie bookstores and no one took you up on it. Maybe it's because your model is flawed, not just that indie bookstores don't know what they're doing.
And I am one who loves my print books, loves my HB first editions, and I can't stand reading a book on a Kindle. And I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels this way. I have no problem with ebooks, I publish them, but that doesn't mean I have to read ebooks or I'm a horrible person...

Joe Konrath said...

Maybe it's because your model is flawed, not just that indie bookstores don't know what they're doing.

When you suggest my model is flawed, you really need to explain how it is flawed.

Did you read the post I'm referring to? Because I was giving indie bookstores a chance to sell my paper books at a great advantage over the deals the publishers and distributors give them.

Robert Jones said...

Most of the successful indy authors have certain philosophies in common. Most of those things make good business sense--probably because most of the successful indy authors come from a business background. One thing that seems to be pretty common that makes less sense to me, and that's a very high word count per day, producing at least four novels per year in order to get noticed.

I understand what each writer is saying in terms of being constantly in the readers face with something new. What I don't understand is that most of these writers claim they didn't start taking off until somewhere between novel 4 and 6, when they have fallen into a better groove with their craft, plus did some re-editing on their early books.

So my question from a writer's POV is, was that first 12-18 months just a practice run that helped get their craft up to a decent level? Because if they made little or no money until they fine tuned their craft (and their early works), can this business model of constantly being in the reader's face really be a proven commodity in this industry?

I've worked for small publishers and larger corporations who put out product. Who will flood the market with something once it's a proven sale--even if subsequent product is inferior--in order to cash in on something while it's hot. But the idea of flooding the market with less than adequate work seems like a boat load of work, a poor launch, and hopefully building towards something better that will take off. Since one blog I recently read said the writers less than great work began to sell once he got better books out there, the market would still be contingent upon getting something of quality out there before a trend can be formed. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a back log of 4-6 novels ready to be purchased once things take off. That would be a plus, provided you care enough about craft to get better and get noticed in the first place.

This may not be popular conversation for indy authors, but what if they practiced on their stories, stockpiled them, then launched when their craft was at a higher peak? Doesn't that set a better precedent for future novels and a larger readership? All agree that out of the millions of people jumping into e-publishing that quality and craft has willed out while everyone else has fallen into a ditch. So what if someone launched with something very good right out of the box instead of setting off on quantity over quality?

None of the successful indy authors are going to complain about their methods if they eventually found themselves making money at it. And I wouldn't argue with any of them who worked their way to the top of a growing industry within 12-18 months. All of it done on the fly. All of it was also pretty new territory as well. But if they could go back and launch their careers over again with what they know now, would they have dove in as quickly, or would they have done even better if they attempted to figure a few more things out first?

Let's just say I am looking for common denominators in my answers.

Walter Knight said...

Joe doesn't discuss politics much, but it's unavoidable when the topic is a government bailout of the Big Five New York publishing establishment.

Which party would support the elitist gatekeepers from New York, "for our children, and to save literature?" That would be the Democrat party. Liberals have a vested interest in keeping control of what we are allowed to read.

Most readers just want a good book, at a good price, but this sort of power play is always just below the service. Always be suspicious of calls for government intervention. Amazon Kindle means freedom to read and publish what we want. Some can't handle that exercise of freedom for the people. They think government knows what is best for all you unwashed little people out there in flyover country between the Left and Right Coast..

Irwin P. said...

Robert Jones said: ...what if they practiced on their stories, stockpiled them, then launched when their craft was at a higher peak?

This makes sense in an abstract, apriori way, but isn't the best strategy in real life. The issue is that no one in the world of books or movies or music really knows what will sell, really knows what an artist's "best" product will be.

But besides the main point that you can't tell which book will blow up until you release it, there's also a philosophical issue of what kind of a writer, what kind of an artist you are.

Should U2 have worked in private and not released anything until they wrote The Joshua Tree (1987)? How about after? Should they have stopped when they realized that was their peak, in some sense? What about the folks who think Pop (1997) or Boy (1980) are their best albums? I guarantee fewer fans will pick one of those over Joshua Tree, but some certainly will.

Certainly, many artists follow this philosophy of hiding their early work and only going public when they think they're "worthy" or whatever.

For some of these artists, we'll never know if their early stuff was any good because it's never ever released.

For others, we might go back and see stuff that was raw or undeveloped. But still, there will always be some segment of the population that LOVES the early stuff.

For example, Salman Rushdie considered taking his first novel Grimus out of print because it embarrassed him. (He actually said it makes him want to "hide behind the furniture.") It's still in print, and although it doesn't sell very well, there are still some folks who apparently love it.

So just because the early stuff may not satisfy as broad an audience, it doesn't mean it won't satisfy anyone.

Our job is to create art and put it out into the world. Passing judgment on our own art is not only impossible, it's actually none of our business.

- Irwin P.

Anonymous said...


Why would anyone bail out the Big Five? They keep saying that everything is going well for them.

Robert Jones said...

@Irwin P.--Some very good points. I appreciate your response. I wasn't necesarily thinking in terms of not releasing novels, but more in terms of stockpiling some stories and working ahead, then releasing one every few months--once craft and stories seems to be running smoothly. I just can't work a full length novel and produce a new one every few months and maintain any sort of quality.

My current WIP is fairly complicated and will be 300 + pages when finished. Other novels in this particular series will probably end up running pretty close in length. On the other hand, Joe has produced a number of short works. And other e-authors have also produced novels of less than 200 pages. Length doesn't seem to a as big a factor in the e-world as it is in traditional publishing. That being the case, my best bet might be to divide my time between a couple of different series, attempting several tiers in length and price. That I could probably do and manage to keep a fairly even flow of work coming out--if such a thing would be considered wise for someone who is not an established author.

Opinions and suggestions here would certainly be appreciated.

Diane said...

If anything will save literature for children, it's ereaders. My son, seven years old and more than happy to shun fat books with wall-to-wall type, will read just about anything if I download it to his Kindle. I caught him reading Call of the Wild yesterday. Call of the Wild! He's seven! If I would have bought him a beautifully bound edition and placed it in is hands, it would have ended up in a heap on the floor with the other books without pictures that he's otherwise not ready for. My kid reads. All the time. (He even reads my ebooks. Makes a mama proud.) If you want kids to read, give them their very own bookmobile: an ereader.

Nirmala said...

Another disruptive technology might be the in store POD machine:

Eventually every coffee shop and grocery store could be a bookstore with practically unlimited titles for those who still want their words on paper.

How will James Patterson and the publishers save the bookstores then?

Mark Edward Hall said...

I believe the POD machine is a last ditch effort to save a dying dinosaur. The machine will be large and cumbersome, will have to be constantly and physically stocked with paper and ink, and like any other machine, can and will break down regularly.

I think it will serve a small niche market, satisfy those who are fighting the future for a short time, but it is not the answer.

The ebook genie is out of the bottle, and nothing we say or do will ever get it back in.

Anonymous said...

This cry about "quality" and fear about the death of literature due to a "tsunami of crap" resulting from self-publishing seems more to me like a moral panic than anything real.

Sure, a lot of crap will be published because the doors are thrown open, admitting anyone who has enough digital savvy to use self-publishing platforms and who has a manuscript. But most of the crap will end up at the bottom of the barrel. People won't buy it. It won't show up anywhere if people don't read it and review it. For the vast majority of fiction, which is genre fiction, that's the quality control mechanism. Readers are the gatekeepers.

Great authors will still write great books. Online curators of great literature will emerge and critics and pundits will make their living talking about the great books - like they do now. The rest of the reading public will read their thrillers, romances, SF and high fantasy novels. The readers will pick and choose based on the recommendations of their fellow readers and friends on places like Goodreads.

Bookstores will go the way of the record store, and video store, but I suspect there will be a few holdout locations and specialty shops simply because bookstores have a longer history and people still love physical books. But people will largely buy their books online, the way they buy music and videos.

People will still write books, make movies and music despite the change in format and where they're sold.

It's not the apocalypse, despite wailing to the contrary.

Lynn Osterkamp said...

Great column, Joe. It's exactly what I thought when I heard Patterson on NPR. Of course he wants to continue the legacy publishing system and brick-and-mortar bookstores as some sort of higher, better way. That system works for him. But I agree with you that his gifts to bookstores aren't enough to save the system, so why is he doing this?

Iain Rob Wright said...

Hi Joe:

Do you believe it is a bad omen that ACX (an Amazon-owned company) has recently announced that they will be cutting indie audiobook royalties from 50-90% to a flat 40%, as well as making their 'Bounty' payments harder to earn?

This is the first time that Amazon has acted against the interests of authors (who own the audiobook rights in this situation) and could potentially show their willingness to do so via their other businesses in the future (i.e. KDP and Createspace).

What is your opinion of this? Why has ACX made things worse for its authors/narrators, who are essentially following the exact same industry model as KDP (i.e. there is no upfront cost to Amazon for the creation and sale of the product so they can't justify taking such a large chunk of the royalties - it will be 60% under the new terms!)?

If Amazon were to employ the same tactics across their ebook platform, then we would all suddenly find ourselves earning only 72c for every dollar we have been making previously.

Is it something worth worrying about?

Iain Rob Wright said...

P.S. There is a petition that people can sign here in opposition to the proposed changes.

The announcement made by ACX can be read here:

Renee Pawlish said...

When you suggest my model is flawed, you really need to explain how it is flawed.
I really don't need to :) and yes, I read the post. But if you're truly interested in my thoughts, how about I interview you on my blog and we can discuss your plan?

Kit Power said...

Way too late to this party, but this: "If Patterson wants the government to intervene, how about grants that have critics sifting through self-pubbed ebooks to find the next great lit author, who then gets money and promotion? We don't need agents and publishers to make sure important books are discovered. In fact, I'll always wonder about the important books that were missed because legacy publishing is mypoic, self-interested, archaic, and often evil.

There are ways to discover the next Pulitzer winner without legacy gatekeepers."

Really exciting idea. This is going to happen in the next 3 or 4 years, because it's the missing link between 'indy' and 'mainstream' success, and it's at this point overdue, IMO. Betting that Amazon will run it 'in-house' somehow?

PS The music industry needs this too, for pretty much identical reasons.