Best of Everything II: Is There Any Glamour Left in Publishing?

And yet, as Ms. Weis discussed the book on Monday, it was clear that for all her enthusiasm, she feels compelled to apologize a little for its subject matter.

“This is really not a book about publishing,” she said. “This is about the agency business. When I bought this, I thought about Entourage.”

Ah, Entourage, that marvelous, intoxicating thing—the show that brought to life the machinery of Hollywood and, in its popularity, demonstrated that people were dying for a glimpse into the movie business’ inner workings, even though most of what was ever associated with the golden era of showbiz is gone.

Book publishing, on the other hand …

“I don’t think by itself the subject is that compelling to a lot of people,” said Mr. Kachka, whose book on Farrar, Straus and Giroux went on the market last week. “People read business books about show business because it’s closer to fame somehow. It seems like talking about publishing is one or two or three steps removed from that.”

Mr. Kachka, who covers the publishing industry for New York, said that two of his sources in recent weeks had expressed personal enthusiasm for his FSG project but seemed to think, nevertheless, that it wouldn’t be viable. “People will say, ‘I would love to read this book, but, you know, who’s it for?’”

It has been this way, according to several seasoned veterans, pretty much since Michael Korda’s memoir was published at the end of the last century.

When former book editor Tom Engelhardt went out with his novel The Last Days of Publishing, in 2002, he had trouble convincing a major house to consider it, and finally put it out through the University of Massachusetts Press. He estimated yesterday that the book has since sold around 4,000 copies.

“The wisdom in publishing was, no one is interested in publishing, and that probably was semi-right,” Mr. Engelhardt said.

This wasn’t always the case: Jay McInerney’s Brightness Falls, Scott Berg’s bio of Max Perkins, not to mention James T. Fields’ 1879 classic Yesterday With Authors—all found an audience. And when asked if he’d ever read a great novel about the book business, Gerry Howard, the Doubleday editor, was able to rattle off no fewer than four titles, including Helen Eisenbach’s 1988 book Loonglow, about a “somewhat lovelorn woman editor at a big paperback house, and her struggles with the tyrannical woman publisher who makes everybody’s life a living hell,” and T. Gertler’s Elbowing the Seducer, which most believe is a roman à clef about Knopf editor Gordon Lish. Mr. Howard also named a movie—Bell, Book and Candle with Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon—and a play called Substance of a Fire, which is about “a family-owned publishing house and its patriarch, a man with many similarities to Roger Straus.”

Asked if he would ever consider writing his own memoir, Mr. Howard shot back immediately, “For God’s sakes, no.” 

“I have had some particular experiences with particular authors that might be worth essays,” he continued, “but unless one is of a stature of a Bob Gottlieb or Robert Giroux or Ted Solotaroff, say, an editor’s life would be strictly dullsville on the page.”

Best of Everything II: Is There Any Glamour Left in Publishing?