People in book publishing are accustomed to getting free books, but that particular perk doesn’t make sense as a way to gin up excitement and generate publicity when the book in question’s target readership is people in book publishing. So in order to sell Hothouse, Boris Kachka’s history of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (which we reviewed in this week’s paper), publisher Simon & Schuster has tried a novel approach: a well-produced mailer announcing that there will be no free copies.
“Don’t even think about asking us for a free copy,” proclaims a glossy brochure that went out earlier this week. “Seriously. Don’t even think about it,” warns the back cover.
Book publishing hums along on mythology. It may not be lucrative, but the noble job of bringing books into the world is enough of a cause for many former English majors to sign up perennially. In lieu of comfortable salaries, editorial assistants are paid in anecdotes about famous authors and legends about acquisitions. The dusty gentility of yesteryear, mostly absent from today’s fluorescent corporate culture, still holds sway over the imagination.
Few publishing houses can claim to be as revered as the authors they publish, but Farrar Straus & Giroux remains one of them, as Boris Kachka illustrates in Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House. FSG’s devotion to literature, which manages to straddle the line between art and commerce, is immortalized by Mr. Kachka, a New York magazine contributing editor who has covered the publishing industry for more than a decade.
A few weeks ago, Paul Bogaards did something few good publicists, let alone the head of public relations at New York’s most patrician publishing house, would suggest their client do.
In the early hours of Jan. 24, the 51-year-old executive director of publicity and marketing for Knopf posted “The Hierarchy of Book Publishing,” a top-100 ranking of his colleagues and competitors, on his personal Tumblr. Far from a fawning Forbes-style list, Mr. Bogaards’s blog post was a gallows-humor-inflected schematic of an industry in collapse. Books are so screwed, it suggested, that a self-published genre geek (J.A. Konrath, #2), the father of a 4-year-old child who has purportedly been to heaven (Todd Burpo, #4) and the intern running the company Twitter feed (#6) all faced sunnier futures than a feared industry veteran like Andrew Wylie (#11).
A couple hundred publishing-industry observers liked and reblogged the post, including the official Tumblr accounts of Vintage/Anchor, Penguin Press and Pantheon Books.
“It’s funny because it’s true,” Kathryn Ratcliffe-Lee, a HarperCollins assistant, commented.
“AHHHHH PERFECTION,” wrote Emma Straub, the bookstore-clerk-turned-fiction-writer. “And I don’t even get half the jokes.”
ICM agent Binky Urban does not believe it would be possible to write much of a novel about modern book publishing. “What is there to say?” she said by phone Monday. “It’s such an internal, sort of cerebral job. ‘And then I edited …’? I don’t quite get how that would work, to tell the Read More
New York publishing reporter Boris Kachka is getting ready to write a book about Farrar, Straus and Giroux, according to a newsletter issued by Dystel & Goderich, the agency repping him on the project.
According to the description provided in the newsletter, which was sent to various editors today, Mr. Read More