Simon & Schuster has said it will not pull out of a seven-figure book deal with Mike Pence after some of its employees called for the contract to be scrapped, stating that “we come to work each day to publish, not cancel”.
“By choosing to publish Mike Pence, Simon & Schuster is generating wealth for a central figure of a presidency that unequivocally advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence,” says the letter. “This is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimising bigotry.”
“As a publisher in this polarised era, we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide and from different constituencies and groups. But we come to work each day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives,” wrote Karp. “We will, therefore, proceed in our publishing agreement with vice-president Mike Pence.”
The employees also called for the publishing house to refrain from signing any more book deals with former members of the Trump administration, and demanded S&S stop distributing books for Post Hill Press. An independent publisher which focuses on “conservative politics” and Christian titles, Post Hill hit the headlines last week when it announced it would be publishing a book by by one of the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor, officer Jonathan Mattingly. While S&S subsequently announced it would not distribute Mattingly’s book, staff at S&S pointed to Post Hill titles which S&S still distributes, including embattled Republican congressman Matt Gaetz’s Firebrand.
“We impart to you the sad and unfortunate truth that we are actively making history right now,” says the open letter. “People will look back on this one day, and see that through our complicity, we chose to be on what is clearly the wrong side of justice.”
Karp said the decision not to distribute Mattingly’s book was “immediate, unprecedented, and responsive to the concerns we heard from you and our authors”. But he added that S&S has “contractual obligations and must continue to respect the terms of our agreements with our client publishers”.
Post Hill confirmed last week that it would go ahead with publishing Mattingly’s book without S&S, and declined to comment further.
Karp described the publisher’s role as “to find those authors and works that can shed light on our world — from first-time novelists to journalists, thought leaders, scientists, memoirists, personalities, and, yes, those who walk the halls of power”.
“Regardless of where those authors sit on the ideological spectrum, or if they hold views that run counter to the belief systems held by some of us, we apply a rigorous standard to assure that in acquiring books, we will be bringing into the world works that provide new information or perspectives on events to which we otherwise might not have access,” he wrote.
“When we allow our judgment to dwell on the books we dislike,” he added, “we distract ourselves from our primary purpose as a publisher – to champion the books we believe in and love.”
Pence’s currently untitled autobiography is set to be released in 2023.
Penguin Random House purchasing Simon & Schuster is not the gravest danger to the publishing business. The deal is transpiring in a larger context—and that context is Amazon.
In 1960, Dwight Eisenhower’s attorney general, William Rogers, read the paper with alarm. He learned that Random House intended to purchase the venerable publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Rogers began making calls to prod his antitrust division into blocking the sale. In those days, monopoly loomed as a central concern of government—and a competitive book business was widely seen as essential to preserving both intellectual life and democracy. After checking with his sources, Rogers discovered that the merger would yield a company that controlled a mere 1 percent of the book market, and he let the matter drop.
Not so long ago, Democratic and Republican administrations alike wouldn’t hesitate to block a merger like the one proposed today, which intends to fold the giant publisher Simon & Schuster into the even more gigantic Penguin Random House. How big would the combined company be? By one estimate, it might publish a third of all books in the U.S. This deal is so expansive that it’s hard to find an author to write about it who isn’t somehow implicated. Based on the odds, I suppose, it’s not terribly surprising to reveal that I’m published by Penguin Random House.
On paper, this merger is deplorable and should be blocked. As book publishing consolidates, the author tends to lose—and, therefore, so does the life of the mind. With diminished competition to sign writers, the size of advances is likely to shrink, making it harder for authors to justify the time required to produce a lengthy work. In becoming a leviathan, the business becomes ever more corporate. Publishing may lose its sense of higher purpose. The bean counters who rule over sprawling businesses will tend to treat books as just another commodity. Publishers will grow hesitant to take risks on new authors and new ideas. Like the movie industry, they will prefer sequels and established stars. What’s worse, a giant corporation starts to worry about the prospect of regulators messing with its well-being, a condition that tends to induce political caution in deciding which writers to publish.
But this merger is not the gravest danger to the publishing business. The deal is transpiring in a larger context—and that context is Amazon. The rise of Amazon accelerated the demise of Borders and the diminishment of Barnes & Noble. If it’s correct to worry about a merged company that publishes perhaps 33 percent of new books, then surely it’s correct to worry more about the fact that Amazon now sells 49 percent of them.
In the face of Amazon’s dominance, book publishers have huddled together in search of safety. Amazon’s size gives it terrifying leverage over the industry. Amazon, with its heavily visited home page, its emails to consumers, and its control of the search box on its site, has the power to make or break a title. To counter Amazon, publishers have sought to increase their bargaining power. They believe that they can match Amazon’s size only by growing their own.
When the government intervenes in a market, its actions are never neutral. One of the greatest mistakes of the Obama administration was the 2012 suit it brought against book publishers for working in concert to cut an e-book deal with Apple. The issue is not that the publishers were acting virtuously: They behaved like a cartel, which is illegal. It’s that the publishers were hardly the worst offenders. The government flogged the publishers for a technical violation of antitrust laws rather than constraining the most egregious monopolist, in spirit if not in letter.
It must not repeat the same mistake. The arrival of a new administration represents a moment to finally address Amazon’s lock on the book business; it’s a moment to focus on the core of the problem. Yes, publishers are oligopolistic and hardly sympathetic, but their continued health is essential to the survival of the book business, and thus the intellectual life of this country. If the government constrains publishers without constraining Amazon, then the government will merely accelerate the accumulation of untenable power in one single company.
Amazon has used the crisis of 2020, and the collapse of retail, to further consolidate itself, to create a business that owns the future of nearly every industry. Books were Amazon’s initial enterprise; they were the seemingly innocuous starting point for its plan to secure the economy’s commanding heights. The government’s treatment of the publishing industry is, therefore, a signal that it sends to every other sector of the economy. Nothing less than the survival of competitive capitalism is at stake.
Martine Powers talks with N.K. Jemisin, Jasmine Guillory and Lauren Wilkinson about challenging narrow perceptions of race in literary genres. And Marian Liu on the segregation of American music awards.
The book publishing industry still has a long way to go
“Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men,” romance writer Jasmine Guillory says. “And you know the people at the top are all white men.” She’s not alone in her sentiment. Lauren Wilkinson debuted her novel “American Spy” with a black woman as the protagonist. Wilkinson grew up reading John le Carré and James Bond novels. She says she always noticed a similarity between all of the spy novels she’d read as a kid.
“They looked very very white and male,” Wilkinson says. So she decided to do something about it by writing Marie Mitchell as the main character of “American Spy.”
“I mean, for me this is a spy book, but it’s secretly just an opportunity to talk about a black woman’s feelings for 300 pages,” Wilkinson says.
Science fiction also faces the problem of inequality in the publishing industry. That’s why N.K. Jemisin chose to put black experiences of oppression in a distant, imagined future. She says, “In a lot of science-fiction stories, you know, the way that they choose to engage with [oppression] is by having aliens be oppressed.” Instead, Jemisin chooses to show how the black experience fares in the future with the “Broken Earth” series.
These women tell Powers about why the industry remains so homogenous and what challenges remain.
Original Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/podcasts/post-reports/publishing-is-still-a-business-that-is-owned-by-white-men-three-women-on-race-and-genre/
The former Fox 2000 exec will be bringing her entire development team to the as-yet unnamed company.
For the next phase in her career, former Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler had to choose between her onetime bosses at the Century City studio: Tom Rothman (now running Sony Pictures) and Jim Gianopulos (Paramount). The book-savvy exec opted for a multiplatform production deal with the former.
Insiders say the decision came down to the wire, given Gabler’s close relationship with both men. A deciding factor was the involvement of HarperCollins, which agreed to co-fund Sony’s partnership. Paramount couldn’t match the flush offering on its own and couldn’t partner with HarperCollins, either, given that its parent Viacom is expected to merge in the near future with CBS, which owns rival publisher Simon & Schuster.
HarperCollins, which sinks $300 million a year into new literary works, has published some of Gabler’s biggest adaptations, including The Devil Wears Prada, Life of Pi and Hidden Figures. “No one in Hollywood has done a better job of bringing books to film than Elizabeth and her team,” said president and CEO Brian Murray in a statement.
Gabler, who found herself with no role at Disney following its $71 billion acquisition of Fox assets, is expected to bring a number of Fox 2000 projects with her and also hopes to take the Reese Witherspoon-produced Where the Crawdads Sing, based on the best-selling book from another HarperCollins rival, Penguin Random House.
Gabler also will bring her entire development team to the as-yet unnamed company (insiders say she wants to keep “2000” in the new name, but is expected to receive pushback from Disney, which owns the Fox 2000 label). She will serve as a consultant on her final Fox 2000 release, Amy Adams’ recently pushed The Woman in the Window.
Sources say Gabler’s pact allows her to work on Sony’s Culver City lot two days a week and at her Santa Barbara ranch three days — mimicking her Fox setup, long the envy of Hollywood execs. And while the HarperCollins deal gives Sony key access at a time when film studios are vying with streamers for literary rights, Gabler won’t be restricted to only adapting from the publisher’s works, according to another source.
ORIGINAL STORY: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/behind-elizabeth-gablers-new-deal-sony-harpercollins-1225470
Writing has never been a lucrative career choice, but a recent study by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, shows that it may not even be a livable one anymore.
According to the survey results, the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered. The latter figure reflects a 42 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $10,500. These findings are the result of an expansive 2018 study of more than 5,000 published book authors, across genres and including both traditional and self-published writers.
“In the 20th century, a good literary writer could earn a middle-class living just writing,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, citing William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever. Now, most writers need to supplement their income with speaking engagements or teaching. Strictly book-related income — which is to say royalties and advances — are also down, almost 30 percent for full-time writers since 2009.
Writing for magazines and newspapers was once a solid source of additional income for professional writers, but the decline in freelance journalism and pay has meant less opportunity for authors to write for pay. Many print publications, which offered the highest rate, have been shuttered altogether.
The decline in earnings is also largely because of Amazon’s lion’s share of the self-publishing, e-book and resale market, Ms. Rasenberger said. The conglomerate charges commission and marketing fees to publishers that Ms. Rasenberger said essentially prevent their books from being buried on the site. Small and independent publishers, which have fewer resources and bargaining power, have been particularly hard hit. Book publishing companies are passing these losses along to writers in the form of lower royalties and advances, and authors also lose out on income from books resold on the platform.
In some ways, these changes are in line with a general shift toward a gig economy or “hustling,” in which people juggle an assortment of jobs to make up for the lack of a stable income. But the writing industry as a whole has always eluded standardization in pay. In a conversation with Manjula Martin in the book “Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living,” edited by Ms. Martin, Cheryl Strayed said, “There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, ‘Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million!’”
In a recent call, Ms. Martin said that “the people who are able to practice the trade of authoring are people who have other sources of income,” adding that this creates barriers of entry and limits the types of stories that reach a wide audience. There is also, she added, a devaluation of writing in which it is often viewed as a hobby as opposed to a valuable vocation.
“Everyone thinks they can write, because everybody writes,” Ms. Rasenberger said, referring to the proliferation of casual texting, emailing and tweeting. But she distinguishes these from professional writers “who have been working on their craft and art of writing for years.”
“What a professional writer can convey in written word is far superior to what the rest of us can do,” Ms. Rasenberger said. “As a society we need that, because it’s a way to crystallize ideas, make us see things in a new way and create understanding of who we are as a people, where we are today and where we’re going.”
Original Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/05/books/authors-pay-writer.html
Younger’s fun-house mirror version of the publishing industry is bleeding over into our world — which means soon we’ll all start believing Sutton Foster is in her 20s, too. Per EW, Simon & Schuster is publishing actual copies of the show’s fictional novel Marriage Vacation, a dishy, thinly veiled tell-all written by Jennifer Westfeldt’s character Pauline about her ex-husband Charles (Peter Hermann). The real-life version of the book, out in June, is supposed to “serve as a standalone novel as it tells the story of a woman who leaves her marriage to go on a journey of self-discovery” — though of course it will also include the steamy sex scene on page 58 all the characters on the show keep talking about. Someone please publish the show’s Crown of Kings books next.
Original Post: http://www.vulture.com/2018/03/youngers-fake-book-is-getting-published-in-real-life.html?utm_campaign=vulture&utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s1
He wrote it on a napkin: a thought. A word. A phrase.
And from such humble beginnings, a six-figure book deal. And from that six-figure book deal, a seven-figure movie deal. And from that seven-figure movie deal, well, only he can write his future.
And write it he will. Because he’s that writer you can’t stand.
The napkin now hangs framed in the home office of his Boerum Hill brownstone, around the corner from his “second office,” the specialty coffee shop where we meet up. “It’s technically my dad’s brownstone,” he whispers, a glimmer of torment in his eye. “But the napkin’s all mine.”
He likes to take up two chairs at the shop when he writes, because creative freedom, he asserts, requires space. He knows his artistic process like the back of his hand, and doesn’t seem to mind that I have no place to sit. But I shouldn’t mind, either, because he’s an artist, and he needs what he needs.
With his hair crisply cut back from the man-bun that was once his signature look, he drops his head in his hands and says, “It’s tough, you know? Because I finally made it. And I was starting to think that I never would.”
After spending two and a half arduous years writing occasionally in his tiny black Moleskine, [that writer you can’t stand], twenty-six, almost gave up. He relentlessly foisted his half-baked poems on any publishing-world gatekeeper, and spent the rest of his time thinking many deep thoughts. He never even considered getting a job—partially because he didn’t need to, but mostly because he knew in his heart that he was going to be a success.
But that ardent knowledge didn’t stop him from feeling oppressed, or from expressing that feeling to everyone around him. “It was like no one saw the me that was inside of me,” he tells me. “The rejection was hard. Really hard. I even cried about it once. You’d think that it would get easier over time, but it doesn’t. I mean, two and a half years, and more than twenty poems submitted—and nothing.”
Until nothing became something.
“A buddy of mine from college rose through the ranks really quickly at a big publishing house, and I was, like, ‘Can you help me get a book deal?’ And he was, like, ‘Yeah.’ And then he did.” All those months toiling away had finally led him to his destiny. He goes on, “I had never written a book before, but I knew I could do it. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind.”
In the two published poems I have to go off of, [that writer you can’t stand]’s work weaves together the personal and the universal. “I love stories,” he says. “All of my poems are really stories. Didn’t cavemen tell stories? I think so. I’m just like the cavemen. We all are.”
His poem “Pater Paternal Pat” is only three words long, but he wouldn’t let us reprint them. “Dad/Bad,” which is the work he’s most famous for, and also the only other poem he’s ever published, illuminates the relationship between all fathers and sons throughout time, especially the fathers who are top executives at multinational corporations.
When his book is released, in 2019, it will likely be reviewed kindly, and with great enthusiasm. Then he will, doubtlessly, go on to achieve great success in this and other fields. “I’m pretty sure I can do some pretty big things,” he says to me, while winking.
Before I leave the coffee shop, I ask him what was on that original napkin. He replies with a Grinch-like smirk: “Magicians never reveal their secrets, and neither do I.”
Ryan Raffaelli set out to discover how independent bookstores managed to survive and even thrive in spite of competition from Amazon and other online retailers. His initial findings reveal how much consumers still value community and personal contact.
When Amazon.com burst onto the nascent online retail scene in 1995, the future seemed bleak for brick-and-mortar independent bookstores—which already faced competition from superstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Indeed, between 1995 and 2000, the number of independent bookstores in the United States plummeted 43 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the promotion of independent bookstores.
But then a funny thing happened. While pressure from Amazon forced Borders out of business in 2011, indie bookstores staged an unexpected comeback. Between 2009 and 2015, the ABA reported a 35 percent growth in the number of independent booksellers, from 1,651 stores to 2,227.
This surprising resurgence piqued the interest of Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, who studies how mature organizations and industries faced with technological change reinvent themselves. Raffaelli has termed this line of research “technology reemergence.” It began with his study of the Swiss watch industry, which collectively reinvented itself (and thus survived) in the wake of digital watches. Five years ago, he set out to discover how independent bookstores managed to survive and even thrive in spite of Amazon and other online retailers.
Raffaelli is a field researcher by training. His study on independent bookselling includes more than 200 interviews and focus groups with bookstore owners, publishers, and prominent authors; field visits to dozens of bookstores in 13 states; 91 hours of observing bookstore activity and industry conferences; and an analysis of 915 newspaper and trade publication articles that mentioned independent bookselling in some fashion. He even attended a training course on how to open an independent bookstore.
Here are some of Raffaelli’s key findings so far, based on what he has found to be the “3 C’s” of independent bookselling’s resurgence: community, curation, and convening.
Community: Independent booksellers were some of the first to champion the idea of localism; bookstore owners across the nation promoted the idea of consumers supporting their local communities by shopping at neighborhood businesses. Indie bookstores won customers back from Amazon, Borders, and other big players by stressing a strong connection to local community values.
Curation: Independent booksellers began to focus on curating inventory that allowed them to provide a more personal and specialized customer experience. Rather than only recommending bestsellers, they developed personal relationships with customers by helping them discover up-and-coming authors and unexpected titles.
Convening: Independent booksellers also started to promote their stores as intellectual centers for convening customers with likeminded interests—offering lectures, book signings, game nights, children’s story times, young adult reading groups, even birthday parties. “In fact, some bookstores now host over 500 events a year that bring people together,” Raffaelli says.
While all this was happening on a local level, there was important top-down work going on at the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the promotion of independent bookstores. The ABA served as a glue to bind likeminded players together—facilitating partnerships between bookstores and other local businesses, for example. The ABA also strengthened the collective identity of indie bookstores by helping its members share best practices, such as how to use social media to promote special events.
Raffaelli plans to release an initial version of the study in 2018; in the meantime, he has published a multi-page abstract with an overview of the initial findings. Its working title: “Reframing Collective Identity in Response to Multiple Technological Discontinuities: The Novel Resurgence of Independent Bookstores.”
“The theoretical and managerial lessons we can learn from independent bookstores have implications for a wide array of traditional brick-and-mortar businesses facing technological change,” Raffaelli says. “But this has been an especially fascinating industry to study because indie booksellers provide us with a story of hope.”
Readers might think nonfiction books are the most reliable media sources there are. But accuracy scandals haven’t reformed an industry that faces no big repercussions for errors.
On the cover of her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, Somaly Mam sits in a field, surrounded by laughing children. “I came to know Somaly Mam, who was enslaved herself but managed to escape and then became the Harriet Tubman of Southeast Asia’s brothels, repeatedly rescuing those left behind,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in the book’s introduction. “As a local person with firsthand experience in the red-light districts, Somaly has a credibility and understanding that no outsider does.”
That was in 2009. This past spring, Simon Marks’s Newsweek article on Mam charged the anti-sex trafficking activist with fabricating her past as a child prostitute. In the fallout, many readers faulted Kristof for lauding her as a heroine; others pointed fingers directly at Mam. Hardly any called out the publishing houses that distributed her book.
Mam’s story gained a mass following with the release of her best-selling memoir, first published in France in 2005. The book’s success helped the activist launch the Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007. Mam was also featured in Mariane Pearl’s In Search of Hope that same year.
In a Politico post, Kristof cited the fact that Mam’s story had been the subject of two published books as part of what made it so credible. Addressing the issue in the Times, he wrote, “We journalists often rely to a considerable extent on people to tell the truth, especially when they have written unchallenged autobiographies.”
There’s a basic problem with this line of logic, though: Most books are never fact-checked.
“When I was working on my book, I did an anecdotal survey asking people: Between books, magazines, and newspapers, which do you think has the most fact-checking?” explained Craig Silverman, author of Regret the Error, a book on media accuracy, and founder of a blog by the same name. Almost inevitably, the people Silverman spoke with guessed books.
“A lot of readers have the perception that when something arrives as a book, it’s gone through a more rigorous fact-checking process than a magazine or a newspaper or a website, and that’s simply not that case,” Silverman said. He attributes this in part to the physical nature of a book: Its ink and weight imbue it with a sense of significance unlike that of other mediums.
Fact-checking dates back to the founding of Time in 1923, and has a strong tradition at places like Mother Jones and The New Yorker. (The Atlantic checks every article in print.) But it’s becoming less and less common even in the magazine world. Silverman suggests this is in part due to the Internet and the drive for quick content production. “Fact-checkers don’t increase content production,” he said. “Arguably, they slow it.”
What many readers don’t realize is that fact-checking has never been standard practice in the book-publishing world at all.
And reliance on books creates a weak link in the chain of media accuracy, says Scott Rosenberg, founder of the now defunct MediaBugs.org. “Magazine fact-checkers typically treat reference to a fact in a published book as confirmation of the fact,” Rosenberg said, “yet too often, the books themselves have undergone no such rigorous process.”
These cases vary widely but share that they have many unfortunate effects. Critics of Menchú’s political views were quick to completely discredit a rare survivor testimony. Conservative commentator David Horowitz labeled her a “Marxist terrorist” and “one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century” before launching an unsuccessful campaign to revoke her Nobel Peace Prize. Wilkomirski’s downfall fanned the flames of Holocaust denial.
Kristof urged readers not to let Mam’s falsehoods overshadow her cause.
“One risk is that girls fleeing Cambodian brothels will no longer get help,” he wrote in a Times blog post. “… Let’s remember that this is about more than one woman.”
Why then, with the perils so apparent, are so many books still not fact-checked?
The reluctance may stem in part from a sense that it’s unkind to question victims, especially when their pasts portray them unfavorably. Nan Talese, Frey’s editor, sat beside him on the couch at Oprah. “As an editor,” Talese wondered, “do you ask someone, ‘Are you really as bad as you are?’”
“Yes,” Winfrey flatly replied.
Or perhaps people are too in love with resilience narratives—the more harrowing Frey’s original circumstances, the more buoyed we felt by his success.
Publishing houses cite lack of funds for fact-checking operations, but it’s getting harder to accept that argument, particularly with major presses. Even when a line-by-line, magazine-style edit is unrealistic, publishers could work to clear certain key details. In Frey’s case, for example, Doubleday might have verified court records, as The Smoking Gun was able to do, regarding the amount of time he spent in jail (a few hours, instead of months).
And publishers often find funds for an in-depth legal vetting process, during which lawyers carefully review a manuscript and flag any passages that may expose the author or publisher to issues of legal liability. These issues may fall into the categories of copyright and fair use, right of privacy, right of publicity, and defamation, explains Tonya M. Evans, a law professor at Widener University and author of a series of legal reference guides for publishing professionals. “The goal is to raise these issues so that the client can make an informed decision whether it is in their best interest to publish the work as is or make changes, secure permissions, or delete certain material altogether,” Evans says.
When I asked Sally Marvin, publicity director at Random House, whether Mam’s book had been fact-checked, she gave this statement: “Random House does not discuss the pre-publication review process for any particular title. Since Random House publishes in so many different subject areas—biographies, cooking, health and fitness, history, religion, etc.—and on so many topics within each subject area, it is not possible to have or describe any ‘standard’ pre-publication review procedure for non-fiction titles.”
Some authors are taking matters into their own hands. When Mac McClelland, formerly a fact-checker at Mother Jones, wrote her first book, For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question: A Story from Burma’s Never-Ending War, she enlisted the help of former MJ research editor Leigh Ferrara to pore through more than 700 sources. The process took about eight months.
McClelland recently finished fact-checking her second book, Irritable Hearts, a memoir about her experience of PTSD as a reporter covering conflicts and disasters. Because this work is more personal than her last, much of the checking this time around consisted of questions for McClelland’s family, exes, and friends.
“Everything you remember, somebody else remembers it differently,” McClelland said. “Everything I would ask each of my parents, the other one would say, ‘The complete opposite of that happened.’” She caught statistical and historical inaccuracies before publishing her first book; with her second, she changed some personal stories, too.
McClelland is quick to acknowledge the extreme challenges that fact-checking a book presents—it’s no doubt a test of time, patience, and money. In both cases, she financed the process herself. “For my first book, I actually wound up spending more money on fact-checking than I got for my advance—by a lot,” she said. McClelland would like to see a publishing culture in which fact-checking is written into book contracts, but she’s doubtful that will happen soon.
Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs agrees. “I just think you’d have to rip up the publishing industry as it exists and start over if you really wanted publishers to fact-check books,” he said. Publishers aren’t motivated to take on this vast responsibility, he believes, without commercial pressure.
“They don’t pay a price when the book is exposed,” Rosenberg pointed out. “No one looks at the publishing house’s name on the book they bought four years ago when Newsweek exposes it as inaccurate and says, ‘I’ll never buy a book published by them again!’ So why should the publisher care?”
Even in the case of A Million Little Pieces, for which Random House was made to offer refunds as part of a federal class-action lawsuit, the financial repercussions were minimal. Of the more than four million readers who purchased the book, fewer than 2,000 sought refunds. Random House set aside $2.35 million for the lawsuit, but even with legal fees, wound up paying far less.
Perhaps in a perfect world, every publishing house would have an army of fact-checkers—but what can we do until then? At the very least, it’s important to read more critically, especially for journalists, who perpetuate untruths when they rely blindly on books for fact.
“Maybe there should be a warning, like on a pack of cigarettes,” said McClelland. “‘This book has not been fact-checked at all.’ Because when I realized that basically everything I had read until that point had not been verified, I felt a little bit lied to.”
The pilgrims have been coming to Nashville for as long as the Grand Ole Opry has been on the radio. They come for Fan Fair and Taylor Swift concerts or just to walk down Lower Broad in cowboy boots. Parents visit their children in college. Conventioneers deplane by the thousands. Nashville is a hip city now, with a food scene, an art scene and two poorly performing professional sports teams.
With all the reasons to travel to Nashville, one might be surprised to learn that some people come just to see a small independent bookstore. It’s true. The Book Faithful journey to Music City because they still like their novels printed on paper. They come because they’ve heard about the shop dogs, or because someone told them years ago that bookstores were moving onto the endangered species list and they wanted to see one that was thriving in its natural habitat: in a strip mall, behind Fox’s Donut Den, beside Sherwin-Williams Paint Store. Some come in hopes of seeing a favorite author read, or catching a glimpse of the author who co-owns the store.
That would be me.
Karen Hayes and I opened Parnassus Books in November 2011. This summer, when Pickles and Ice Cream Maternity went out of business, we took down the adjoining wall and doubled our space. Business is good, which, by bookstore standards, means we spring for employee health insurance and pay the rent.
Karen and I are vocal supporters of the Shop Local movement, while at the same time benefiting from the Destination Bookstore travelers. It seems as if every time I’m in the back room signing special orders or meeting with staffers to pick a book for our First Editions Club, Bill, the tall Englishman who works the front, comes to tell me a book club has just arrived from Omaha or Bangor or Sweden. I go out and pose for group pictures, recommend books, give an impromptu tour. I always ask the same question, “What made you think I’d be here?” because seriously, I’m gone a lot. They always give me the same answer: I’m not why they came. They came to see the store.
With its high wooden shelves and rolling ladders and dangling stars, Parnassus is — if I may say so myself — worth a visit, a reminder that a strip mall need not be judged by its parking lot. But there are many bookstores that could stand as the centerpiece of a vacation. Here are some categories to consider when searching for one.
Before we opened Parnassus, I made a fact-finding tour of American bookstores. The best advice I got was this: If you want customers, you have to raise them yourself. That means a strong children’s section. If e-books have taken a bite out of the adult market, they’ve done very little damage to children’s books, maybe because even the most tech-savvy parents understand that reading “Goodnight Moon” off your phone doesn’t create the same occasion for bonding.
For many of us, children’s books are the foundation of bookselling, the cornerstone, the rock on which this church is built.
Before going, be sure to check the bookstores’ events calendars for visiting authors. If I may make a sweeping generalization, children’s book authors — from those who write board books suitable for teething to those who write young adult fiction full of vampires and angst — are the nicest people on the planet. Not only will they talk to your child or young adult, they will relate to them, they will draw pictures for them, they will create an indelible link between reading and joy.
The Destination Stores
I’m not sure why you’d be going to Greenwood, Miss., except for a mad desire to see TurnRow Book Company. It’s one of the most beautiful bookstores I know, and the sheer unlikelihood of its presence makes a traveler feel she’s stumbled into an oasis in the Mississippi Delta. Thanks to the Viking Range plant, the town also has a few top-notch restaurants and a very pretty inn, but the bookstore is the reason to go.
And since you’re in Greenwood, you’ve got to go to Oxford, a town defined by its writers. You can visit Faulkner’s home as well as the bookstore, or make that bookstores. Richard Howorth, the former mayor of Oxford, has three locations on the downtown square: the original Square Books;Square Books, Jr., the children’s store; and Off Square, which sells discount books and provides space for author events. Despite the enormousness of Ole Miss, these three stores are the backbone of Oxford.
When was the last time you strolled around downtown Los Angeles near Skid Row? Never? I’m from Los Angeles and it took the Last Bookstore to get me there. The store’s tagline, “What are you waiting for? We won’t be here forever,” has a suitably apocalyptic ring to it, but the place is so monumental that it’s hard to imagine it going anywhere: 22,000 square feet on three floors with new and used books, vinyl records and gallery space. The whole thing appears to have been made out of books, books that are folded and fanned and stacked into towering sculptures. The clientele is as eclectic and fascinating as the reading selection. It did my heart good to see so many tattooed kids with black nail polish and nose rings sprawled out in chairs reading books.
As long as you’re going to places you never thought you’d go, head to Plainville, Mass., to see An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café, which I hope will soon replace Disney World as the place all parents feel duty-bound to take their children. Jeff Kinney took part of the proceeds from his juggernaut series “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and built his hometown a four-story bookstore — the ultimate fulfillment of literary civic duty. The building contains a dazzling bookshop, event space and cafe, and the top floor will soon be a Wimpy Kid museum, complete with movie props and the model for the Wimpy Kid Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. (How do you know that your character is reaching the heights of Snoopy? You get your own parade balloon.)
The Tiny Stores
I’m a sucker for a little bookstore. In the right hands, the limited space can set off an explosion of personality and innovation. It’s like going to a French bistro with five tables and five things on the menu: You discover they’re exactly the right five things. New York City, land of skyrocketing rents and ubiquitous nail salons, has some of the best tiny bookstores in the world, including the Corner Bookstore,192 Books and my favorite, Three Lives & Company. Sometimes what’s lost in square footage is made up for by a brilliant staff, or maybe it’s just that the people who work in tiny stores really do know exactly where every book is located. And they’ve read them. Little bookstores give off that same warm, snug feeling one gets from reading a novel in a comfy chair. Go look at the light in Newtonville Books outside Boston, or drive down the cape to Provincetown Bookshop, that essential last stop before hitting the beach. The novelist Louise Erdrich owns the tiny Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, a store that uses a chunk of its limited space to display an elaborately carved confessional box. You’ll wish every bookstore had one.
Doesn’t everyone who visits Harvard go across the street to the Harvard Book Store, a shop as esteemed as the university? When you’re finished there (it will take all day), walk down Plympton Street to Grolier Poetry Book Shop. In Cambridge a store that sells nothing but poetry seems indispensable.
But if you’re interested in Grolier’s aesthetic opposite, go to the fabulous Books & Books. It’s everything I love about Miami without any of the things I don’t love about Miami, a store where books are elevated to new heights of gorgeousness. Just walking in the door of either the Coral Gables or South Beach location makes me feel like an automatic hipster, a book hipster. I always leave with armloads of art books and travel books, things I never knew I needed but I do need desperately.
And then, of course, there’s Powell’s: an entire block, a dizzying, self-proclaimed City of Books. The fact that Portland, Ore., celebrates being defined by its independent bookstore is really all you need to know about Portland.
I went on my first book tour in 1992 when I was 28, and I have been going on book tours ever since. I have made it a point to go to bookstores in every town I’ve ever driven through. I go both as a writer and a reader, for business and for pleasure, and I have been in love with too many to make a comprehensive list here. Still, I have to call out some of my favorites, like Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, lit by the internal fire of one Daniel Goldin, a stupendously great bookseller. And since you’re in Milwaukee, you won’t be that far from McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., a personal favorite that proves Northern Michigan has a lot more to offer than cherries and apples. Malaprop’s was the heart and soul of Asheville, N.C., when Asheville was a sleepy little hippie town, and it’s still its heart and soul now that the city is cool and overcrowded, a position Malaprop’s maintained by being unabashedly true to itself.
No bookstore ever made a strip mall look better than Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif. Every author you could hope to see comes to read at Book Passage.
And then there’s Explore Booksellers in Aspen, Colo., a town that’s gotten so expensive that the bookstore would have to sell Chanel bags alongside Michael Chabon novels in order to make the rent, so a group of people got together and bought it so that the town could have a bookstore
All these bookstores will welcome you, as will those I failed to mention. They’re delicate little ecosystems based on a passion for books and a belief in community. They’re here for you, but they need your attention and support to thrive.
Of course we’d love to see you at Parnassus. The shop dogs are lazy. They pile up in the office and sleep beneath the desks, but if you ask, we’ll wake them up and send them out on the floor. When you’ve gotten your recommendations from our brilliant staff, and listened to story time in the children’s section, and seen a couple of authors (and country music stars) shopping themselves, we’ll give you advice on where to go to dinner and hear music. Or maybe you just want to sit in a quiet chair and read your new book. Go ahead, that’s what we’re here for.