Working at one of the Big 5 publishing houses is like working in an absurdist parody of an Orwell novel.
A Look at the Book Business From the Inside -- Vulture
Publishing is an often incredibly frustrating culture. If you want to buy a project—let’s say a nonfiction proposal for a book about the history of Sicily—some of your colleagues will say, “The proposal is too dry” or “Cletis Trebuchet did a book for Grendel Books five years ago about Sardinia and it sold, like, eight copies,” or, airily, “I don’t think many people want to read about little islands.” When Seabiscuit first came up for discussion at an editorial meeting at Random House, some skeptic muttered, “Talk about beating a dead horse!”
To make matters worse, financial success in frontlist publishing is very often random, but the media conglomerates that run most publishing houses act as if it were not. Yes, you may be able to count on a new novel by Surething Jones becoming a big best seller. But the best-�seller lists paint nothing remotely like the full financial picture of any publication, because that picture’s most important color is the size of the advance. But let’s say you publish a fluky blockbuster one year, the corporation will see a spike in your profits and sort of autistically, or at least automatically, raise the profit goal for your division by some corporately predetermined amount for the following year. This is close to clinically insane institutional behavior.
. . .
I am trying to acquire two novels, one completed and the second under way, by a British writer. Ann Godoff likes the finished book, or takes my word for it that it’s good, or she is in a good mood, and has authorized me to offer $100,000 for each book. On the phone to the agent in England, I say, with no guile, “We’re offering a hundred thousand dollars for both books.” He says, with acceptance detectable in his voice, “You mean $50,000 for each?”
I hesitate, but not too long. “Yes.”
“Done and done.”
. . .