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Will Books Survive? View other pieces in "Harper's"
By Mark Danner August 1985
Tags: Harper's Forums | Books Print
The book, never a staple American product, seems destined to become a rare and precious object intended only for the cognoscenti who still know how to read. Although American publishers last year brought out 40,000 new titles, the vast majority of them, ignored by the great spotlight of publicity, were seen by almost nobody but the author and his twelve closest friends. Confronted by the declining literacy of young Americans and increasing competition from cable television, videocassettes, and personal computers, publishers are turning their attention to audio and video "books."

More and more, bookstores are giving over their scarce space to objects that, whatever their virtues, are not books. The archetypal "struggling author"must now struggle not only to be published but to be promoted, distributed, displayed. The huge expense of national promotion is forcing books not made of the stuff of best sellers out of most bookstores - and thus out of the marketplace.

What will become of all but the most commercial books? What will a typical American bookstore look like in ten years? In conjunction with the American Booksellers Association, Harper's recently invited a group of prominent editors, publishers, and booksellers to discuss the problematic future of that curious object still known as a book.


The following Forum is based on a discussion held at the American Booksellers Association convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Lewis H. Lapham served as moderator.


LEWIS H. LAPHAM
is the editor of Harper's.

HOWARD KAMINSKY
is publisher and chief executive officer of the Random House trade department.
From 1972 to 1984 he was president of Warner Books, and published such titles

as Megatrends, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, All the President's Men, and
In Search of Excellence.

JACK SHOEMAKER
is editor in chief of North Point Press, an independent publishing house in
Berkeley, California. North Point publishes books by Wendell Berry, Evan S. Connell,
M. F. K. Fisher, and others.


WILLIAM P. EDWARDS
is vice president for new business development at B. Dalton Bookseller, which,
with 738 outlets. is the second largest bookstore chain in the United States.


HILLEL STAVIS
is the owner of WordsWorth, an independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

TOM PETERS
is co-author of two best-selling books on business management,
In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence.
He is the founder of the Tom Peters Group, which includes a management
consulting firm and a publishing company.


PHILIP M. PFEFFER
is chairman and chief executive officer uf the Ingram Distribution Group,
which distributes books, videocassettes, and computer software to
more than 22, 000 retail stores and libraries.


ELISABETH SIFTON
is a vice president of Viking Penguin and publisher of Elisabeth Sifton Books.
Among the books she has edited are
Lives of a Cell, Snow Leopard,
Humboldt's Gift, and Vietnam: A History.

PHYLLIS GRANN
is president and publisher of G. P. Putnam's Sons. Among the authors she has
edited are Joe McGinniss, Dick Francis, and Lawrence Sanders.



LEWISH. LAPHAM: When I was a boy growing up in this city I thought of a book as a precious object and an author as a necessarily obscure figure who seldom earned enough money to pay the rent or hire a press agent. If he or she was known at all, it was by virtue of his or her writing rather than by reason of a persona that could be minted into the coin of celebrity and sold on T-shirts, The times, so I'm told, have changed.

The readers have become consumers, the audience a market. This morning I wandered among the 1,300 exhibits on the main floor of the Moscone Center, and I noticed that the publishers and booksellers have become remarkably adept at the art of merchandising. I didn't see many books that I would know how to read, or that I would even define as books, but I was impressed by the display of videocassettes, tape recordings, film posters, calendars, exercise manuals, scented candles, and stuffed animals. At the end of an hour I wondered why nobody had offered me a chance to buy a twelve-day cruise to Tahiti, on which I would be sure to find, among other consummations devoutly to be wished, firmer muscle tone, $4 million in stock market advice, a secure sexual identity, and incontrovertible proof that God exists and sometimes descends on California in the form of a seagull.

My admiration for all this sales technology is without limit, but I am curious to know how it came to pass that what I used to think of as a small-time profession turned into a big-time industry. Probably the change is for the better, but I wonder how the small voice of something so modest as literature can make itself heard in the din of publicity. Does a book still have anything to do with art or thought or culture, or has it become indistinguishable from a seasonal toy? Does anybody still make the distinction, or think the distinction relevant to any audience larger than the English department at Yale? Howard Kaminsky, as the head of a highly respected publishing house, perhaps you could describe what has happened during the last twenty years to the object we call a book.


HOWARD KAMINSKY: A lot has happened-and not much at all. I constantly hear that fewer good books are being published today, yet I don't believe there's a good book lurking anywhere in America that some publisher at this fair wouldn't snap up if given the chance. It may be harder today for certain good books, once published, to surface in the marketplace and find their audience; this is especially true for "serious"books with relatively small readerships and low advertising budgets. In general, however, I think critics of publishing tend to exaggerate the commercial aspect of the industry.

In my experience, the system of publishing books and getting them out to readers works pretty well. I truly believe that any book is a good book - if people will read it. And any book, no matter how "commercial"or crass, might lead a person to pick up another book that is less commercial or crass. We should remember that the bond between publisher and bookseller, though by definition "commercial,"is unique in our culture. After all, a bookseller not only sells a product; he is almost always someone who passionately loves books - and I mean the full panoply, from very, very commercial books that we nonetheless try to publish with great elan to books that are important and enduring works of art or scholarship.

Such a bond between producer and seller certainly does not exist in the motion picture business; as a rule, movie exhibitors do not spend their time poring over Sight and Sound magazine and debating the aesthetics of the current cinema. The continuing strength of this bond - and the diversity of the books displayed at this trade fair-clearly show that the American book business is very healthy indeed.


LAPHAM: Jack Shoemaker, you head North Point Press, a much smaller house dedicated to publishing "serious"books. Do you agree with Mr. Kaminsky's glowing assessment of the business?


JACK SHOEMAKER: Well, in recent years an incredible number of smaller, independent publishing houses have sprung up, and most of them produce books aimed at a smaller, specialized audience. In my opinion, independent houses have been the salvation of the serious literary book in America. But North Point and publishers like it have a very difficult task, one that goes beyond publishing quality books: we must somehow locate and reach that specialized audience as quickly and efficiently as we can. We need to find those 10,000 or so readers, let them know our books exist, and get the books into the stores where those people can find them. The central problem, which Howard alluded to, is that the American bookselling system is designed to promote and market hundreds of thousands of copies of a relatively small number of books - that season's best sellers and a handful of others. The industry does this very well, and it would be unfair, perhaps, to demand that it be as efficient in distributing books that will sell at most 5,000 to 10,000 copies nationwide. Yet that's the market on which the smaller, independent presses depend. Targeting the audience and efficiently reaching it is the key problem, whether one is dealing with a book of limited sales potential - 5,000 copies, say - or a book of much broader appeal.


LAPHAM: Perhaps those distribution problems explain why I constantly receive letters from people complaining that they can't find decent books in the stores.


WILLIAM P. EDWARDS: Obviously, not all bookstores can offer the same variety. The number of different books a store carries is in direct proportion to the volume that store handles. All booksellers, whether they're big chain stores like B. Dalton or independents like WordsWorth, do the best they can to tailor their assortment to both the volume of their business and the demographics of the area they serve. After all, only a fraction of the 700,000 or so books in print in this country have commercial potential anywhere, and even an enormous store can stock 80,000 titles at most. Certain books will always be hard to find, though the book business's highly developed special-order system allows a consumer to obtain almost any title within a few days.


HILLEL STAVIS: Good independent bookstores that know their market well help fill in the cracks in the distribution system; they provide selections that the big chains, with their mass-market approach, ignore. Independent bookstores, like mine in Harvard Square, complement the stores that concentrate on trash novels and "concept"books, like Linda Evans's Guide to Life or whatever. As the American public tires of the shopping malls, they'll start looking to more complete bookstores and specialty bookstores on Main Street, where they can find the backlist titles the chains can't afford to stock.


TOM PETERS: In general, the publishing industry conforms to the movement toward mass-distribution systems that we see throughout the business world. And whenever mass distribution takes over - as the B. Daltons and Waldenbooks have done - a vast industry of specialty businesses is spawned. When giant firms begin to dominate the mass market, whether they're peddling clothes or peddling books, they naturally restrict what they sell; as a result, the boutique market begins to thrive.


PHILIP M. PFEFFER: In the book industry, we address most consumers through a mass-market approach, and a far smaller number through a "high-fashion"approach. As a book wholesaler, I find that what booksellers want most is nuts-and-bolts assistance in running their stores; for them, that's generally a far more important issue than what's in a book.


LAPHAM: We all seem to be assuming a distinction between a "commercial"book and a "serious"book. Do we all agree that there is such a thing as a good book?


ELISABETH SIFTON, The cynic's stock definition of a "good book"is a book that sells. In my view, a better definition would be a book that's read. After spending several days at this enormously confusing, crowded, sensory-overloaded event that we call the ABA convention, I am reminded once again that even at the heart of the commercial activity of bookselling there is still a very private and personal act-reading. The publishing and bookselling business constitutes a continuum between author and reader, a continuum fashioned from dozens of random, private experiences of reading - from the first reading an editor gives a submitted manuscript to the inspection a bookseller gives his reading copy to the enjoyment a reader gains from his new purchase. Our rather impossible job is to coordinate all these individual readings into some kind of logical pattern so that the right book gets to the right reader.

I don't know that we perform this task with maximum efficiency; I'm certainly not convinced that all the good books I edit and publish get into the hands of the good readers I know are out there. It's so damned difficult to shape a coherent pattern from all those individual decisions that make up the complicated business of editing, publishing, and selling books. And there is also the geographical and cultural diversity of this country to contend With. Most important, we live in dark and embattled times, and the book, my friends, is in trouble - there is no question about it. Quite simply, almost nothing in our culture encourages the private moment of reading. I am very skeptical that we are publishing and selling books as well as we might at this critical time.


PHYLLIS GRANN: I'd certainly concede that many books that would have been published in hardcover five years ago don't stand a chance today. However, I don't think that serious, "good"books are falling by the wayside. The books that probably never belonged in hard-cover to begin with are no longer given a hard-cover life as a matter of course. If they are published at all, it is as mass-market paperback originals. I call these "fake commercial"or "made-up"books, products conceived, written, and packaged to imitate some other successful commercial book.

Years ago, before the advent of the paperback original, I might have sold the paperback rights to such a book for half a million dollars. Today I find this kind of book very hard to sell. There's no rights sale at all, and bookstores don't even want the book when we take it around to them.


LAPHAM: Can you give an example of a "fake commercial"book?


GRANN: No, not here. Not today.


LAPHAM: Ah, I see we're wary of specifics. In my untutored view, Geraldine Ferraro's campaign memoirs will be a "fake commercial"book. She won't write it, and it certainly won't be an accurate account of her finances or her politics. For this they say she was paid $1 million.


GRANN: Actually, I was talking more about commercial fiction.

 
LAPHAM: I'm not sure in what category I would place the Ferraro book. I find that my "literary"conversations with authors in New York, admittedly a disgruntled and untrustworthy crowd, turn largely on the merchandising of their books. Very seldom do authors discuss the structure or meaning of their work; they talk instead of the failures of distribution, and it comforts them to accuse their editors and publishers of dark betrayals.


KAMINSKY: Sure, you can find plenty of disgruntled authors at Elaine's any night of the week. If his book doesn't sell, whom can an author blame? His publisher, of course. But we work hard to sell our books. Last year Random House, including all its imprints, published about 500 titles. Obviously, these books varied greatly in their printings and in the size of their advertising and promotional budgets. For example, Random House is deeply committed to poetry; under our imprint we bring out four books of poetry a year. These books have very small printings because the audience for poetry is very small. We expect to sell between 1,000 and 2,500 copies of the cloth edition and perhaps twice that number of the paperback. On the other hand, A Passion for Excellence had a first printing of 250,000. Now, did Random House put more money behind that book than it did behind its volumes of poetry? Of course we did.  We' made a commitment to booksellers to promote it so that those piles of books they ordered would move out of their stores.


PETERS: Those figures clearly show that a small publisher like North Point has to occupy a very special place to survive. The same is true for the independent bookseller. God help the independent who tries to offer deeper discounts than the big chains. The independent bookseller thrives to the extent that he can create a special place to visit in the community, a place where people can associate themselves with books. The B. Daltons will never be able to match that. The successful independent store never gives a penny's discount on anything; it thrives because of its gentleness and decency to customers.


LAPHAM: That raises the question: Exactly what is a bookstore? I gather Mr. Peters thinks it should be a comfortable place that serves tea and deals in candles and gentle conversation. Mr. Stavis, are independent bookstores a haven against the cruel commercial world of the big chains?


STAVIS: The good independent stores do provide something different - the last great, free entertainment. You can't walk into a movie theater or a concert hall without paying. A good bookstore provides a very personal experience. It's true that the biggest trend in publishing is toward the production of non-books. The chains make their sales numbers on books like Hulkomania or the dozens of aerobic workout books conceived in ad agency offices with an author's name on the cover simply as an afterthought.

These are really more publicity events than books, designed to draw customers into the big chain stores. But once the customers are there, there is a chance they might wander past the 7,000 copies of some trash novel and stumble upon Virginia Woolf or Joseph Conrad.


LAPHAM: Will anyone else on the panel admit that there is such a thing as a trash novel?


KAMINSKY: Of course there are trash novels. But why name their creators? After all, we might be publishing them one day.


EDWARDS: I have problems with the phrase "trash novel,"not because I admire what's between the covers of such a book but because I think the term is demeaning to the person who reads it. The line between reading for entertainment - whether it's the latest John Updike, the latest Jackie Collins, or this month's Harlequin Romance - and watching a movie on videotape can be difficult to draw. They are both forms of entertainment. And those so-called trash novels pay the rent and provide the capital that allows us to carry other titles. I hate to belittle the customer who chooses to buy these books. Each bookseller must try to analyze what his or her customers want.


SHOEMAKER: That's true, but I'm concerned that the bad tends to drive out the good. I wonder if enough space is given to the more serious book. Perhaps we are submitting to the tyranny of a mass audience, which requires huge sales and puts the book that has a smaller audience in jeopardy. Do publishers and booksellers really use the profits from trash fiction to publish and stock serious literary books? The evidence suggests the contrary. North Point Press does a large mail-order business because people living all over the country claim they can't find our books - in chains or independents.


EDWARDS: If you look at a store in, say, Missoula, Montana, that's doing $275,000 worth of business a year-selling about 40,000 to 50,000 books - its ability to provide a broad assortment of titles is severely limited by its sales. One must go by the odds, and obviously the odds are better that a mass-market book heavily promoted by the publisher will sell. Publishers are forced to put their advertising dollars behind titles that are expected to move in large quantities. The average advertising budget for a book expected to sell about 5,000 copies is $5,000. This buys an ad in the New York Times Book Review, and that's about it. Books are sold nationwide, but it's impossible to promote them on a national basis because of the dollars involved - unless they're mega-books. That's just economics.


SIFTON: I'm listening to these comments with mounting despair, since they clearly contradict the assurances made earlier that all is well in the book business. If it's so hard to promote and advertise books that are not mega-books, the odds against our successfully selling challenging new books are very, very great. When I contemplate the audience for the sort of books I edit - good novels, history, biographies, other serious nonfiction - I know there are many more people out there in America who could read them than will. But I don't know how to reach these readers. There will never be enough advertising money to tell people about these books, and booksellers are understandably hesitant to stock books that readers have never heard of.

The issue here is not only one of art versus commerce. I am also concerned by the decline of political literacy in this country. It is essential that publishers and booksellers address themselves not only to threats against fine literature but also to threats against books that nourish and deepen our understanding of American history and political life. We are not doing well enough in many of these areas. Good books are selling in roughly the same numbers today as they did fifty years ago, yet the population is much larger. And literacy, as Jonathan
Kozol has so compellingly told us in Illiterate America, is steadily declining.

Perhaps there really is a sort of "trickledown"effect whereby people come into the chain stores to purchase, if not trash, then at least indifferent fiction, and walk out with a better book. But I don't see it reflected in the sales figures. I have a theory about how to calculate the first printing of a difficult first novel or a difficult work of nonfiction: multiply the number of the author's and the publisher's personal friends by 100. When I talk to my colleagues in Sweden, Brazil, England, or wherever, we find we are all working with about the same figures. This sort of book will sell 2,000 to 5,000, that sort will sell 7,500 to 12,500, and so on. Yet the United States is a nation of 238 million people. If Americans read as much as the Danes, our sales figures would be in the millions. We would even be embarrassed by our supposedly huge sales of Sidney Sheldon or Danielle Steel novels, because they, too, are proportionately low.


PFEFFER: The decline in literacy in the United States is a problem, but our biggest problem is that we haven't found a way to let consumers know what's available. The industry is producer- or supplier-driven, not market- or demand-driven. Publishing and bookselling form an incestuous community which in effect tries to tell the consumer what to buy instead of asking
what he wants.

We must focus more on the real demands and desires of the consumer, since he's going to make the ultimate consumption decision. In the final analysis, a good book is what's good in the eye of the consumer. The pressure to meet his demands is growing. For a long time books competed for the consumer's discretionary income. Today they also compete for his discretionary time. Clearly we must devise ways to improve the book's competitive position vis-a-vis that time. In particular, we desperately need to know what readers' interests are. Our sales strategy today is to throw a bunch of books against the wall and see which ones stick. But as Bill Edwards pointed out, many stores can afford to throw only a few copies of a limited number of titles against the wall.


LAPHAM: But doesn't such a view ignore the educational responsibilities of the publisher and the bookseller? After all, in many communities bookstores serve as improvised academies, and are often more useful than universities and colleges. Is it enough simply to give people what they want?


PFEFFER: Well, look at our colleges and universities. They're falling all over themselves to give students what they want, because they're competing for a declining number of students. Colleges and universities are businesses, and they're learning how to go out and aggressively market themselves.

As I see it, bookstores will continue to be centers of information, education, and entertainment. Their numbers will continue to grow, but a smaller percentage of their revenue will come from selling books. They will increasingly depend on sales of additional media - video, audio, software, and so on. These products are not going to replace books, but bookstores will be stocking fewer and fewer tirles - a sad development, but one necessitated by economics. Special orders will become more important, and the challenge for the bookseller of the future will be to figure out how best to tell the consumer what is available: here's a data base of 1.2 million titles that you can obtain through my store, and here's the information that will help you decide what to buy. Microcomputers and laser discs will be extremely important tools in making information available to the consumer quickly. These tools, along with our computerized distribution system, will get a book into a consumer's hands two or three days after he's expressed an interest in it.


LAPHAM: The only concern of the bookselling and publishing industry, then, will be to give people what they want as quickly as possible, no matter what its value as art or education. At bottom, the book business seems to be devoted to entertainment, not education.


GRANN: I'm in the entertainment business, no doubt about it. I don't feel it's my job to educate the consumer; my job is to give him the very best of the sort of books he enjoys. And that's equally true of literary and commercial fiction. I'm my own best customer. I think certain of these writers are the very best of their kind. The public has a voice, and its voice is heard by this industry. We may not like that voice; we might prefer that the public had different tastes. But my job is to responsibly entertain the public. Isn't it better to entertain people with commercial books than to let them sit mindlessly in their homes watching various screens? Anyway, the real fight against illiteracy involves getting people to read something. My daughter started reading commercial fiction, and then she moved up to a better grade of fiction. If people
learn to read from Harlequin Romances or westerns, at least they've learned to read, and that's
a contribution to education.

At Putnam's we take the profits from our "commercial"fiction and put them back into some very good books. We have a couple of editors who each do four or so first novels a year. We look at those eight books and say, "Gee, maybe we'll really get behind one of them."We can get a certain quantity of this book - which has no commercial guarantee that it will sell - on the market by putting enough money behind it so that both the independents and the chains will stock, say, 20,000 copies. If our choice is right and the book sells, we are educating the public.


LAPHAM: What happens to the other seven you don't "get behind"?


GRANN: Look, at Putnam's we just can't take five literary first novels around and convince the chains and the independents to do more than minimally represent them. But if we single out one book because we think it stands a chance of being recognized as excellent, we might get 20,000 copies into the stores, What happens to the other seven? They will sell the 5,000 to 7,000 copies we can get distributed.


KAMINSKY: I think we're kidding ourselves if we say that commercial tirles finance a lot of the serious and important books that we do. At Random House we're committed to publishing that which should be published. In my view, the problem with our industry is that there is an enormous gulf between the sales figures of the books at the top of the best-seller list and the sales figures of those at the bottom, not to mention the books that aren't even on the list. It is not unusual to have a book on the top of the list that has sold half a million copies or more, and a book at the bottom that has sold less than 50,000'. Our challenge is not just to edit valuable books - I think publishers do a good job of that - but somehow to get them out to the many booksellers who are unreceptive to them.

Recenrly, a man who runs a big chain told me with undisguised pride that 30 percent of the stock in his stores is now non-books: audio cassettes, videotapes, posters, T-shirts, whatever.
All of these things are valuable, of course. But we're in the book business. It's supposed to be our responsibility to get books out to people.


EDWARDS: I disagree, Howard. Thirty years ago, we could have had the same discussion about whether a paperback was really a book. Today there are new customers out there - the baby boomers, who fueled the dramatic growth of the bookstore chains and the large trade publishing houses. These younger customers have different views about format. They grew up with paperbacks; they give them as gifts. It's inevitable that during the next ten years bookstores will extend their franchise. Sure, we sell information and education; but the vast majority of books are bought as entertainment. Virtually the whole mass-market industry is devoted to entertainment. We are going to see bookstores moving heavily into audio cassettes - in effect, books one can "read"while riding a bike or driving a car - and into videotapes as well, exercise "books,""cookbooks,"whatever. It's already happening. After all, in buying a book, people are making an entertainment choice, and if we ignore that and stubbornly deny that these other forms belong in bookstores, we're going to drive away the younger customers. Diversity in format is important, and these products belong in bookstores.


SHOEMAKER, But let's not call these things books. A paperback is certainly a book, but audio cassettes, videotapes, posters, and T-shirts are not. Booksellers all over the country tell me that square footage is critical, that they are desperate for more space. Yet bookstores are becoming dumping grounds for all these other products, and books are being driven out.


EDWARDS, If we ignore the customer who says, "This is where I want to buy this type of information, entertainment, or education,"we'll drive him out. In so doing, we'll lose sales of books as well. It profoundly troubles me and many of my colleagues that, unlike the movie business, where two thirds of the audience is twenty-nine and younger, books do not have a young readership. Part of the problem is undoubtedly the fault of the schools, but we as an industry don't seem to know what to do about it. Perhaps we can begin by selling these younger customers the entertainment they want. After all, the line between a Harlequin Romance and a movie on videotape is a very fine one. I agree that a video is not a book, but it's not a T-shirt either.


LAPHAM, In effect, you're saying that since fewer and fewer Americans can read, we'll simply sell them something besides books. This depresses me, especially when I hear everyone talking about consumers instead of readers. The word "consumer"I associate with a stomach.


SIFTON: I consider myself both a consumer and a reader. I'm a passionate moviegoer, I adore the notion of audio cassettes and videocassettes, and I also love to spend my time in lots of other consumer-oriented ways. Certainly a store might sell very different kinds of entertainment, but the bookseller must decide whether to commit his dollars and his space to books or to other products. I'm sure there are millions of Americans who want to read and watch videos, and therefore prefer a store where they can buy both tapes and books. But we are in the business of bookselling. We're talking about reading.


STAVIS, I also don't agree that our business is to give the public what it wants. After all, bookstores should not serve merely as an afterword to whatever is happening in the general society; they are, or should be, an active and a positive force. Independently owned stores should resurrect the backlist titles not carried by the chains and support new titles from small presses. Although chains like B. Dalton do offer a wide selection, the general trend is toward blockbusters; and as the chains capture an increasing share of the market, their ever-narrowing selection will come to dictate what publishers publish.

But in the long term, this narrowing selection will produce a non-reading public, which will be detrimental to both chains and independents. One solution might be referrals: just as WordsWorth refers customers to other specialty shops in Harvard Square, so should the chains support - yes, support - the independent that carries titles not carried by them.


LAPHAM: If the publishing industry shouldn't just give people what they want, how should it decide what to bring out? Assuming there are many eager people out there who long to write and publish books, how do you decide?


SIFTON: Arbitrarily. That's what I meant when I said that books are a result of lots of individual reading experiences and choices made all along the line. Publishing houses differ from one another because the personalities, temperaments, and intellectual interests of their editors differ. Their individual choices are reflected in a host of other choices made along the vast, complicated, and extremely disorganized system that constitutes American publishing. I certainly agree that publishers must assume leadership, but interest in a book can't always be generated from the top, with a big ad budget and a complicated marketing strategy. Every publisher has had the experience of a word-of-mouth best seller. The snowballing success of a book that seems unlikely to be popular comes from many little decisions in its favor.

On the other hand, I'm not at all convinced that readers know what they "want."They come into the store asking for help. Publishers and booksellers must encourage people, guide them, lead them, suggest, make mistakes, take risks. That's what I do as an editor - I make choices, individually and arbitrarily.


KAMINSKY: That's why I define a "marginal"book as one that we won't publish. Many books are competently written and show some skill. But I've read these books many, many times before, and they elicit no interest. We're in a business of passion. Unless a book elicits passion in the publishing house, it's not going to sell. We have to be enthusiastic about a book. Publishing is a lousy business and a wonderful profession. We'll know when we lose our passions that we're ready to enter another business.
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© 2019 Mark Danner