Depending on your perspective, it’s been a difficult few weeks for publishing. Or it’s been a golden one. Certainly author tricks, hijinks and missteps have been everywhere, along with scandals and cups of urine. (Wait. What? Never mind. Keep reading.)
Front and center, of course, has been the story around editor-turned-bestselling-author A.J. Flynn/Dan Mallory whose 2018 debut Woman in the Window sold a lot of books and has been nominated for a lot of awards. The story has been deeply covered just about everywhere else, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say he’s been compared (a lot!) to the Patricia Highsmith character Tom Ripley. (Who was a super charming but not in the end very nice guy.) Vulture boils it down tightly:
The nectar of the story wasn’t merely that Mallory allegedly lied about his mother and father being dead (sometimes one, sometimes both, as you do), his brother committing suicide, his own cancer scare and subsequent spinal surgeries, his two Ph.D.s, his role working on Tina Fey’s book, cups of urine left around a former boss’s office, and even whether he was currently dog-sitting. It was also about the fact that Sophie Hannah, another insanely popular writer of thrillers and Mallory’s former editing charge, probably used his long con as a plot point in one of her novels, which she showed to Mallory and which he called “amazing.” Two thriller writers, various publishers woefully mistaken about “the cut of his jib,” and at least a half dozen cups of urine later, you’d think William Morrow, Mallory’s publisher and former employer, would have dropped him. But nope: The paperback is still coming out in March and Mallory’s second novel is on its way. If this is performance art, as some have hoped, it’s the first time I’ve ever loved it and wanted more. Next time, Dan, we want interpretive dancers.
Next (and you can get another amusing and abridged view in the same piece by Hillary Kelly at Vulture) former managing editor and executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth starts out as a piercing look at the news industry, but ends up being very much a cautionary tale in action about some of the less savory parts of modern newsgathering. The book is short on facts and maybe Abramson was a bit fast and loose with where she got some of her material. With Abramson’s background and talent, the book could have been wonderful. Instead, it ends up being a book form example about all that is wrong with the news industry.
Alluded to in Kelly’s Vulture piece, but not really mentioned, is yet another very recent publishing scandal. That’s the story of Blood Heir, YA author Amélie Wen Zhao’s debut novel, pulled at her request just prior to publication when readers of promotional copies started trashing the author for her depictions of slavery. From The Guardian:
Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel, Blood Heir, was sold to publishers for a high six-figure sum last January. A fantastical retelling of the Anastasia story involving “a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder”, it was scheduled to be published in June.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Zhao said that negative feedback from the young adult community had led to her asking her publisher, Delacorte Press, not to release the book “at this time”.
Following positive early reviews, a groundswell of criticism of Blood Heir began last month, with reviews posted on Goodreads and Twitter calling out what one reader described as “the anti-blackness and blatant bigotry in this book”, particularly its depiction of slavery and the death of a particular black character.
The full piece is here.
Then, of course there’s all the business about Bezos and dick picks and the National Enquirer stuck between a pecker and a hard place. (Sorry. It was right there.) But, despite the Amazon connection, that’s pretty much a different branch of publishing. And, anyway, enough ink (electronic and otherwise) has been spilled on that story already. (Though I will provide a fast link to Bezos’ piece in Medium piece because… well, just because. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth the ride over.)
There is an upside to all of this downbeat news: at a time when people wonder if anyone is reading anymore, it’s pretty clear not only are they reading, they’re doing it with the kind of voraciousness that creates heroes out of mortals.
Is that good or bad? In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. If it results in more consciousnesses being directed at the page, I say: bring the scandals. When the dust clears, you’ll find me here, under my favorite tree, book in hand, while I read. ◊