The Strange Cultural Force of the Book Deal

Anne Trubek, writing in her excellent newsletter, Notes From A Small Press, has some thoughts about how writing a book isn’t really the point for many authors. Instead, they’re all attracted to the prestige of publishing and its many trappings. And this is why they hire ghost writers and receive giant book deals, which subsequently distorts the field for so many honest folks trying to make a lovely thing. Anne writes:

I’ve been thinking recently about the role that “a book deal” plays in American culture. I’m not talking in the dreams of unpublished writers, or the optics of #publishingpaidme. I am thinking about how it has become a synecdoche for cashing in and gaining prestige for politicians, celebrities, TED talk types, instagram influencers, and suddenly viral everyday folks.

I’ve always been wary of people who chase badges and medals. You know the sort; people who desperately want to climb the ladder and who want all the benefits of the work without caring so much for the work itself. In the design industry this is clear when twenty year old kids can become Senior Product Designers with just a few years experience. Or on the speaking circuit when, in my experience, the best designers and engineers I’ve met are not the popular kids on stage. The most talented folks are those that just turn up to work, crank out beautiful things, and then go home quietly. And the more I read accounts of people like that, those chasing the prestige, the more I’m attracted to people who don’t care about any of that crap.

On this note: the other day I was listening to a podcast about how President Obama had a little plaque on his desk that read: “Hard things are hard.” The commentator then said, well, for #45 his plaque should read: “Hard things are for someone else.”

Anyway, I’ve only been following Anne’s newsletter for a little while but I already adore her notes and thoughts about the publishing industry. Also, I just preordered her book, So You Want to Publish a Book?, which I am thoroughly excited for.