Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Grey and Go Set a Watchman Show the Worst of the Publishing Industry

So, have you heard about the books I mentioned in the title?  Let's start with Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, the "sequel" to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird.  First off, this is not a real sequel; this is a first draft that was rejected by publishers in the 1950s.  Lee then on the advice of some people (since this was when they would offer writers advice) focused on the main character's childhood.  Recently this manuscript was "discovered" and is now being published.

Well it came out that a main difference with this book is that the Atticus Finch in this book is basically Bizarro World Atticus from the character in To Kill a Mockingbird better known as Gregory Peck in the movie version.  Instead of the wise, caring man who stood up against racism in Alabama in the 30s, this guy is a bitter racist asshole who helps get off other racist assholes.

Now if the $16.99 price tag for the Kindle version hadn't already been scaring me away, those reports certainly would have.  Like a lot of people I read the original book in school and loved it.  The movie too.  Atticus was a guy we could all aspire to be.  And now...not so much.  It's like taking say, Batman, and turning him into a brooding psychopath who murders people...wait, Frank Miller did that and we all lauded him for it to the point of basing a whole cinematic universe on it.  So, bad example.

You have to think, gee didn't anyone at the publisher stop to think, "Hey, this is a terrible idea to ruin an iconic character."  If someone did, I'm sure the powers that be said, "Shut up, there's money to be made here!"  Millions and millions from this phony "sequel" which let's face it is just trash the author had lying around.  Usually an author has to be dead for old manuscripts to be "discovered" but Harper Lee is still alive and apparently either too senile to care or too desperate for money to put up a fight.

Meanwhile in terrible publisher news, EL James came out with Grey, which retells her Twilight fanfic from the perspective of Edward Christian Grey instead of Bella whoever the girl was.  So no, this isn't really a new book; it's the same fucking story only told slightly different.  Because apparently the author has absolutely no other ideas.  Again, usually the author has to be dead for this to happen, ala all those Jane Austen retellings, but in this case the author is the perpetrator!  And again, does the publisher stop to think what a terrible idea it is?  Nah, because there's money to be made!

This is why the publishing industry has zero credibility anymore.  First they publishing EL James' fanfic in the first place because it was popular.  Now they're beating the dead horse by releasing the exact same story!  And hey, let's piss all over perhaps the definitive novel of the 20th Century because $$$$$.  Tell poor ol' self-publishing me again how my books aren't real books because they don't have the stamp of approval from Big Publishing, the self-appointed arbiters of literary quality.

Big Publishing has become nothing more than a bunch of pimps.  They don't care what they're selling so long as they get their cut.  Meanwhile they try to sell the rest of us on these lies that if they don't want your book it's because it's not good enough.  What Grey and Go Set a Watchman definitively prove is that it's not the quality of your writing; it's the quantity of the money they think they can make off it.  Another example is someone Offutt and I know in the blogosphere whose novel got picked up by Big Publishing after a scandal that received a lot of media attention.  I'm sure it's a great book, but do you think Big Publishing bought it because it was good or because of the attention it had received?  Think real hard about that one.

If I can belabor the point I've made again and again, it's another example of being sold crap because we buy crap.  When you, the reading public, allow yourself to be exploited with shitty first drafts or reheated books, how can you expect them to care about putting out good books?  If you want good books and good movies and good TV the only way to make it happen is to vote with your dollar.  If you bought one of those two books, return them!  If Amazon got 3 million returns of Grey I'm sure it would send Big Publishing a message, more so than trolling EL James' Reddit chat.

In the meantime, Big Publishing should be ashamed of itself for allowing these disgraceful books out the door, but then this is the same industry that thought sequels to Gone With the Wind and The Godfather and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy not written by the original authors was a good idea.  Because $$$$$$.  And who approve every celebrity children's book.  Does Caitlyn Jenner have a book out yet?  I'm sure she's a hell of a writer.  You know, because it's all about quality, not just being popular, right?  Right?


  1. I think I will still read Go Set A Watchman very soon and review it on my blog. It's just too big and too buzzy right now to ignore. I want to be part of the global conversation and be able to speak about it from a perspective of having read it. As far as "Grey" goes? I really enjoyed the movie and can't wait for the others to come out. Jamie Dornan is hot. However, I gotta ask, "Is all of your outrage warranted?" The fact that "Go Set A Watchman" is selling out in book stores nationwide and the fact that it destroys a beloved (fictional) character or that E.L. James is ringing the cash register yet again does not affect you in any way. There will always be people that make millions of dollars off of ideas you have contempt for. Look at snapchat...the C.E.O. is a frat boy barely in his twenties that's been handed billions of dollars in venture capital. He parties all the time, writes shameless tweets about all the women he gets drunk and bones, and inspired the gawker blog post "Fuck Bitches and Get Leid." It's only in fiction that life is fair. In real life, undeserving people get rewarded all the time. That's just the way life is.

    1. It's not about fairness. It's about credibility. They can't act like they're superior to you or me when they are literally publishing an author's trash.

    2. Why is it trash if it makes money? I guess I'm not understanding where you're coming from. Look, I agree with you that art and effort should get rewarded. However, I didn't make the rules and neither did you. I think the difference between us here is that I'm willing to play by the rules no matter how I hate them and just suffer in silence where as you seem to think that the rules can be changed. I just don't have the energy in me to fight the system so the system wins. That's just how it is, man.

  2. I don't like any of this either. It seems like Harper Lee is being exploited. She's very old now and in a nursing home..probably senile. I understand people having to get paid, and I get what Mike's saying, but to do this to a classic is low. If only people would wise up. The price is also crazy.

  3. While you make a good point that the publishing business focuses more on the business sometimes what Cindy said hits me. The woman wrote a wonderful book and when she's too old to really understand what's happening their selling a first draft to a classic novel. It feels exploitative. Not that it's not a good book. I don't know. But the whole thing makes me uncomfortable.

  4. A little late coming to this post, but yes, I plan to avoid Go Set a Watchman because I think Ms. Lee is being exploited and Grey because I don't enjoy that type of book anyway. I'm not sure which blogger you're referring to, but I personally wouldn't go with a BPH at this point in my career. I enjoy having control over my books.



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