This week! Books!
A big domino in book publishing fell this month as private equity behemoth KKR has acquired Simon & Schuster for $1.62 billion, rather less than the $2.175 billion Penguin Random House agreed to before that deal was quashed by a federal judge, though the blow to Paramount was softened by the $200 million PRH had to pay S&S when the deal failed to close.
This is… possibly good news for Simon & Schuster and the publishing industry writ large? It emerged during discovery for the Penguin Random House trial that S&S CEO Jonathan Karp had emailed a Paramount executive in 2020 that a financial buyer “would be better for the employees of S&S and arguably the larger book publishing ecosystem,” and sure enough, in an email to Publishers Lunch, Karp said “It was the outcome I’d hoped for.”
You can see why there’s some hope. Karp is keeping his job, S&S’s imprints remain free to compete with the other members of the Big 5 publishers (thus maintaining options for agents/authors as well as avoiding antitrust scrutiny), and S&S will likely avoid the waves of redundancy layoffs you’d expect with a merger with, say, HarperCollins. KKR is also supporting the creation of an equity program that would give employees a stake in the company.
However. S&S was already known as a lean operation and KKR is known for slashing and burning costs, so where exactly will additional efficiencies come from?
My personal worry has been that one or more of the major publishers would be acquired by a private equity company who would simply mine the backlist, which is the real cash cow in book publishing, and lay off (nearly) all the editors and support staff and essentially close up shop for new frontlist acquisitions, perhaps excepting a tiny handful of established bestsellers (like say Stephen King and Colleen Hoover). Karp, longtime readers may remember, made a name for himself with a lean imprint devoted to publishing one book a month on the grounds that publishers can only really focus on so many books at a time.
Please note that there are no indications that this is S&S’s plan, and I hope this remains mere nightmare fuel that does not come to pass.
Meanwhile! The artificial intelligence mavens promised us the apocalypse, but instead we’re getting a bunch of pirated books and dumb writing startups.
First, on the Industry expert Jane Friedman noticed quite several AI-gibberish faked books that appeared to be trafficking on her name (which also happens to be the name of a former HarperCollins CEO who is a separate person), and went through quite an odyssey trying to get them removed from Amazon and Goodreads, which only really happened after her blog post started getting media attention. And Seth Kugel and Stephen Hiltner at the NY Times noticed an explosion of poorly written AI-generated travel books.
Meanwhile, the latest writing site to take an Icarus flight is Prosecraft, which compiled 27,000 books and ranked them on such attributes as “vividness” and “passive voice,” categories which, as Lincoln Michel points out, are pretty nonsensical for understanding good writing. Prosecraft has actually been around for a while and didn’t (currently) employ AI for its recommendations, but authors are understandably primed to worry about companies amassing and profiting off their work without permission. After an outcry, Proscraft founder Benji Smith shut it down.
And writing advice news, Bruce Handy talks about being a debut author at age 62, Donald Maass has a post with some great questions to ask yourself about character arcs, and I liked Kathryn Craft’s advice to focus on what characters are doing instead of telling us what they’re not doing.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
- Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
- Out of Nowhere by Sandra Brown
- Too Late by Colleen Hoover
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
- Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
- Outlive by Peter Attia with Bill Gifford
- The Wager by David Grann
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Young adult hardcover:
- House of Roots and Ruin by Erin A. Craig
- Solitaire by Alice Oseman
- Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
- Five Survive by Holly Jackson
- Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
Middle grade hardcover:
- The Sun and the Star by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Odder by Katherine Applegate
- The Swifts by Beth Lincoln
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
- Don’t over-explain default objects and gestures
- Don’t tack needless options onto a sentence (page critique)
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, it’s completely devastating to see a wonderful place like Lahaina, HI wiped off the map, and my heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones. If you’d like to donate, the New York Times has some suggestions.
Have a great (and safe) weekend!
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Photo: The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA