Email this review


A token review of the ""big-company, big-book era of publishing,"" serialized in the New Yorker last year (and already looking a little shop-worn). Investigative reporter Whiteside (The Pendulum and the Toxic Cloud, etc.) read enough of Publishers Weekly and interviewed (just) enough book- and entertainment-industry figures to be able to touch the requisite bases: the mergers and conglomerate takeovers; author TV appearances; fierce paperback competition; chain store merchandising; agent ""orchestration""; movie tie-ins; and--the high turnover among editors, the decline in editorial standards, the threat to ""middle authors,"" the dimmer prospects for first novels. But touch base is about all that Whiteside does, with one or a very few respondents in each case, who then carry the conversational ball. Lawyer/agent Morton Janklow holds forth on what he does for his clients, and publishers don't do (""Colgate, for Christ's sake, won't think of introducing a new toothpaste without finding out things like, 'Do people like mint'""); Hollywood agent George Diskant recounts how he ""generated"" a Paul Erdman novel from an idea by a producer-friend; Aaron Asher--then of scrappily independent Farrar, Straus & Giroux--discourses on the editorial ramifications. And when Whiteside ventures a deduction of his own, he's apt to stumble--per his suggestion that first novels, though not fewer, should be keeping pace ""with works of nonfiction."" Subsequently, he passes along Simon & Schuster president Richard Snyder's defense of conglomerate ownership; gets the story of Houghton Mifflin's escape from the clutches of Western Pacific; draws out Viking ex-president Tom Guinzburg on his ouster from Viking Penguin; hears from Judith Krantz ""how much hustling was involved"" in promoting Scruples --and follows the bidding for Princess Daisy. ""The hot air of hype,"" the badness of ""big,"" is the No. 1 motif--and Nos. 2,3,4. It was not an especially notable piece of reportage to begin with, and its thinness and grinding repetitiveness are even more apparent in book-form.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1981
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press--dist. by Columbia Univ. Press