Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Two for the Money

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 24 Jul 2005

Jim wrote:

>> Why defend your business model/publication choices
>> on a literary discussion list?
> Because Jeff, who opened the ball on this subject,
> specifically suggested that it was wrong for HCC to
> publish the two Nolan novels under the HCC logo.

Actually I believe he engaged in something we could use more of here: candor. We seldom hear negative remarks about books that don't work for us on this list (at least in relation to the glowing reports about the books that do). He said it didn't work for him and his aside to Charles was politeness, as far as I was concerned. I see no reason for a publisher to use this venue to defend his business decisions from individual personal tastes.

> Regardless of Al Collins's literary talent, and apart
> from the historical interest his early work might have
> for afficianados of HB, he's a popular writer, so
> publishing work, even work that isn't on a par with
> his best stuff, makes sense from a business viewpoint.

Again, this is irrelevant.

> Charles, therefore, had a right to defend his choice,
> and did so without trashing Jeff's opinions

Why? Jeff's opinion is valid, but it's only one opinion. As is yours. As is mine. I wouldn't expect the publisher of THE DAVINCI CODE to justify his reasons for publishing that work of startling genius if I voiced reservations about it. I would expect that he had his reasons and wouldn't expect the wide world to agree with me.

>> Great, so over the EMWA list, where they discuss
>> stuff like that, it would
>> be more appropriate, no?
> That may be, but the topic came up. Charles didn't
> bring it up. Once it came up, he had a right to
> defend his editorial choice. And the popularity of
> the TWO FOR THE MONEY ominibus makes it clear that it
> was a good business decision.

Poppycock. The extent to which Jeff brought it up was to say, "Sorry Charles," because he knows Charles is on this list. I don't recall him saying anything that called for Charles to justify his publishing decisions. That's for him to do with his stockholders/board/accountants.

>> After all, we don't usually mention what gets
>> published and why it gets
>> published here, and when we talk about Pelecanos'
>> work, we don't preface our
>> comments by saying, "The million-selling DC area
>> author George P...." We
>> talk about what we liked, and what we didn't, and
>> what worked for us, and
>> what didn't. And NO ONE here is going to take
>> seriously a response to
>> someone's criticism of an author's work that says
>> something along the lines
>> of: "Well, he's sold a LOT more books than you have,
>> so shut your
>> cake-hole."
> Actually, if you search the archives, I think you'll
> find that relative popularity and other business-type
> discussions do come up, and I think it's legitimate
> that they do.

That depends entirely upon the context of the discussion. In this case, I just don't think it's relevant or appropriate here. Is Charles going to justify his acquisitions every single time that someone mentions reservations about them here? How many people are going to feel comfortable honestly critiquing something put out by Hard Case Crime with the idea in the back of their head that their comments might be taken up by the publisher in what might be construed as an attempt to minimize the "damage" that such a negative review might cause his sales?

THAT kind of occurence potentially changes the nature of this list. THAT is what most concerned me about this exchange and THAT is why I'm sticking to my guns on that point. Why not just leave this sort of commentary alone?

> Many of the people on this list are not just fans of
> HB/noir, they're practitioners. This includes, by the
> way, both of us. Rara-Avis, therefore, serves the
> function of providing a forum where professionals in
> the HB/noir sub-genre of mystery fiction can discuss
> their craft, or business aspects of their trade, and
> that's come up from time to time.

I don't recall it coming up in such starkly direct terms before, with the exception of months when guest authors are here to discuss their work, which is a different context. That's why I said something.

> I don't say it should predominate, and discussion of
> the works, rather than the business of getting them
> published, is, and should continue, the main focus of
> this list.

It starts with one post, Jim.

> But when a business decision, a successful business
> decision, of Charles is questioned, he has a right to
> defend his decision, and he did so with class and
> courtesy.

Questioned? The guy wrote that he didn't like the book, that he found the writing nearly unreadable.

I find that statement to be appropriate to this list. I don't find Charles' response about a "cast of thousands who are just off-camera, take my word for it" (hyperbole employed in the interest of illustrating my point) to be so. And I said something, and I stand by that statement. Let's just leave that sort of thing off this list and discuss the books.

>> . . . "popularity" is
>> precisely what [Charles]
>> referred to, and it's why I said something. This is
>> the Rara Avis list, not
>> the Editor and Publisher list.
> Popularity is what he referred to because his decision
> to publish the two novels was questioned in the post
> that started this thread.

His decision is a marketplace decision. Let him defend it there. It doesn't apply here.

To defend the quality would
> be to sound like he's doing precisely what you rail
> against, shilling for his own work, so he defended his
> decision in a neutral way, by pointing to the book's
> popularity, which proved the soundness of the business
> decision without necessarily questioning Jeff's
> opinions about the quality.

I believe the appropriate response would have been to say, "That's ok, Jeff. You have a right to your opinion, and thanks for voicing it," or to say nothing at all. It was a statement which required no defense on his part, period.

> To me it seemed a graceful way of dealing with the
> issue. And, despite your misgivings, I still think he
> had every right to defend that decision.

The most graceful way would have been to let the comment pass undefended.

Brian Thornton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 24 Jul 2005 EDT