Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review of Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses

Two Novels Let You Peek into the World Of Book Publishing


Have you ever wondered how the authors of best selling books get to the top? I just discovered two authors new to me whose novels provide a peek into the offices of publishers and their agents, as well as insight into book marketing and the publishing industry. I will review these novels here.  


Spider Web with Scott Quote, photo from Pixabay


Marsha Grimes offers a humorous look at the competition between publishers, editors, and agents for popular authors . Just to make it interesting, a few hired killers with scruples are added to the mix.

 Writer Steve Martini's thriller, The List, shows another aspect of the publishing industry that focuses on the marketing of an author persona. In this book, an author's idea for promoting her new book involves a bit of deception that almost gets her killed in the end.


Martha Grimes Novels about Publishing


Buy Foul Matter at Amazon
The two books I read by Martha Grimes are Foul Matter, my favorite, and The Way of All Fish, which bored me. Many of the same characters populate both books. We meet the first of those characters, Paul Giverney, in Foul Matter. He is trying to choose a new publisher who will meet his conditions – a publisher who would do whatever it takes to get whatever he wants. He decides that Bobby Mackenzie of Mackenzie-Haack is his man. 

Mackenzie wants Paul badly because Paul writes best-selling books that would carry the costs of marketing them and make money for Bobby, but Paul will only come on board if he can have Tom Kidd, who doesn't like to edit the kind of commercial fiction Paul writes, as his editor. Tom Kidd only likes to edit literary fiction, especially that of Ned Isaly.

Paul is now a free agent and the big publishers are competing to sign him. Mackenzie wants Paul's book, but Paul has one condition that is blocking the deal. Paul insists Mackenzie drop Isaly. Paul wants Kidd to edit his books, but almost everyone knows that if Ned Isaly is dropped, Kidd will also go and he would take Mackenzie's best literary authors with him, including Isaly, who has won a lot of awards for his fiction. Besides that, Isaly is still under contract for one more book. Breaking the contract isn't legal. Paul insists the legal team could find a way if they really wanted to. 

Clive Esterhaus is second in command to Mackenzie, and handles acquisitions along with some editing. His job is to get Paul Giverney under contract. He just doesn't see how he can get rid of Isaly without breaking the contract and also losing Kidd and his literary authors. 

Mackenzie puts a book written by Danny Zito, an ex-mob contract killer who is now in the Witness Protection Program, on Clive's desk, and hints that maybe Danny would like to write another book. Clive knows the real hint is that Danny still knows people who might be able to solve their Isaly problem for them. Danny refers Clive to hit men Candy and Karl, and Clive contacts them. Bobby Mackenzie hires them to get rid of Isaly.

Candy and Karl are unlike any hit men you've ever seen and have their own conditions. They don't want to “do” anyone they don't think deserves it. They take the advance money and study the potential “project” for a couple of weeks until they decide whether they want to take the job. If they decide they don't, they return the advance. Candy and Karl ask Bobby and Clive why they want Isaly eliminated and they can't believe the answer  they get. Karl would actually like to write a book himself, and is fascinated by what he's learning about book publishers. 

As the book progresses, we often see Ned and his friends Saul, Jamie, and Sally, at Swill's bar, where many literary folks hang out. The friends also run into each other in the park, another place they frequent.  Saul, like Ned, is a literary author. Sally is a wannabe writer who is an assistant to Tom Kidd. Jamie is a romance writer. Saul sometimes takes them for dinner at the Old Hotel, which is known for including and excluding dinner guests, and even some who only want a drink at its lobby bar. No one knows what criteria determines who gets in and who doesn't. Clive is one of the anointed but neither Bobby nor Paul can get in on their own. No matter where they get together, Saul, Ned, Sally, and Jamie often discuss their books and the writing process. There's a lot of shop talk.  


Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Ned is at the very end of the process of completing a book.  He's been struggling over what to do with his character Nathalie in the final scene. He has left her in a park after her lover has ended their affair, and he keeps "hearing" her entreaties not to leave her there like that. On one such occasion his thoughts are distracted by his realization that he can't remember what Pittsburgh, the town he grow up in, looks like. This bothers him, and he decides its time to visit his hometown. He thinks that might help him figure out how to end his book. He tells everyone he's going to Pittsburgh. 

Naturally, Candy and Karl follow him so they can observe him and decide whether to take him on as a project. Sally, who had overheard part of a meeting between Bobby and Clive discussing how to end Ned's contract, senses something is up that's not good. She has mentioned this to Saul. Each of  them separately decides to go to Pittsburgh when Ned does without telling Ned or each other. In the meantime, Clive is afraid Candy and Karl might really kill Ned and he might get blamed. So he hires someone to follow Ned and protect him. Her name is Blaze. Clive decides to go to Pittsburgh himself, as well, just to keep and eye on things.   

Paul, although he stays home, is worried at what his demands may have set in motion. He has nothing personal against Ned, so he hires Arthur Mordred to protect Ned. Ned himself is oblivious to all of this. He only vaguely senses someone may be following him.  He does wonder why Candy and Karl seem to be turning up everywhere he goes. 


Arthur Mordred, Candy and Karl know each other and wonder why they are seeing each other on the same turf. It seems like the whole gang is in Pittsburgh, though Saul and Sally don't let Ned or each other know they are there at first. The Pittsburgh chapters are fun for the reader, with Ned mostly just looking around while all the others follow him as inconspicuously as possible, often in disguise. The last day the disguises come off and everyone acknowledges everyone else, but not why they are there. Then everyone goes home and they all manage to get back to New York safely, including Ned Isaly, so the problem of what to do with him remains.  You will have to read the book to see how the situation is resolved, and only at the end is it revealed why Paul wanted Mackenzie to break Isaly's contract. 

The best parts of the book are the conversations between Candy and Karl as they “research the project” and interact with everyone. They provide a lot of comic relief. It was, in fact, this humor and the spoof on the publishing industry that made the book interesting. The characters were not very well-developed, but the dialogue was great. The whole scene (several chapters) in Pittsburgh is hilarious. Some readers may find Ned's mental interactions with Nathalie a bit tedious. though. 

A reader might pick up the idea that in spite of having written the popular Richard Jury novels, which I've not yet read, Grimes is not especially fond of how the publishing industry operates and that would also apply to the way books are marketed and get to the best seller lists. Steve Martini picks up some of these same themes in his legal thriller, The List.

Review of The List by Steve Martini


The title refers to the  New York Times Bestseller List that every author wants their book to be on. I'm classifying this as a legal thriller because two of the main characters are lawyers. The book is much different in tone and style than Martha Grimes Foul Matter. In the Grimes books, there were plenty of opportunities to laugh and the fun was in seeing the characters interact and learning what they really thought of each other. In The List, you will find yourself holding your breath and unable to put the book down. It is full of action and suspense. 

Book Review of The List
Buy The List at Amazon
 The List begins with a Prologue in which Abby Chandlis is running for her life on an old docked ship. She is trying to reach Morgan Spencer, her lawyer, whom she is sure is aboard. She is fleeing two men on the dock, whom you will meet later in the book. Then the book moves to Chapter One and we discover Abby is a lawyer who works with Morgan Spencer. It's obvious the two are very good friends, but not lovers. Abby wants to keep it that way. Morgan doesn't.

Abby has written a book, but since she has written previous books, which although published never got very far, she is reluctant to publish her new book under her own name. She has chosen the pen name of Gable Cooper. She is afraid that if she submits the book under her own name she will get less for it because she's a woman and it wouldn't be marketed well because her other books weren't best sellers. She knows her new book is blockbuster material.

We next meet Carla Owens, who is looking for Gable Cooper. Carla is a powerful literary agent, and she tells Abby that she must get hold of Cooper because a major publisher wants the book and expects it to be very successful. Abby says Cooper is in South America researching another book and cannot be reached. The truth is that Abby hasn't found anyone to play the part of Cooper for the book jacket, interviews, and book signings. She promises to try to find Cooper. She is his legal representative in the negotiations. 

The scene then shifts to Jack Jermaine, a frustrated writer who is currently at home in Coffin Point, South Carolina, using his rejection slips for target practice. He is handsome, rugged, and very good at shooting.

Meanwhile, back at Abby's office, she explains her problem to Morgan, to whom she tells everything. He's upset because they have a new boss, Cutler, whom he doesn't like. It appears Cutler wants to downsize, and that means both Abby and Morgan could lose their jobs. Abby asks Morgan to file a copyright for her on the new book so she can prove, if there's ever a problem with the person she gets to lay the part of Cooper, that she herself wrote the book. The only other person who knows about her authorship is is her best friend Theresa, who is divorced because her husband Joey has abused and almost killed her. Abby had acted as Theresa's divorce lawyer, and Theresa is currently living with Abby.

Morgan, as Abby's lawyer, wants all the details of how Abby intends to pull off letting someone play her part without the publisher and agent finding out who really wrote the book. They discuss all the details of how Gable Cooper will sign papers and contracts that deposit Cooper's advances, signed over to Abby, in Abby's account. Then she will pay Cooper his share. Morgan wants to be sure only he, Abby, Theresa, and whomever turns out to be Cooper, are the only ones who know Abby really wrote the book. Because he doesn't trust Cutler, he tells Abby he will keep all the documents safely at his home.

Abby, realizing she has to come up with a Gable Cooper soon, goes with Thersa to L.A. to hire someone to play the part. She settles on the handsome Jess Jermaine. Theresa is staying with friends. Abby stays in L.A. to continue briefing Jess on his part. After that her plan is to fly to New York, meet Carla alone, and then after the two of them have worked out the details, they would meet Jess at the airport together.

Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Joey has broken into Abby's home and torn it up, waiting for Theresa to appear so he can abuse or kill her. While he's there, the people trying to get the movie rights to the book appear looking for Cooper. Joey answers the door, plays along, pretends he is Cooper, and agrees to sell them the rights for only $25,000.

Abby gets into New York at 2 AM and after only a few hours sleep prepares to go meet Carla. Under her hotel door she finds a handwritten note from Jess saying he can't be Cooper after all, but not to worry, he's made arrangements. She imagines her entire book deal flying away and is furious, but when she calls Carla's office about the change in plans for picking up Cooper, Carla very happily tells her that she has been chatting in her office with Cooper and he's wonderful. Jess had arranged for his brother Jack, older and just as handsome, whom we met earlier in Coffin Point shooting up rejection slips, to substitute for him. Abby is extremely angry that Jack got to Carla before she did, but she's in a bind and finally has to accept the situation in order not to blow her own deal.

Since this is a review, not a synopsis, I won't tell you about all the dead bodies, romance, and double-crossing that follow or even introduce all the players in this drama. The plot is too intricate for me to do that here. I did not pay careful enough attention to all the details on my first reading, and so I was more surprised than I should have been at the end. What I could not do is put this book down. As I'm rereading parts of the book today, I find myself laughing at some parts I'd forgotten about. There is touch of humor because of who the people are and how they interact, even though the mood of most of the book is tense.

Novels that Take You Behind the Scenes in Book Publishing Houses


My Recommendations 


I would recommend either Foul Matter or The List to writers or anyone else interested in the publishing industry. Foul Matter is a light book with a lot of comic relief. Most of the action is intellectual, and most battles take place with words. The “goons,” Karl and Candy, have their own version of justice. They tend to find an appropriate punishment to fit whatever is crime in their eyes. 

Although The List has a bit of humor, it has much more violence and suspense than Grimes' books. It, too, has some vigilante justice, but it's more violent than in that in Foul Matter.  You will find language and behavior in both books you would not want your grandchildren to imitate, but nothing worse than they would see in a PG-17 rated movie or much of today's television, or overhear in conversations. The F-word is used often by some characters because it fits their personas. There aren't any sex scenes in Foul Matter that I can remember, but The List has a few that would be rated R if they were in a movie. Forewarned is forearmed. I didn't see anything that seemed inappropriate in its context, and I enjoyed both books, different as they were from each other.

Which of these books do you think you'd want to read first?



Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

6 comments:

  1. Such mystery and intrigue! It never even occurred to me that people would murder, or consider murdering, an author just to displace them. And the other book seems equally unique with the man who is an impostor. My first thought was, what jerks! lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is, of course, fiction. In Fowl Matter, Paul didn't want anything to happen to Ned. He knew Ned could easily find another publisher anywhere. It was the publisher who was greedy and wicked, and he got what he deserved in the end without being physically harmed. For sure there were jerks in both books, but most books do have villains.

      Delete
  2. Pinning this to my board for books for my mom, I think she would enjoy these, very interesting

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thoroughly enjoyed these, so I hope your mom will, too.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for the interesting book reviews, Barbara. Nice to have new books to add to my To Read list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like adding books to my reading list, too. Unfortunately, it's easier to add them to the list than to find time to read them.

      Delete