Saturday, December 19, 2015

Read All About Book Publishing Scandals

An article in the newspaper a few months ago presented an outrageous claim by a troubled former Major League Baseball player, Lenny Dykstra.  He said that he used to blackmail umpires into giving him favorable calls.  To be clear, Dykstra has said a lot of wild things – and done them too. He’s served time in prison and seen his life fall apart.  When he played he was hard-nosed, exciting, and very animated. He was on the 1986 World Champion New York Mets and lived up to his nickname, Nails.  Since the time this story was published I have not seen any follow-ups by the news media that either confirmed or denied the veracity of this heavy allegation.  But it left me feeling two things: First, it could be true.  Second, it could be happening in the book publishing world.

I‘m sure there are scandals galore that have not been revealed to the public as it relates to blackmailed book reviewers, sexually manipulated acquisitions editors, or even bribed book chain buyers.  Why should any of this be beyond the reach of these people?  They’re humans and humans are flawed in all kinds of ways.  No one is perfect and the ethics of anyone in power can be strained.

Now, I have no actual knowledge that any writer ever slept his or her way into getting published.  Nor do I have any proof that a buyer from Barnes & Noble took a large order for a book because he or she was personally paid off.  Nor can I say with any proof that a book reviewer at Publishers Weekly or a book editor at The New York Times was ever blackmailed by a publisher, literary agent or author to select a book for favorable media coverage. But such stuff could happen – and likely did.

Why would the book publishing industry be any different than:

·         Cheating politicians
·         Blackmailed CEOs
·         Steroid-taking athletes
·         Judges ruling without disclosing a conflict of interest
·         A red-light-running cab
·         Someone selling drugs, guns, or stolen property illegally

We already know writers commit hoaxes, plagiarism, and other atrocities. Why not a good sex scandal or case of bribery?  They can be quite imaginative and mentally off-balanced, as a group, and could easily pull this off.

So how would such indiscretions take place?  Would they happen naturally, or would they be planned out?

Let’s start with a male acquisitions editor at a leading publishing house.  He’s married with kids but is bored by a wife who is bored with him.  He’s in no rush to get home to tend to a household of obligations.  He meets a lot of people and comes across a young, attractive woman who bypasses literary agents and submits a query to him.  He’s curious and googles the author. He sees she is quite pretty and looks like fun. He uses her query against her and allows it to be his pimp.  He contacts her and tells her to send more of the manuscript.  He reads it and believes deep down it’s not great but could be good enough – if he had the right incentive. He decides he deserves a payday as a gatekeeper.  A relationship develops.  The book is published.  They broke up once the ink on the publishing contract dried.

He used his position to sleep with her and pushed through a book that otherwise would not have been published.  She was no innocent, either.  She thought she was manipulating him to green-light her sub-par work.  They deserved each other.

In other cases it may not have been so subtle or mutually beneficial. There could be cases of real crimes taking place: cover-ups, pay-offs, and all types of sinister dealings.  Maybe I imagine too much. Maybe I’m too cynical.  Perhaps I’m just a realist.

If Dykstra believes he compromised an umpire’s judgment because he threatened to go public with some secret life an umpire was living, then it can and probably will happen in the book industry.

It would explain a lot of things, including:

·         How lousy books get published
·         Why mediocre books get glowing reviews
·         How incompetent people occupy important positions at a publishing house

Spies from other countries sleep with each other.  Competitors conspire against the unknowing public.  Wall street trades on inside knowledge. The Mafia fixes athletic contests and court cases.  Casinos manipulate their games.  The world lives on lies, corruption and cheating.

People switch allegiances and loyalties out of greed, ego and desire.  It happens every day, everywhere.  It could be happening in book publishing.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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