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30 May 2016

I Want To Be a Paperback Writer

Fifty years ago today, The Beatles released its "Paperback Writer," a really fun song with a concept which young 'uns today probably would not understand, unless they are voracious readers of "junk" like romances, murder mysteries and science fiction.  According to the Wikipedia chronology, the A-side single (the B-side was "Rain," another hit song) was released in the USA before in UK.  I do not have a clue why, because I assume that the concept is the same -- "pocket books" or mass market printings were the successor to "pulp fiction," cheaply made books of popular fiction (I cannot think of a non-fiction genre that routinely gets printed first and maybe only in tomes which are 0.85" H x 6.74" L x 4.22" W, weighing approximately 0.35 lbs with 300 pages or less, although some older ones like I'm OK, You're OK and Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things were also popular mass market paperbacks.)  This song is reported to have been the result of a challenge from John Lennon's aunt while The Beatles were near or at the height of their popularity.  She asked if they could write a song that wasn't about love and Paul decided they would write about a book after espying Ringo reading one.

Sure, most writers aspire to be published and definitely, published in a large, hardcover format.  Sometimes, we have paperback writers which become so popular and famous, their books get republished in hardcover, mainly for fans to buy and keep forever, or to match the new upmarket buying habits.  That's what usually happens -- the popular writer's first six or twelve books are in pb only and then, suddenly, the next book in the series comes out first in hardcover.  And, of course, you have to read it right away, not wait at least one year (or more!) to buy the mass market paperback which matches the others in your set.  Then, the publisher circles round and back, and the first title in the series is printed as a hardcover.  One customer mistakenly reserved a recently published hardcover, believing it was a new title.  She was not happy when she figured out she had read the book a long time ago.  "I hate that," she had said. "You get all excited about reading a new book and they're just trying to make more money off of you.  It gets reprinted in hardcover and then, in e-book and then, in that style they call 'trade paperback' and then, that new 'premium paperback' which is taller and has a new cover.  Just write the next book."  Aww, let the paperback writer get all excited about leaving that label behind.  He's a serious writer now, published in hardcover, not some schlock wordcounter who gets to see those words in a paperback which gets left behind on jet plane seats and vacation homes or passed around among buddies at lunch or family with similar tastes at Thanksgiving get-togethers.

And then, there's porn, which almost always comes in cheap paperbacks, even if a big fan is going to keep it forever. I knew someone at Vassar who told me she had written a few pornography books.  The contract had rigid guidelines of how many words, etc, and upon the publisher's acceptance of the manuscript (should "manuscript" be derogatorily put in quotation marks?), the writer received $300 and abdication of any additional rights to it.  From what I have read, I think that rate must be about the same now for the "serious writer," but for a paperback porn writer, that was on the low end, if Chris Offutt's father is to be believed.  And,
we all know the additional "rights" are where the money is, although we were not sure what those additional rights were for porn books (overseas sales? movie? subsequent hardcover?)

Still, as an aspiring published writer -- paperback or otherwise -- I was impressed.

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