Jon Karp: Put More Work into Fewer Books

By Neal Comment

jon-karp-pamaspeech.jpgEarlier this week, the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association held its annual spring luncheon, where special guest Jon Karp of Twelve offered his perspective on what it will take to survive the “post-apocalyptic” publishing scene. “Publishers have got to control themselves,” Karp warned the audience. “We’re not unlike the banks that sprung up… offering credit cards and loans to everyone who walked in the door. There are too many books, and too many of them are derivative of each other.” Instead of Gresham’s Law, he joked, book publishers seem to operate under Grisham’s Law, or the idea that any hit book should be imitated as soon and as often as possible.

(Karp did not excuse himself, holding up a copy of Who Would You Do?, a pop culture quiz-book that he published a few years back: “I still think it was a funny parlor game,” he admitted, “but it was opportunistic publishing.”)

He offered several bits of advice, starting with the idea that companies should limit themselves to fewer books and “end the bullshit of Kabuki publishing,” a term he defined as the “ritualized and empty artifice” of meetings that accompany every stage of a book’s journey from acquisition to publication. “Express your enthusiasm and your criticism of specific books loudly,” he added, “and be truthful—in my ideal world, no book would be launched until the people responsible for its launch had read it, discussed it, and decided it was ready to go out into the world.” And, he said, authors will probably continue to take up more of the workload in marketing their books to audiences, with increased participation by agents who take a proactive interest in their clients’ success.

The mood wasn’t entirely optimistic; Karp did note that he expects “more cutbacks across the board” in the publishing industry as “the editorial pipelines will narrow.” But, overall, the publicists and marketing folks in the room seemed hopeful—we look forward to seeing how many houses take Karp’s advice to heart in the near future.