Books About Publishing: The Merchants of Venus

4 Nov

Much to the ongoing dismay of my blushing bride I keep buying books at a rate that vastly exceeds my ability to read them. Moreover, as I travel around on various trips I always stop in at every Half Price Books I come across to see if they have any books on publishing, book design, and the like. It’s gotten to the point with these books that I don’t even get to bring them home; instead, they go straight to the office to get piled on a bookshelf there. (My rationale for this is that one of my dream of dreams would be to teach in a book publishing program some day and that these are necessary reference materials.) So that’s why one of the books that’s been kicking around in the back seat of my car for a while since I bought it is The Merchants of Venus: Inside Harlequin and the Empire of Romance by Paul Grescoe.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never given much thought to Harlequin in particular or the romance novel industry in general one way or the other. Then again, when it comes to book publishing, there’s all kinds of interesting business models that crop up outside of any personal preference you might have. (This comes from a guy whose ultimate dream of dreams would be to publish post-apocalyptic zombie novels for a living.) For example, one of the most interesting podcasts to come out of BEA this year was about bookstore merchandising in relationship to selling Bibles.

Anyway, given that Grescoe’s book has never actually made it out of my car into my office, it’s been my default waiting room read as I bounce around from one doctor’s appointment to another. And, as well, it’s a really good read. In many ways it’s the book I wish The Life and Times of Allen Lane by Jeremy Lewis had been. That is, Lewis’ book book could never quite figure out if it was about Lane himself or the Penguin publishing empire. (Sure, the title overtly indicates it’s about Lane but he was such a cypher that the book became a de facto but unsatisfying story about Penguin instead.) Grescoe’s book suffers no such problem. Although I’m still only on chapter 5 or so, right now I’m in the middle of a whole digression about Mills & Boon, British romance novel publishers, and how once commercial libraries died out that they completely changed their business plan as a kind of precursor to Penguin’s model. (Plus, they wound up being the primary supplier of relicensed novels to Harlequin, based out of Canada.) Without a doubt this book has turned out to be infinitely more interesting than I really thought it would be and for anyone interested in the mechanics of book publishing–especially in terms of how business models evolve in ever-changing markets for better and for worse–there is a lot of valuable and thoughtful information.

(Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that a couple of weekends ago as I was checking out at our local HEB I picked up a copy of The Single Mom and The Tycoon, one of the October offerings from Harlequin. I’ve been plowing along through it although I have to admit I don’t find it quite as engaging as Grescoe’s book. Then again, that probably says more about my inherent interest in book publishing as opposed to one-legged tycoons with body image problems that can only be cured by the love of a good woman.)

Mark

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One Response to “Books About Publishing: The Merchants of Venus”

  1. Karen November 7, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    Mmhmmm…. I just KNOW you’re going to get a femme nom de plume and go to writing purple romance. Watch out Victoria Holt!

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