Publishing circles were reeling today after this morning’s surprise announcement of the merger of pop fiction titans James Patterson and Clive Cussler, who between them are likely to account for twenty bestsellers in calendar year 2014 alone. While neither author could be reached for comment, a source close to both men confirmed that the deal will include all rights—film, electronic, and audio—to the two authors’ innumerable backlist titles as well as all current and future work.
“This is very unsettling,” declared Georgette Rasmussen, proprietor of Books Are Our Friends. “Independent booksellers are facing desperate challenges these days, and I don’t see how this can possibly help us.”
Interviews with two officers of Authors Guild, both of whom insisted on anonymity, brought curiously contradictory responses. “I think it’s very exciting,” said one. “This shows the great resourcefulness of our membership, and the inherent ability of writers to adjust to changing conditions in today’s publishing environment.”
Her colleague was less sanguine, characterizing the merger as “appalling, and very much of a piece with the consolidation in publishing. You could see the handwriting on the wall back in 1962, when Harper & Brothers gobbled up Row, Peterson & Co. If Patterson and Cussler combine, how can other authors possibly remain competitive? They’ll almost have to follow suit, and you can look forward to the day when half a dozen mega-writers dominate the market.”
The two Guild representatives did find one point of agreement. “If you want to know who gets the blame,” said one, “you don’t have to look any further than Amazon.”
Literary agent Morgan Wheelwright cautioned against a rush to judgment. “First of all,” she pointed out, “there’s no certainty that the Department of Justice is going to sign off on something this unprecedented.” Her chief concern, she added, was for those clients of hers who were “co-writers” for one or the other of the principals. “We’ve been assured that our writers’ jobs are safe, and that if anything there’ll be a need for additional writers to keep the increasing stream of books flowing. If that’s so, I think this is a great opportunity for our writers, and writers in general.”
Marketing maven Jason Bordelaise echoed this sentiment. “I can see a time,” he said, “when every writer will start out by ghosting for or co-writing with a mega-writer, and that’s a win-win for everybody. The huge challenge in publishing has always been selling an author’s first book, an unknown quantity with no market awaiting it. And after that there’s the hurdle of the second novel, scorned by all those readers who were understandably disappointed with the first. But now there won’t be any first or second novels. Every book published will be a known quantity. Who could possibly object to that?”
One executive of a Big Five firm, insisting on anonymity, questioned the term merger. “Patterson has 15 books slated for 2014 publication,” he said. “Cussler has what, five? You call it a merger. I call it a lark pie.”
A little Googling helped us with that one. When Syria and Egypt linked up in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic, cynics likened the disproportionate amalgam to a pie consisting of equal parts of lark and camel—one lark to one camel. (In 1961, the Syrian lark took its leave and the experiment was over.)
The blogosphere, as you can imagine, has been buzzing, as internet observers and ardent self-publishers have been airing and sharing their thoughts on the new development. While every possible view has been given voice, all seem to agree that the times are indeed changing.
As further evidence of this, please note the rumor—still unsubstantiated!—that talks have been initiated between representatives of Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark.