Don’t Be Harold Robbins

So @fakebaldur, as he is wont to do, started being an agent provocateur this morning:

Heresy, but the truth: Any writer who can’t deliver a good story, in decent prose, without an editor, is doomed in an ebook dominated futureWed Oct 06 12:23:03 via web

Prices are going to go down, and lower margins will mean that the role of an epublisher will be arbitrage, not refinement.Wed Oct 06 12:27:02 via web

Curation is a red herring. Publishers don’t curate. They arbitrage between the lemon market of unpubbed authors, & the readership’s demands.Wed Oct 06 12:31:57 via web

I argued with him over this, but to make this story shorter, here’s what he hit me with:

@mikecane That’s simply not true. A crap writer’s still crap when edited. A good writer’s still worth buying when unedited.Wed Oct 06 13:05:32 via web

And while I don’t agree about editing going away — may God forbid that! — he reminded me of that hack Harold Robbins, who got away with murder.

Dirty Harry: The racy author whose life was even more scandalous than his fiction

Once, he wrote 200 pages of a novel and set it aside for so long before tapping out the rest that none of the characters in the first half were consistent with those in the second.

When his editor warned him that readers were likely to ask for their money back, Robbins’s response was: “F*** ’em”.

The manuscript went to press unchanged – and not a single person wrote in to complain.

Jesus Wept and Poe spun in his grave!

I don’t think anyone could get away with that these days. Robbins was able to because he hit the right moment. A sexual revolution was happening in America and Robbins was mining it with books that were basically acceptable borderline pornography marketed to the mainstream. Women who would never think to set foot in an X-rated theater (which was the only place one could see moving porn in those pre-VCR days) could be “educated” about sex via Harold Robbins’ books.

There’s one writer I admire who once bragged about how his stuff was good enough not to be edited and how he fought most suggested edits. I bought that line for years. Until I came to his stuff fresh after several years. And boy, could it have used editing!

So, I don’t care what @fakebaldur argues or how low prices will go for eBooks (and they will go low; see here and here and here and here), if you skip the editing step, the only thing you can brag about — if you get the sales — is the money you’ve made. You won’t have the respect of other writers, however, so don’t whine when you’re snubbed by them.

And since people often squawk that solutions should be presented to problems, I propose cutting editors in on the money action. If an editor wants to charge “X” for editing, it might be in their best interests to think about accepting “part of X” in exchange for a per-sale royalty on the book sold. This has several advantages:

1) Writers don’t have to put up all of the editing expense up front.

2) Editors have multiple ongoing income streams to tide them over in between jobs.

3) If a book hits big, the editor gets a lot more than the original flat-fee “X.”

In order for that to work, trust and totally transparent accounting will be necessary. Along with the understanding that an eBook’s price could — most likely will — vary wildly.


Filed under Digital Overthrow, eBooks: General, Writer, Writing

3 responses to “Don’t Be Harold Robbins

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Don’t Be Harold Robbins « Mike Cane's xBlog --

  2. 750 million readers adored and read Harold Robbins…I trust them more than I trust an acerbic critic. This story never happened, it has been a story taken from a story tells about working in television. He went to New York to meet with ABC about a dramatic one hour program to air as a series. He told them the story that was completely created in the moment. “A women steps out of a limousine….” he began, describing the beautiful long legs and high heels on the woman and he wove the story from his first line. He had the executives mesmerized within an hour. They gave the show a “green light” and everyone was happy. It took months to negotiate the contracts, meanwhile, Harold had been writing a novel and the story for television had completely evaporated in his thoughts…but, needless to say, he re-created the moment and that story became “The Survivors” starring Lana Turner (who he personally persuaded to be on the show) and George Hamilton, and Ralph Bellamy.

    Harold Robbins had again changed the way of the media world and created the first nighttime soap opera. It was gaining popularity in the homes of America, until ABC discovered that the most well liked actor on the show was Ralph Bellamy and insisted that he be kept alive, which created a problem for the storyline. Bellamy was the patriarch who held the reins of his fortune…the story was going to be based on his death and how the heirs fought over their fathers fortune. Once that was eliminated the story never recovered and it was canceled.

    Isn’t it amazing how gossip, innuendo and jealousy can parade itself as the truth. Do me a favor, go deeper and read Harold Robbins books…

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