Consider this as you shell out $10 for Hunger Games

Note from Kerri: As the second Hunger Games movie heads to the big screen this holiday season, I thought I’d be provocative and repost this.  New comments welcome!

“Jorge en el Blockbuster” courtesy of Victor Gonzalez (Kerri’s note: When I first saw this, I thought the guy was in a bookstore, scrutinizing spines, so that makes this pic doubly appropriate; note the pic’s title)

Originally published March 19, 2012:

I am as excited as anyone else about seeing the Hunger Games this week.  Like millions of other readers, I got completely sucked into the gruesome dystopian-Roman world of Panem, the unusually handled triangle of Katniss-Peeta-Gale, and the various other sub-plots and vividly written details (costumes, gladiators, and violence, oh my!).

So, I am a fan.

But I’m also a writer.  A writer of smaller, quieter books than the Hunger Games.  And I am very, very wary of the Blockbuster-or-Bust mentality that its success ingrains in the publishing industry and in readers.  Let me provide a related example:

Heard of Amanda Knox, the lucky writer who recently scored $4 MILLION for her memoir?

No?  That’s probably because she hasn’t been slaving away on her craft for years like you and me, she was just released from an Italian prison, where she had been held for murder.

The bet HarperCollins is making, of course, is that this book will be purchased and read by SO MANY people, they will make back the whole $4 million they are paying Amanda, PLUS the millions they are also no doubt spending on publicity.  Let’s say they need to make $6 million before they break even and start making the profits that will help them acquire other books.


I hope they swing it.  I hope there are enough people who want to read what will surely be Amanda Knox’s highly edited version of the truth that HarperCollins will make all that money back, PLUS millions more.

Because if they don’t?  You and I, Writer, we’ll be out of luck at HarperCollins.  They won’t be making bets on ANY books that aren’t the next Hunger Games any time soon, because they will be so far in the hole.  And if it hadn’t been HarperCollins buying this book, it would have been another house–there was a bidding war, after all, and HC just happened to win it.

This is the Blockbuster-or-Bust mentality in action.  Publishing houses pay extremely high advances for books they are betting will make that money back, plus a profit.  They win some, and they lose some.  But imagine how much more money the publishing houses would make if they never paid anyone $4 million, except maybe the small circle of successful writers who have already made millions for the house? (And if the houses make more money, they’ll have more money to spend on us, Writer.)

Blockbuster-or-Bust is BAD FOR WRITERS.  It makes it less and less likely that writers, especially first-time writers, who are NOT obviously writing the next Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games will get published (NOT, btw, like anyone could tell Harry Potter was going to be a success when it was reluctantly purchased by a skeptical publishing house back in the dark ages, but never mind that precious factoid).

Long ago, in a land far, far away, there used to be a magical place in publishing called the “mid-list,” where as-yet unknown writers like, oh, John Updike, Don DeLillo, and S.E. Hinton, used to find editors who thought, “This is a great writer with a future ahead of him/her, and I want to publish this book for a modest amount of money, like planting a seed in a pot, and nourish it, and love it, and show it to everyone I know, and hopefully one day, this writer will become something strong and respectable, like that ficus tree in my office.”

Listen, it was still damn hard to get on that mid-list.  But at least it existed and even flourished; it’s now almost extinct.  I know there are editors and indie publishing houses who want to bring back the mid-list, who dream of not having to make millions with their books.  But publishers are not the whole problem, people.  It’s US.  Readers.

I’m not asking you to boycott the Hunger Games or even Amanda Knox.  But I am asking you to go out of your way to seek out lesser-known writers and invest in them, too.  Go to a bricks-and-mortar bookstore and ask the people who work there what they are reading, and buy the book from that bookstore (because if you buy it from Amazon, you’re buying into Blockbuster-or-Bust, but that’s another blog).  If you can’t afford the full-price book at the store, check the book out from your local library, because circulation numbers mean something, too.  Oh, and librarians can also recommend great books (just ask our very own Jessica Tackett!).

Kerri Majors, EditorOkay.  Whew.  You don’t see me get wound up here at YARN too often.  But I feel a lot better now.  Thanks.

What are your thoughts?

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14 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Kat Kan says:

    Very true, and well said. I have made an effort throughout my professional life as a librarian to seek out new (and new-ish) writers and their books, and to promote them to my young patrons. I also make an effort to seek out new and new-ish writers for my personal reading. I just hope the publishers will keep publishing mid-list titles for people like me to discover.

  2. Carrie says:

    Well said!
    As a writer who is currently being “nurtured” with a quieter book coming out in the fall, I so appreciate finding new voices and supporting upcoming novelists.

  3. So true. By year’s end I will have 9 books out there with a small company (Pendraig Publishing) in paper and ink as well as all e-formats (and hopefully audiobooks shortly if Peter Paddon, my publisher, finds time in his busy schedule to do them), yet outside of Amazon and Barnes and Noble and a very few independent book stores, no one will carry them because they are not with a major company that can eat them if the store decides to order 100 copies and then unceremoniously rip off the covers and send them back for a full refund.

    I hold down a full time job to support my writing and hold no illusions that I will ever be able to support myself as a writer unless my name is Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling. I have a following, but it is not huge, and I adore going to conventions to sign my books, but other than that, the best I can do is keep writing and hope one of my novels falls into the right hands and makes enough of an impact to take both series to the next level…film.

  4. Mary McDonald says:

    I hear from my local kids bookstore that more and more parents will only buy the blockbuster books for their kids and refuse to expand their young readers’ collections with any of the “if you liked that book, you might like this book” suggestions which is how people built their home libraries in the past. Also, nobody wants to hear about ” When I was your age I enjoyed reading___”.
    It’s as if they are only reading so they can keep up with the social banter.
    I read the Hunger Games trilogy and the Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter, etc. but I also read many other books in between and generally the ones I find three layers deep in the you might like pile are the ones that stay with me longest.

  5. JM de Biasi says:

    I am a HUGE believer in the little bookstore and well informed staff. I go to Changing Hands in Tempe, which once was walking distance but now is only a monthly visit as it is an hour drive away. I read classics and buy favorite current authors like Fforde, James Owen, Charles de Lint , John Scalzi and CM Priest (none of whom are household names but all should be)as their new stuff appears, but have also read many amazing little known authors thanks to their recommendations. Through my favorite book sellers I discovered most recently Laini Taylor and what a discovery her storytelling is! Thanks for this blog. I will see Hunger Games although I am sure the “movie” in my head looked a LOT different but I also faithfully invest in the future of good storytelling with my meager income.

  6. Alex Washoe says:

    I think you’re right about the “blockbuster-or-bust” syndrome at big publishers — but there’s a long term benefit to successes like “The Hunger Games”, “Harry Potter” (and yes even — it pains me to say it — “Twilight”) and that is they create a whole new generation of readers — they hook and draw in kids who otherwise would not be interested in reading at all. And once they’re hooked, a lot of them will stay interested. So, whatever happens in publishing — and it’s going to change in ways we haven’t even imagined yet — these blockbusters at least keep the love of reading alive. And that’s a good thing.

  7. Kerri says:

    I am so honored by all the comments on this post! Many thanks to all above, and let me try to respond a bit. @Kat–Thanks, and I hope so, too!! @Carrie & S.P.–You go, Writers! LAnd if you have any short pieces on your hard-drive, send them to us, since it sometimes works out that we can coordinate a story/essay/poem with the release of a book. @ MAry–So sad about the parents in the bookstore. I am not even sure I understand why parents would have such an attitude. If the kids wants to read, let him/her read, right? @JM–I used to work at an indie bookstore and I loved nothing more than talking books and recommending them to the customers! @ Alex–Very true, and well-said. Though I’m a fan even of Twilight (there’s no accounting for taste, I guess), I still try to do what my parents encouraged me to do when I was younger, and temper my “light” reading with heavier pieces of serious literature.

    Keep the comments coming!

  8. […] a great blog post on YARN (Young Adult Review Network) about the danger of the blockbuster mentality in the publishing world, […]

  9. Karen Klink says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Only the problem isn’t going to go away. The real question is: Can we do anything about it? How can we pull those young minds toward those other wonderful books after they’ve been hooked by Hunger Games? Maybe YARN should start a column (or something) that anyone interested can submit ideas to. Let’s find a way to take advantage of this phenomenon.

    I was at the Tucson Book Festival a couple weeks ago and was amazed by all the kids attending. There was a section just for them.

    Let’s brain blitz.

  10. Kerri says:

    Great minds think alike, Karen! Since we had such a strong response to this blog, both on and off this page, my wheels have been turning about how YARN can point readers in the direction of lesser-known writers more than we already do. I am hatching plans, so stay tuned! And thanks so much for sharing.

  11. I’m joining this discussion late, but I’d like to say that you’ve eloquently stated a serious problem in the publishing industry. The blockbuster mentality reduces the availability of quality reading material for all of us. Nurturing independent bookstores and mid-list authors is important to the future of good literature.

  12. Jon says:

    Blockbuster or bust is a horrible mentality but clearly where the publishers are going! Looking forward to your non-blockbuster summer list!

  13. Kerri says:

    And contribute, please!

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