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Steinbeck Mocks The Publishing Process

We’ve talked a lot about John Steinbeck on this blog–including his writing rules and all kinds of topics related to The Grapes Of Wrath, arguably his best novel.

But when I saw this post on Scott Berkun’s blog, I couldn’t resist sharing it with you guys.

If you’ve ever had a book published, or even attempted to have a book published, then you are all too familiar with this process. Just call me a glutton for punishment, because I hope to be going through this process myself in the not-too-distant future.

Here’s how John Steinbeck light-heartedly explains the publishing process:

The book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions – editors, publishers, critics, copy readers, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.

Editor: The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.

Writer: It has to be slowed. How else would you know when it goes fast?

Sales department: The book’s too long. Costs are up. We’ll have to charge five dollars for it. People won’t pay five dollars. They won’t buy it.

Writer: My last book was short. You said then that people won’t buy a short book.

Proofreader: The chronology is full of holes. The grammar has no relation to English. On page so and so you have a man look in the World Almanac for steamship rates. They aren’t there. I checked. You’ve got the Chinese new year wrong. The characters aren’t consistent. You describe Liza Hamilton one way and then have her act a different way.

Editor: You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.

Writer: My grandfather did.

Editor: Who’ll believe it.

2nd editor: No children ever talked like that.

Editors: Lets see if we can fix it up. It won’t be much work. You want it to be good, don’t you? For instance, the ending. The reader won’t understand it.

Writer: Do you?

Editor: Yes, but the reader won’t.

There you are… You came in with a box of glory, and there you stand with an arm full of damp garbage.

Steinbeck sums it all up by showing how contradictory the criticism can seem:

The Reader:

  • He is so stupid you can’t trust him with an idea.
  • He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
  • He will not buy short books.
  • He will not buy long books.
  • He is part moron, part genius, part ogre.
  • There is some doubt as to whether he can read.

This comes from Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews (4th Series).

I work closely with all the above people, and I can say Steinbeck’s insight is all too true. The battle between the editor, proofer, writer, and sales (marketing) is almost dead on. Is there some doubt as to whether the reader can read? Hilarious.

Ever been through this–or want to go through this?

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hopefully next year and I have to remember to hang tough and not take every suggestion the editor offers.


    February 8, 2013
  2. Steinbeck is the MAN! My all time favorite author–favorite book: The Pearl–though Eden and Grapes, well…need I say more. Travels with Charley was also good. Clever post…way to incorporate all these elements.


    February 8, 2013
  3. Wonderful post! I love hearing from the literary greats and Steinbeck is at the top of the list. Thanks so much for sharing this.


    February 8, 2013
  4. This is so hilarious, I have to re-blog it a Dogpatch Writers Collective. Thanks for providing a huge smile today! :o)))))


    February 8, 2013
  5. Will be laughing for a long time about this! Thanks for ending my day on this note!


    February 8, 2013
  6. I think the literary agent Jonny Geller, shared something similar recently, offering all the lines agents and publishers come up with, when trying to make excuses, that is, what they say and then what they really mean, problem is, they now need to come up with new lines – they’ve all been busted!

    The Guardian collected some of the best euphemisms here:


    February 10, 2013
  7. hadassah34 #

    I know to most people “Grapes of Wrath” was Steinbeck’s best but I have always–do not judge me too harshly– preferred his last book, “East of Eden.” However, that said, I read most of his books when I was in high school and found the thoughts you posted consolation in my own efforts to sell books.


    February 10, 2013
  8. I have not been lucky enough to encounter these problems yet, but I certainly hope to someday.


    February 24, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Grapes of Mocking | Dogpatch Writers Collective
  2. 13 Famous Writers on Overcoming Writer’s Block Tips (Part 2) | Self Publishing

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