Heads shook across the indie publishing world today after news broke of superstar rapper Lil Wayne getting a book deal with Grand Central Publishing. Following the successes and flops of publishing houses producing celebrity books, GCP also chose the shameful route of working with a convicted felon while surely ignoring real and talented authors. Such news comes as no surprise since the traditional publishing industry has suffered huge financial losses and is desperately trying to stay afloat. It's safe to say that GCP or any major NYC publishing house wouldn't give the time of day to any current or former inmate of Rykers Island Prison—some of which may have far more interesting stories to tell than Lil Wayne. Furthermore, the idea that someone could spend time in prison and then be offered a book contract that's based on their experience in the slammer is not only an insult but it illustrates some serious problems within the publishing industry.
In an interview that took place near the end of 2009, bestselling author, John Irving, admitted that he worries for new writers and admitted that his first novel would never have been published had it been written today. What he said makes sense considering that at the time that he wrote his first novel, publishing houses were more interested in great storytelling compared to now. The mentality today among publishers is to only publish what they believe will make money even if it's crap. What's known to sell? Scandals and controversy. They get the most television airtime, front page coverage in newspapers and on magazine covers. So there's definitely a market for these stories. But what kind of market? Avid readers who are long term book-buying clients? Or the part-time reader who's only interested in celebrity gossip? Most likely the latter.
Ben Greenberg, executive editor of GCP said: "We are thrilled to be publishing Wayne's prison memoir. He kept detailed journals of his inner and outer life while he was on Rikers Island, and they certainly tell a story."
Lil Wayne already has a name and a fan base. And he has enough die-hard fans who'd spend $100 on a toothpick if he endorsed it. They can certainly make money off of him regardless of what he wrote in his journal. Now here's where it gets interesting. Books have a shelf life. And considering that Lil Wayne's time spent in prison will be forgotten once he does something else outlandish—which appears to be the continuing trend among artists so that they can remain in the spotlight—how much of a shelf life, and hence profits, could the publisher expect to make? In this case, certainly not long term profits. I guess they'll wait for the next rapper to go to jail or another celebrity to release a sex tape. They'll be candidates for a book deal.
If it's prison stories that Mr Greenberg is really interested in, wouldn't the prison guards, doctors, or the chaplains—who've been working there longer than the eight months Lil Wayne spent there—have far more interesting stories to tell? Wouldn't those stories appeal to a bigger market? Such as high school librarians who would share these stories with students to teach them the consequences of going to jail? Especially if they were to read the graphic details of beatings and prison rapes. Since an educational aspect could be attached to these stories, wouldn't one expect the shelf life to be longer, since it would appeal to readers who aren't fans of Lil Wayne?
There are many reasons why the publishing industry is falling apart today, I won't list them all. But I have a suggestion, why don't they try investing more in quality works than throwing money away at the flavour of the month. They can stick to investing more time with worthless celebrity books that will yield short-term profits. If GCP wants to continue down this path and ruin the integrity of the publishing industry, they can go ahead, they just won't be doing it with my money.
Russell Brooks is the author of the thriller Chill Run.