“Publishing” — John Steinbeck

“Publishing”

by

John Steinbeck

from his 1969 “interview” in The Paris Review

EDITOR

The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.

WRITER

No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.

EDITOR

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

WRITER

It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?

EDITOR

You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.

WRITER

Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.

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.

WRITER (losing temper as a refuge from despair)

God damn it. This is my book. I’ll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?

EDITORS

Let’s see if we can’t 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.

PROOFREADER

My God, how you do dangle a participle. Turn to page so and so.

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

And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He is called The Reader.

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 and part ogre.

There is some doubt as to whether he can read.

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