In pulp writer's heaven: On the confessions of an Amazon author

Neal Pollack is in Pulp Writer's Heaven: on the confessions of an Amazon author

By his own account, the Austin-based writer Neal Pollack long ago gave up trying to pen the Great American Novel.

In 2011, his career as an author was effectively dead. He’d written one novel that sold very poorly, and four other books, and had a contract for a “pseudo self-help book” that his publisher didn’t want to bring to print. Then Amazon picked him “off the slush pile.”

In a lengthy piece for Slate titled “In Defense of Amazon,” Pollack argues that the online retailer’s entry into publishing has resuscitated the careers of several authors who were in similar straits.

He writes that "when I hear people say Amazon is 'destroying' literary careers, it just doesn’t make sense — it actually seems to be making them." Writers who attack Amazon for its tactics in its dispute with Hachette, he says, are themselves guilty of hyperbole.

But his account of life as an Amazon writer is most interesting, in my opinion, for the frankness with which he describes Amazon’s literary philosophy, such as it is. To hear Pollack tell it, working for the online retailer is akin to writing at a book factory; speed and quantity trump everything else.

“Their formula for literary success is, as far as I can deduce: Write as many books as you can, and then sell them cheaply and in bulk,” he says.

But he makes it clear that creating books of serious literary merit is a secondary concern to him -- he simply wants to keep on writing, and make money doing it. He’s actually publishing novels again -- about a “yoga detective” --and earning advances again, albeit in the “low five figures.”

“While I don’t think my books are worthless, I also don’t have a lot of delusions about how much they’re actually worth,” he writes. “If I can sell 10,000 books at $3.99 a download, which I’ve been consistently able to do through Amazon, that strikes me as a better deal than being able to sell 3,000 books at $12 a paperback, particularly because my royalty rates are way higher on downloads and I can jam out two or more of those downloadable books a year.”

In other words, Amazon is a pulp writer’s “dream.” Amazon seems willing to publish all the books Pollack can write as fast as he can write them -- six in all, so far, with two more on the way. Next, he’ll try his hand at romance, because Amazon thinks he’ll be good at it, he says.

But being admitted to pulp heaven comes with a price, apparently. BookPeople, the legendary Austin bookstore, helped Pollack earlier in his career; but now it refuses to carry his Amazon-published books, he says. And online, he’s been compared to “the Vichy French, taking money to cover up crimes.”

Hector tweets about topics literary on Twitter as @TobarWriter

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World