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Books, from "Paperback Rider," a song by the Beatles

Subthemes: Book Publishing Industry, *Ghostwriters, Fabrications, Plagiarism, and Hacks; Author Earnings

Paperback Writer, by The Beatles, mocks hack writers who crank out trash. The singer has pounded the typewriter simply to make money from his novel, not for artistic expression, the eloquence of his prose, or higher values. The opus he is flogging is far too long, especially for a paperback version, and lacks an original theme. The pleading song of a wannabe writer offers other inferences of Books.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job
So I wanna be a paperback writer
Paperback writer

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn’t understand
His son is working for the Daily Mail
It’s a steady job
But he wants to be a paperback writer
Paperback writer

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few
I’ll be writing more in a week or two
I could make it longer if you like the style
I can change it ‘round
And I wanna be a paperback writer
Paperback writer

If you really like it you can have the rights
It could make a million for you overnight
If you must return it you can send it here
But I need a break
And I wanna be a paperback writer

[remainder omitted]

Source: LyricFind Songwriters: John Lennon/Paul McCartney. © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Book Publishing Industry: The determined writer is sending a bulky manuscript for review by an editor. That is the first gate of the difficult path to publication. Only a fraction of the manuscripts submitted are accepted, and then only a portion of them make it into print. Net revenue of the U.S. book publishing industry is around $26 billion a year. Behind the figure, on the order of 68,670 people worked in that sector in 2021; they review manuscripts, negotiate contracts with a tiny fraction of the aspiring published authors, edit and proofread, layout, and publish books – then, too, they market and distribute them. The same source (Statista) states that about 4,100 independent bookstores operate in the United States, despite Amazon’s huge market share of books sold. The Atlantic estimates that Amazon sells close to two out of three books sold. According to the ProQuest Bowker Report, nearly 1.7 million books were self-published in the U.S. in 2018. By 2019, the total number of books published in the U.S. exceeded 4 million—including both self-published books and commercially published books of all types. Book reviews abound in such periodicals as the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review as well as numerous columns, but still they recognize only a sliver of the torrent of new titles.

Ghostwriters, Fabrications, Plagiarism, and Hacks: Many books have two authors – a person with celebrity status who entices purchasers and an amanuensis who actually put the words together. Like speechwriters, a ghostwriter produces the words that another person claims. Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter or author of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump’s business sleight of pen in hand.

Unfortunately, authors hijack passages from other books or claim their fiction to be fact. Alex Haley did both with Roots: The Saga of an American Family, “supposedly a true story that traced Haley’s ancestry back to an African man, Kunta Kinte. Haley won a Pulitzer the next year, and the book was made into a wildly popular miniseries.” Afterwards, though, Haley admitted that he had made up large swaths of the Roots story and was even sued for plagiarism.

Finally, hack authors churn out romance novels, detective stories, and science fiction by the shelfful (we glance discretely away from pornography). Templates, recipes, and endlessly permuted plots satisfy insatiable demands from the reading public.

Author Earnings: The desire of people to write books – to make a living from that pursuit – hugely outnumbers the publishing industry’s conclusion that those legions have sufficient talent and marketability. Most book authors labor for love, not lucre. Rare authors achieve financial triumph and reap millions of dollars. In 2018, LitHub wrote that the top six earning authors were James Patterson (\$86 million), J. K. Rowling (\$54 million), Stephen King (\$27 million), John Grisham (\$21 million), Dan Brown (\$18.5 million), and Jeff Kinney (\$$18.5 million). It is the rare author, however, who makes more than postage needed for the manuscript or proposal sent to editors.


A cynical song, since self-respecting authors resist edits to their crafted prose, the singer cares only about British pounds. With a monstrous, malleable outpouring, he’s trying to break into a viciously competitive, over-crowded industry rife with sharp practices. Publishers stay profitable on the occasional best seller; authors write and write and dream of money.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Books, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other rock songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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