How TV and Movies Get Publishing So, So Wrong

I'm always pretty amused when a TV show or movie I'm watching attempts to tackle book publishing. Because there is one thing I can almost always guarantee: they will get it wrong. Like, way wrong.  From Gossip Girl to Limitless to One Tree Hill, the inaccurate portrayals of the book industry have many different faces and forms.  But today I've decided to remember some of my favorite, most-laughable publishing tropes featured on screen.

1. Books Are Published Over Night
I noticed this one most recently on Gossip Girl when Dan, one of the main characters, ended up with a book deal. The means by which he got that deal were one thing - totally unrealistic is an understatement - but even more ridiculous was the timing.  The book was published just two or three months later.  In reality, books usually take closer to a year or even two to publish after being sold.

2. Your Editor will Do ANYTHING to Get A Book Out of You . . . Even Move Into Your House
I remember this one from One Tree Hill a few years ago.  Desperate to get Lucas's book out of him -  I guess he was late on deadline? - his editor moved from New York to Tree Hill to . . . I don't even know. Harass it out of him? She even moved into his house!  Well, I mean, by that point they were dating, but still.  Who knew being an editor required stalking skills?

3. Delivering the Massive Stack of Papers
I've seen this one in too many movies to name. That obligatory scene where a writer walks into his or her publisher's office and drops a massive stack of papers on the desk, signifying that the book is complete.  It's a great image, I suppose. But in reality, we live in a digital age. Most of the time manuscripts are sent back and forth via email. And even in the cases like copyedits or first pass proofs where they can be done on paper, it's not a common thing for the writer to just show up and hand deliver it. Heck, I live in NYC and I still mail things in!

4. Agent? What Agent?
While there are definitely authors out there without agents, I'd say most of those published by the Big 6 have one. And yet, I'm always shocked and kind of excited to see a character with an agent in film.  More often than not, the fictional author sells the book right to the publisher.  In One Tree Hill an editor called Lucas to let him know she was buying his book (before she moved into his house) and no agent was mentioned. In Gossip Girl, Dan's frenemy, Vanessa, just showed up at Simon and Schuster with the book and was handed a couple of big checks, no questions asked about her anonymous author or why she had no agenting credentials. Now, GG did make up for this later by giving Dan an actual agent . . . though she wasn't a very good one by true industry standards.  But still! The fact that he had one at all is kind of a big deal, because in the TV and movie version of publishing, they are a rare, rare breed.


I love movies and television, but wow, they really don't get publishing right.  Sometimes it's frustrating and maddening ("Oh my God, number 7 on the NYT Bestseller is not TOO LOW!!! That is awesome! What the hell, Gossip Girl?" Yes, I screamed this once) but most of the time, it's just kind of funny.

So what are some of your favorites movies and TV shows that feature the publishing industry? And what are your favorite inaccurate bits? Do they make you cringe or chuckle? I want to hear what you think!




17 comments:

  1. OMG, the Dan Humphrey publishing story was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen on television. It essentially got published without him really knowing about it, then there was that one line a few episodes later where he said something to the effect of "I wish I'd gotten a chance to edit it because I wasn't very happy with how it turned out" or something. UM WHAT?
    Oh, I threw my purse at the television.
    And yet, I still watch and love that show.

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  2. I adore CASTLE, which features thriller writer "Rick Castle," but I've done my share of shouting at the TV screen when they inaccurately portray the publishing biz. There was the summer hiatus during which Castle not only wrote his book, it somehow got immediately published and he went out on a book tour. It couldn't have been so easily portrayed accurately if they'd just had him "book touring" for his previous book. Also, he spends so much time at the police precinct, I sometimes wonder when he gets around to writing. They have shown a few scenes of him at his laptop and that seems real.

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  3. I was going to mention Castle. Didn't his agent go with him on the book tour? Or maybe it was a "publicist." Either way, a mystery was involved!

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    1. Castle's publisher is his ex-wife! :P

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  4. I especially appreciated how, in Limitless, the author already had a book deal and an advance before he even wrote a single word of the book. I want that editor.

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  5. I also love the ones where the book is accepted, and on the next episode, there is the national book tour with the writer riding up in first class. I actually think that Sex and the City did the whole publishing thing fairly accurately (especially if you account for Jack Berger).

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  6. I thought Gossip Girl was funny in that way too. Usually I just laugh when TV or movies get it wrong (especially when I don't have first hand experience). What really gets me though is when stuff like this makes the regular person think it happens this way. It means I always have to hear stuff like, "why would you bother getting an agent?" and "it takes how long to get a book published???" and the most recent I've heard from a few different people: "why would you hand over total control to some publisher who knows nothing about what the average person likes." ???

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  7. To go from a book deal to a published book in less than a year, only in the movies and TV lol!!1

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  8. There are a couple of Columbo stories that feature writers and the publishing biz, and they're among my favorites. I don't know if I can really fault them for their portrayal of the industry. Some in the industry would probably laugh and say, "yes, I knew an agent like that," or "that sounds like my editor!" And who knows, there may be one or two writers out there guilty of murder... ;)

    Columbo writerly episodes to watch:

    Murder by the Book
    Publish or Perish
    Try and Catch Me

    There may be others that I don't remember, but I recommend these for your entertainment. :)

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  9. I remember an episode of Frasier where Roz phoned an editor saying she had an idea and got a meeting with him. He then bought the book without a single written word or discussing it with anyone at his company only to find out that the plot of Roz's book was the same as Heidi.

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  10. The show, Switched at Birth. The mom writes a memoir about her experience having her daughter switched at the hospital and there is no agent mentioned and it seems the book comes out as soon as she's done writing it. :)

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  11. What Yael said--Limitless was a great example of Hollywood Getting It Wrong (also an adorable example of Bradley Cooper.)

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  12. The first one that comes to mind for me is Miss Potter - the story of Beatrix Potter and her life, loves, and publishing success. I just loved that movie - especially the part where she visited the printers herself to see how the printing of her books was done. I loved that movie mostly because Miss Potter was an author/illustrator of children's books (like myself) and I used to read her books when I was a kid. It was amazing to see the process she might've gone through to produce her work.

    I haven't researched it to see just how accurate the historical aspects of publishing were in that movie, but watching it made me excited for her, and even myself. I lived vicariously through her for awhile when her newly-printed books sold to local children and she became so happy about it. And then her father bought one himself at full price, showing his support for her work and that he acknowledged something her mother wouldn't - that Miss Potter was as successful as any man in her field. Even moreso, in fact. I loved that!

    That movie just made me feel great as an author/illustrator - especially a female one.

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  13. I think one reason you see stories where a novelist pitches to an editor & sells without a word written is that it happens that way in Hollywood, sometimes anyway, with movie ideas.

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  14. Yeah, this! It really frustrates me that the TV/movie industry propagates this image of publishing being easy. In Limitless the guy also drops off a stack of papers in his editor's office and asks for a better advance. Um, what!? Also recently watched an episode of Criminal Minds where an editor calls up Rossi and says "I loved your book, when can we go to print?" Um...firstly, how about doing some actual editing. Secondly, since when does the author decide the print date? Oh so annoying!

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  15. What about Being Erica, a TV show from 2009-2011? Although it had some mistakes, I think it did a reasonable job of showing the publishing business.

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