Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Goods on J. Edgar Hoover, #1

Dear Countryclients,

The drums are beating, closer every day, and within a week or so the Clint Eastwood saga, J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover will burst across our movie screens.  As it happens, along with Robert Kennedy, the high-powered, cold-blooded founder of the FBI carried a lot of the essential action in my controversial 2007 book Bobby and J. Edgar.  Joe Kennedy was almost always within earshot, usually on the telephone.

My double biography is still in print.  Details as to how exactly Marilyn Monroe died and who orchestrated the shooting of Jack Kennedy, and how, have sustained the buzz.  The book recently moved up from #40 to #20 nationally in the Biography and Memoir category in the Amazon system.

With Bobby and J. Edgar coming back onto cycle I thought it might be a good time to contact the current publisher of the book, Basic Books, and volunteer to help out with whatever publicity the firm thought might be appropriate to spur sales.  The president there got right back, promised to do whatever he could, and headlined the book in his company's current release to bookstores.

This response was noteworthy because it was so unusual.  Publishing today is moribund, barely twitching at its most exalted moments.  Most of the important houses have been gutted of competent staff.  Replying to my publisher at Basic Books I unloaded -- with characteristic diplomacy -- my urgent concerns.  I started out by pointing out what a shell game most publishers were playing with agents and writers.  "The result of all this for writers," I pressed on,"since many agents have become quite cavalier when it comes to tracking down [royalty] specifics and sending along checks, has been to make a difficult profession impossible. The mid-list talent that ultimately supports the industry and produces the durable classics is in the process of giving up wholesale.  It is obviously in the process of being replaced by underpaid reporters and marginal academics engaged to research 'hot' subjects and then turn over their notes to purported editors, often hired at starvation wages from outside the house, who produce the mediocre manuscripts now flooding the outlets. The increasingly alienated reading public finds the results unreadable and will not buy books, for good reason.  Starving out genuinely talented professional writers can only eventuate in the extinction of publishing itself."

All this was venting, of course, but it was also an effort to alert a responsible executive in an increasingly troubled industry as to how it felt from the point of view of that shrinking cadre of committed  literary professionals whose world is drying up around them.  Perhaps the dinosaurs will go last.  But they'll go too, and soon.

More on Bobby and J. Edgar shortly.




  1. Looking forward to a Hoover update from you, Mr. Hersh.

    Was James Angleton Hoover's preferred contact at the CIA?

    - Steve

  2. Your noteworthy blog points explain better than I can why I quit the agent world--a long time ago--and why my brief attempt to resurrect my enthusiasm for book publishing , or what passes for that label today, encouraged me to quit for the second time.
    For every enlightened publishing executive (i.e.: your Basic Books publisher), there are hundreds of dolts occupying underpaid chairs in so-called publishing houses, pretending to be what they never can become: Editors.

    Wow. Did I really say that? Yes, I did. Furthermore, I believe my remark, based upon all-too-bitter experience. Fie upon them and upon their "houses."



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