John William Corrington: The Publishing Industry’s Nostradamus?

John William Corrington passed away in 1988, but many of his philosophies and opinions still ring true today.

He had a keen eye for industry and business, specifically the writing business. In his lecture, “The Mystery of Writing,” he points out the contradictions that plague every writer’s existence: “… there was an inverse proportion between the amount of money a man could make and the quality of his writing. If you wanted to make a lot of money, you wrote crap.” Some would say this is still the case today. , While I will not venture to point out those bestsellers that perfectly fit this model, simply seeing the horde of novels with the word “Girl” in the title is evidence enough.

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. It makes sense, but when considering creative works, using this formulaic model comes with consequences. One of these consequences is the category-specific saturation of certain markets. You can’t throw a stone in a bookstore without hitting a fad, be it vampires, zombies, etc. (Please don’t throw stones in bookstores. You may be asked to leave.) These fads are not unique to literature. We see them in all media, especially movies. And when something doesn’t work, go back to the last thing that did. This would explain all of the questionable superhero remakes and remixes. Apparently, this problem has been around for a while. Corrington referred to “copy-cats” in his speech, somberly stating, “I think it is safe to say no American publisher would risk three dollars and ninety-five cents in the name of American literature.” Trade publishers are more likely to publish a work that has been done nine ways to Sunday than take a chance on a piece of literature that may not sell. It is smart business, but it is also a culture killer, silencing new, unique voices in favor of blockbusters and one-hit wonders. But challenges such as these often lead to change.

The publishing industry is evolving, thanks to innovations, especially in technology. A book that was once a Christmas gift for family and friends can become the next international bestseller. Household names are now competing side-by-side with midnight warriors who, after slugging through their workdays, peck away at keyboards late at night while the kids sleep. I like to think Corrington would be encouraged with this change. Though the publishing industry, as with all sectors of life and business, has its faults and its crutches, the writers, the creators, the world-builders, the dreamers have never had it so good.


For more insights from Corrington, be sure to check out

The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington

Coming next month on July 18th!