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Could Microblogs Destroy the Auction Paradigm?

Monday’s item about the Twitter-ing around the Lynne Spear memoir elicited a thoughtful reaction from Maud Newton, who reminded readers that “online small talk, especially pre-deal, is a double-edged sword.” Newton focused on a string of Twitter posts by HarperCollins marketing manager Felicia Sullivan around the time that Emily Gould was shopping her essay collection, from the initial coy hint that Sullivan was “trying hard to be objective” while reading Gould’s proposal to the declaration that “if it’s a million, I’m breaking out the shovel and a 12-gauge.” Newton suggests that post might have been the source of the early rumor, floated by Gawker, about a seven-figure book deal—but, looking past this particular incident and taking in the big picture, she wonders “how agents will try prevent leaks in an increasingly-Twittering publishing world.”

I don’t know the answer to that, but maybe the subject leads us to a bit of advice Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash offered last week: “Ignore those agents who play publisher egos off one another and convince them when they’ve overpaid for yet another debut novel that they’ve ‘won,’ that they ‘beat’ the other house.” He reiterated the point yesterday in a panel discussion at NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute, quipping that only in publishing is the editor who’s willing to spend the most money on a (frequently untested, unproven) author and subject his or her company to the steepest financial risk the “winner.”

Now, I don’t want to lay too much of a burden on Twitter, but I do think it’s possible that one of the ways to shatter the mystique of the “potentially huge book” is the development of a publishing culture where industry professionals start mulling over possible projects more publicly, whether it’s actively soliciting feedback from readers with whom they’ve formed customer-based relationships or simply pulling the curtain back for those readers who are interested in such things.

And as long as I’m daydreaming, maybe Twitter could kill the concept of the media embargo, too.

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