I admit that I haven’t really been aware of book publishing as a major theme or setting for Hollywood movies. But it seems I’m just guilty of ignorance. The New York Times twits the movie industry on its treatment of the book publishing business. The author of the piece, Sloane Crosley, writes “my boss told me that the blessing and curse of our industry is that ‘everyone thinks they can do what we do, even though no one has a clue what we do.’” Something I’ve also often whispered is that nothing that we do is particularly difficult: to publish a book you just have to do a few straightforward common-sensical things, do them right, and do them in the right order. It really isn’t rocket science — but it isn’t magic either. And, you’d have thought, it isn’t very rich in the sort of dramatic interest a movie producer might be seeking.

About thirty years ago we saw a play on Broadway which turned on this little publishing company’s Hail-Mary acquisition of a multi-volume encyclopedia. The actors told us how this would save Itsy-Bitsy Publishing and would make them all fabulously rich. We (who had a fair amount of experience in encyclopedia publishing) knew that the developmental costs (and time it’d all take) would submerge the little guys in debt and bankrupt them within a year or so. And furthermore that if they did make it through they’d be hard pressed to sell more than 1,000 or so copies of such a project. And how many book publishing companies were there within a stone’s throw of that theater? Any one of them could have steered them right. Maybe the playwright lived on a mountain top.

I have to admit that some of the characters in that play did hold out for signing up a bestselling novel instead. The trouble is that publishing just doesn’t work like that. You can’t save your company by going out and signing a bestseller. Bestsellers aren’t acquired: they happen. (Obviously a book by say James Patterson can be expected to sell well, but a little company can’t just call James Patterson and get his next manuscript. Household names tend already to have houses.) Publishers have to throw lots and lots of spaghetti at the walls in the hope that eventually one strand will stick. Even if they’re aware that this book is published by Publisher X or Publisher Y the book-buying public doesn’t care: they will buy books because they want to, for random and unpredictable reasons — and until they do so nobody knows which individual strand of the publisher’s pasta package is going to take a trick. All too often all fail to adhere. This is inherently undramatic — you put book after book out there and wait to see what works.

Surely it’s easy enough to check this sort of thing: maybe Hollywood insiders cut all their ex-colleagues when they desert NYC for LA by moving from Editorial Assistant to Book Scout. That westward move seems to involve expunging from your memory bank what it was that really went on at that publishing company you worked for eons ago. Maybe the reality is too dull to be recalled accurately. Don’t we all know that New York book publishing is all just one hectic rush of launch parties, three-martini lunches with good-looking authors, witty and urbane conversation, and a few discrete tweaks to a brilliantly-written manuscript so that the work of genius within is revealed to an astonished world — which turns around and makes a movie about you?