Last year saw the debut of Missing Pages, a new podcast about scandals in the literary world — and the larger issues that many of them reveal. After the podcast launched, I spoke with host Bethanne Patrick about its genesis. And now that we’re into the second season of Missing Pages — featuring episodes on the rise of Colleen Hoover, the ins and outs of ghostwriting, and the rise in book bans nationwide, among other topics — it seemed like time to check back in with Patrick to learn more about where the new season was headed and how the first season informed it.
Congratulations on the new season! What was the response like for the first season — and were there any moments where you noticed that Missing Pages had prompted any changes or responses from the publishing world?
First of all, let me just address the response. The response was incredible, at least anecdotally. Metrics-wise, for the Podglomerate, it was definitely good, because we wouldn’t be making a season two if it hadn’t been okay. Anecdotally for me, from writers, authors, and people in the publishing industry and literary world, I got a huge response. I’m still amazed at some of the people I know who are out there who are listening, and they really were listening. I was amazed because I think there were things that I had to learn; I think season two definitely has some improvements host-wise, but I did get an incredible response.
The second part of your question was about if it prompted any changes in the publishing industry.I can’t say that it did. I wish I could point to something and say, oh, this made someone write a piece or this led to a change in this particular imprint or company. I can’t say that. I’m not surprised. Publishing, as we know, moves very slowly, and I know that for sure just from having spent a little time reporting the DOJ/PRH trial last summer for Publishers Weekly.
It was really interesting to be doing that while I had season one launching, and to see that the problems really are problems in the industry, and they do need to be addressed, and people say that they need to be addressed. It’s awfully hard to make changes in an industry that is a flat industry profits-wise, and so there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to shake things up — the way there is with a big tech company where they can say, “Oh this didn’t work; let’s be agile, let’s pivot.”
Let me be quick about this. A lot of stuff that has worked in publishing continues to work. The one thing we are always hearing, and we often say, is that this is such a personal and relationship-driven business. Season one was about some individuals and personal conflicts and things that were said against people that weren’t true, and so on and so forth. So, I would love to see us all put our money where our mouth is when it comes to publishing being a relationship driven industry.
Season two seems to have some individual case studies along with some broader themes within the industry and looking at bigger-picture issues. Was that a conscious decision — or is that more of a reflection of the state of the industry as you were working on the new season?
We realized in season one that some of the things that were happening in these stories that had individuals attached to them did have to do with industry practices that hadn’t changed in far too long, and we got really interested in how those practices came to be what they look like today and how they might change.
The second thing is that when the Podglomerate first started thinking about this show, it was going to be much more gossipy, and scandal-driven. We all got so fascinated by what’s happening with book publishing and books, and especially as we’re heading into an election year, all of us were less focused on things that might make us laugh or wince and more interested in big-picture issues, book banning and censorship being two of the biggest. We all want to know more about how that is being handled in the book world. We also want to know about new ways that authors and readers are connecting, because that makes a difference in a climate where books may be shut down in some places.
When it comes to covering efforts to ban books, what are some of the challenges of covering something where the goalposts are shifting every day and there are new permutations on it week by week?
Recently, I was talking to an academic about an issue for something I was researching, and the person said, “One of the reasons I wanted to be closer to the media and do more media is because this issue is so important to me. If I write white papers and publish in research journals, it doesn’t help effect change.” And so one of the reasons that I want to be — as I have been for the past year and a half or so — reporting again for Publishers Weekly and working on Missing Pages is because I want to get out to people about these issues.
As you were saying, I think the goalposts are always moving. If you and I were able to look at Bookscan, I’d wager that a lot of the fiction that is really titillating and a lot of romance fiction that’s on the erotica side is probably selling really well in the same places where people are saying, “I don’t want my kids to read a picture book about two male penguins adopting a child.”
Were there any things you feel like you learned from doing season one that applied to your approach as host for the current season?
Definitely. One of those things was realizing that, again, we really are doing reporting. Is it investigative reporting? To some measure. It’s not hard hitting news, but we are definitely looking into these issues and trying to speak to really reputable sources. This time around, we talked to Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly, we have an interview on Colleen Hoover with Laura Miller, we have an interview about banned books with Jodi Picoult. We went to the best people we could find.
We do fact check and legal review all of our scripts and episodes. We’re doing the best we can. And I think we wanted this time around, to really streamline that process so that we were getting things right even more. I think we have a real commitment with Missing Pages in trying to get everything right. And if we don’t, we want to know and we want to fix it.
So that’s one thing that we really learned. I learned personally that I needed to talk a lot faster. I think I was really slow. I was treating the scripts more as almost like a radio drama rather than a podcast. And so now I think this season, people are going to be really happy to hear much faster speech from me.
Was there anything that you learned over the course of either season one or season two or both that prompted you to rethink certain assumptions or certain beliefs you’d had about the literary world?
Lord, the Dan Mallory episode. So one of the things that really perturbs me still about that is — here’s someone who really did lie. And he tried to pass that off as a symptom of bipolar syndrome. And that is one of the things that led us to deepen the show in the first place, because I said, “Hey, time out. I know something about mental illness and I know something about bipolar syndrome. And so you don’t just lie all the time because you’re bipolar. That’s not like a, you know, a symptom of the illness.”
So not only does he tell all these lies and continue to climb in the industry as an editor and an executive, but now he’s got another book coming out.
Oh man, I had not seen that.
Yeah, he’s got a book coming out. I’m not even sure. I want to say February 2024. And I just saw a picture of him with a couple of people that I’ve known for years in the industry, like, “Hey, here I am with Dan Mallory and he’s got a new book.”
And I thought, “Has he flummoxed everyone? What kind of flim-flam man is this?” Because there are two things going on, I guess, and you could probably figure them out, but let me just make sure I say them. One is that as a cishet white man, he was able to get so far in publishing without anyone ever checking these things on his resume. He claimed a PhD from Oxford that he didn’t have, never had.
That’s one. And then number two, given that he really did make out like a bandit from all of those advantages, you’d think now someone would say, “Maybe we shouldn’t be holding this guy up and giving him a new book contract and all kinds of promotion.” But they are. That really disturbed me. I know all of these people in the industry — yourself included, myself included — who care about things like We Need Diverse Books, about #OwnVoices, about diversity in the book publishing industry.
I was at a writer’s conference over the weekend and I was on a panel about the state of publishing today. One of the people on the panel was an agent and I had said something like, “Look, I’m sorry, but it’s imperialist and patriarchal. We need to change publishing completely.”
And my colleague made a joke like, “I don’t want people in publishing to hear me saying bad things about it.” And I thought, I don’t know. I guess I have an interesting perspective with Missing Pages because I am full-time freelance, and I’ve never actually been in-house at a traditional publisher. I don’t feel much compunction about saying things aren’t good. Things need to change. And I don’t know if anyone is listening to me, but I feel like at least I can be someone who does say that.
In between seasons one and two of the podcast, you had a book of your own come out. Did that experience have any influence on the way this new season emerged?
My book Life B is about a mental illness I have called double depression. And I mentioned earlier in our talk that I know something about bipolar syndrome because I know people who have it. My deep, deep dive in the memoir writing process into the world of mental health affected how we conceived of season one. And I think it also connects to season two, because we saw that an individual might be bipolar, an individual might have a personality disorder that leads them to be a scammer of people. Or a person might fall into a depression like Greg Mortensen after being completely dismissed by John Krakauer. We did find someone who debunks Krakauer, that doesn’t mean Krakauer’s right or the woman we spoke to was right, but it does make you think.
Now, moving into season two, I believe, as we were planning it and developing it, we all realized that individuals can be really complicated. But also, companies, corporations, teams have dysfunction too. And especially after I was there watching that trial, I thought, “Publishing does not know which end is up.” And, you know, we love it. I mean, that’s why we are all in it. I mean, we’re not in it for the money.
I do think that my journey to write my book is definitely something that has influenced both seasons of Missing Pages. And we have a lot of things we’re thinking about with season three, however season three might look I do believe that my own journey as a writer, and as someone with mental health issues affects Missing Pages.
When you were covering the DOJ/Penguin Random House trial, did that process lead to anything that had any bearing on this season of Missing Pages?
I don’t think we started actively working on season two until this January. Our process has speeded up quite a bit. Definitely, it was in my head; I was thinking, we have got to have got to have an episode on this. And at the time, I didn’t realize that we were going to go in this more process- and news-oriented way. I was thinking more about, you know, looking at some of the personalities there like Marcus Dola and Madeline McIntosh and, of course, our favorite Jackal.
During the trial I was a little bit more features-oriented than news-oriented if you will, which was fine because I was reporting it as news. But still, it gave me an incredible window into the problems of communication within the industry, and it’s really, really tough. I mean, I’m glad I am not negotiating these deals and advances — because I don’t think I would survive, honestly.