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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005  
The literary life
From the PublishersMarketplace blog.

The Not-So Fun Stuff: Contrary to popular belief, I don't go trolling for pessimistic letters to publish in my blog.

But when I get a letter like this one -- from an author who has been well reviewed in every major publication, who teaches at one of the finest fiction programs in the county, whose short stories have appeared in very best venues, and whose novels I personally love -- I think it 's important to give it the spotlight.

The author (who wishes to remain anonymous) was asked: What's the most important thing a writer needs to know to keep his or her sanity these days?"

The response: It was important for me to realize just how little power editors have nowadays. That the editors may love the books they buy, and want very much for them to succeed, but it's the marketing department - whom the writer may never see in person - who decides its fate.

This is bad news, but at least it means that your editor is not betraying you. Your editor may well be fighting hard for your book, but unable to surmount the opposing forces, and unable to explain to you what's happening, because it's against policy (and common sense) to do so.

My advice is to rely on your publisher for nothing, when your book comes out. If they do anything, you'll be pleasantly surprised, but think of your publication as your responsibility, your own self-publishing venture. That way you won't be disappointed, and you'll stay friends with your publishing house.

I don't mean it to sound pathetic, only that it's the reality of things.

When my last book came out, my publisher sent me to a certain big city for a reading. I was booked into a great hotel, and to read at the famous great bookstore.

When I got there, the local paper gave me a dire review, and I learned I'd been booked on the same night as a big baseball game. The store was only a few blocks from the stadium, which held 90,000 people, so even if a person weren't going to the game, (and everyone, I was told, in that city goes to the games) no-one would dream of going to that neighborhood that night, because of the local traffic.

Then it turned out that the bookstore hadn't bothered to mention the reading in its newsletter. Not a single person showed up, and the only record of my being there was the dire review in the paper. My publisher had flown me four thousand miles to do it, and it was a complete waste. Nothing insulates you from this kind of thing.

And if you're a literary writer, in some ways it's worse for you, because America has become so determinedly populist, and you're in some ways ostracized from the cultural mainstream. The chain stores don't want to stock your books, really - they want The Lovely Bones, or The Da Vinci Code.

That awful description in the NYTBR of poor Cynthia Ozick on television made me wince for her - the bird brained big-haired host telling the audience that Ozick's work was "really difficult," and poor Ozick making fun of her own low Amazon numbers. Now there's a really distinguished writer, and look at how difficult it is for her, even when she's given a tour.

What I mean is, you have to be doing this for yourself. Your publisher is going to do something for you, and your editor will do all she can, but honestly, you should understand that you're not going to be treated as the way a star was treated.

Only a very few books are really promoted. So that all the venues, the library luncheons and so on, that introduce authors to big crowds of interested readers - are all vying for the same six authors, instead of investigating the other fourteen novelists publishing that season, all of whom are dying.

So - it's like life, isn't it.

What a world.

1/19/2005 02:40:00 PM | 2 comments

Great post. As a former events person for a large chain I understand what you're saying. Even when the publishers would tell me that they would be publicizing my event, I quickly learned I had to send out my own press releases. Yes, they publicized the the degree that the author was coming to town. Their emphasis was on the author and the book not the signing at MY store. And, unfortunately, many an author failed to get the signing worked into the interviews. So I learned early on that my event at my store was only important to me; therefore, I had to send out the press release highlighting the signing and my store.

When it comes to publicity for my personal writing events, I know not to put my faith in the store. They have different agendas and their personnel may or may not be publicity-savvy, so I still put out my own press releases. Unfortunately or fortunately, the author is the best advocate for his or her book. There are many factors that come into play when you're dealing with bookstores. In an ideal world every event would be publicized to the same standard and every employee would be equally in sync with the store's activities, but clearly that's not the case.

While it's depressing for the author to have a booksigning where no one shows up, I would argue that the actual event may not have been for nothing. If you were able to connect with the events person, talk to the booksellers, meet the general manager or the inventory manager, then you may have spurred future handselling and goodwill that you will never even know exists. They are the ones who answer customers questions for book suggestions; they are the ones who front the books on the shelves; they are the ones who pull the books during inventory; they are the ones who can advocate for your book on the frontline at point of sale. You never know how those contacts will play out in the future.
Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!
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