Long views, short views

I’m delegating part of this post to two very funny pieces I found. One is recent, in Salon, the other is a 3 years old bit I love, from the New Yorker. Both are about book marketing.

The older one, first:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2009/10/19/091019sh_shouts_weiner

I sent this to all my publicists and marketing people back when, with urgent assurances I did love them and I didn’t think the industry was bailing on writers this much, but … it was still killingly funny. From the first two sentences on.

The second is in a long tradition of Author Tour From Hell accounts. This paradigm is actually what I used to inspire my first Tour Journal, years ago … the idea that I might try to be both funny and informative, in sharing the stages of how a book got out there on bookstore shelves (e-books as a major alternative were a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye back then). Evoking some of the pieces I’d read when young about authors on the road.

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/17/hell_is_my_own_book_tour/

This is a very funny addition to the tour disaster canon. I almost did a follow-up tweet about it, but Twitter is tricky. Brevity means you lose the space to make clear what you are not doing. I don’t remotely want to needle Mansbach (who wrote the linked piece). I loved his riff, winced and laughed. But it has occurred to me, thinking about this, and my own Journal posts: if publisher-funded author tours are dying out – and they are – does it become a humblebrag to talk about the chaos and fumbling associated with your own? I’m big enough to be having a disaster tour?

Or, as I do here, to be writing about aggravations with overseas contracts or sorting out a book video, or a day spent with a (patient!) production editor reviewing the last stages of a manuscript (when most people don’t get that chance)? I hold to the notion that I can (sometimes) be amusing and (sometimes) informative about a subject most readers don’t get to glimpse, and seem to enjoy seeing, but –

I worry about it. I think, often, about the whole process whereby our culture foregrounds the artist as least as much as the art. We write about our parents and pets, we share cute kid pictures, or our favourite scotches and coffee brands. And people seem to want this. But if I start reflecting now about privacy I’ll be getting into Jodi Foster country (and I am not retiring, not lonely, and I loathe Mel Gibson).

But here’s another quote I saw this week, from an Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym), profiled in the New Yorker. She’s highly regarded, not prolific, not anything like a commercial name. At the outset of her career she wrote to her publisher (as quoted by James Wood):

I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t … Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.

Wow, one might say, suavely. There’s someone willing to take the long, long view.

 

7 thoughts on “Long views, short views

  1. I think that most authors would prefer their books to find readers sooner rather than later. (If they do at all, I guess.) Food and gas prices, and all that.

  2. I think that most authors would prefer their books to find readers sooner rather than later. (If they do at all, I guess.) Food and gas prices, and all that.

  3. Dear Guy:
    Please go ahead and share. Do the humblebrag thing.
    I’m sure there are lots of readers who live vicariously through your posts about mishaps in the publishing world. For one thing, it helps us fantasize accurately about how it will be when we merit book tours.
    And right now I really need to fantasize while doing today’s chores: spot cleaning and steam cleaning the carpet after the cat brought in a rat at 3 am and flung it all around the house.
    Janie

  4. Dear Guy:
    Please go ahead and share. Do the humblebrag thing.
    I’m sure there are lots of readers who live vicariously through your posts about mishaps in the publishing world. For one thing, it helps us fantasize accurately about how it will be when we merit book tours.
    And right now I really need to fantasize while doing today’s chores: spot cleaning and steam cleaning the carpet after the cat brought in a rat at 3 am and flung it all around the house.
    Janie

  5. Simon: of course! And better to be alive and recognized, etc. The issue is philosophical, and I respect Ferrante’s perspective: separate the work and the artist. Also, what is one willing to DO for sales? Does one change one’s writing to follow the market? Ride a Roman chariot down Yonge St in Toronto, dressed as a Vestal Virgin, with one’s publisher in a toga driving it? (This happened. Couldn’t make it up. The book was called The Emperor’s Virgin, I am pretty sure.)

    Janie: my sense, from discussions with other writers, is that a piece like Mansbach’s about how ‘no one showed!’ (or, worse, four people, since he then HAD to read) isn’t any kind of brag. A post about being exhausted after signing five straight hours and for the third day in a row… might be a ‘nother thang. Sorry about the carpet. There’s a catpet pun I won’t make. Nope.

  6. Perhaps to consider the juxtaposition indicates a clean mastery of the situation. At the very least it is an indication of earnest striving – if I may be so bold, I think you are too experienced for that to be true of you – and nothing more calculated.

    Pure mastery is perhaps closer to the description I am trying to convey, of the emotion engendered in me when I read your description of your doubts, above. I am biased – I have unambiguously declared my love for ALL words of yours I have had the pleasure of consuming, even though I don’t agree with all of them – but not for the standard fanboy reasons one might expect.

    I have come to terms with who and what I am. Part of the beginning of that journey was reading your first online journal for Last Light of the Sun. I had delusions approximate to those you attribute to Ferrante above and what I LEARNED from what you wrote in that Journal TAUGHT me to understand them and modify my expectations.

    More than eight years have passed, almost nine even and this small circle in/of my life has come around 360°. In my opinion, there is no purer motive than “to teach” and no worthier intention than “to learn.” I have lived and learned from you and through your work from afar. A big part of that has been your willingness to share your experiences, at many different levels.

    I am loathe to tell you how to feel, but where consideration of doubt exists, by my lights, pure objectivity begins. Thank you for what I have learned so far and I hunger for more.

    George.

    P.S: so you loathe Mel Gibson huh? (hint, hint…..)

  7. Perhaps to consider the juxtaposition indicates a clean mastery of the situation. At the very least it is an indication of earnest striving – if I may be so bold, I think you are too experienced for that to be true of you – and nothing more calculated.

    Pure mastery is perhaps closer to the description I am trying to convey, of the emotion engendered in me when I read your description of your doubts, above. I am biased – I have unambiguously declared my love for ALL words of yours I have had the pleasure of consuming, even though I don’t agree with all of them – but not for the standard fanboy reasons one might expect.

    I have come to terms with who and what I am. Part of the beginning of that journey was reading your first online journal for Last Light of the Sun. I had delusions approximate to those you attribute to Ferrante above and what I LEARNED from what you wrote in that Journal TAUGHT me to understand them and modify my expectations.

    More than eight years have passed, almost nine even and this small circle in/of my life has come around 360°. In my opinion, there is no purer motive than “to teach” and no worthier intention than “to learn.” I have lived and learned from you and through your work from afar. A big part of that has been your willingness to share your experiences, at many different levels.

    I am loathe to tell you how to feel, but where consideration of doubt exists, by my lights, pure objectivity begins. Thank you for what I have learned so far and I hunger for more.

    George.

    P.S: so you loathe Mel Gibson huh? (hint, hint…..)

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