What Have You Done For Me Lately?

I wish I could remember which ’50s American author told the sorry of his publication day, walking around midtown Manhattan and being dismayed to realize that most of the people around him were oblivious to the utter importance of the fact that it was … his publication day!

I’ve never suffered from that degree of disconnect. Might be just me (or him), might be not being in New York, or living and writing in an age where unless you write Fifty Shades of Da Vinci, any sane writer knows that a hardcover fiction release is going to engage only a small subset of the culture.

But there is a variant of the feeling that kicks in around now, a month after release. It has to do with the frenzy of the period from a month before to a month after a book comes out, within that relatively small world. It is easy to get a distorted view of what one is or does during the marketing phase for a book receiving promotional energy.

And now, as it winds down, as River of Stars moves form being the next new thing to joining all other titles waiting for the next newer thing, a shifting of mental gears starts for me.

For one thing, absent any offers from Major League Baseball, I need to start thinking about another book. (To write, not to read!) We’re exploring scripting possibilities, but my ‘accustomed toil’, in Yeats’s phrase, is still, for better or worse, writing novels, and that’s where I’ll almost surely go.

The touring isn’t over. I leave next week for Calgary and Kamloops, and for the fall I need to sit down and choose among a number of invitations in North America and overseas, from various festivals and conventions. But that stage has an extremely different feel to it, compared to the overheated mood of being ‘just out’ with a book after three years. (I wonder how different it is for the very prolific.)

The publishers are still waiting on some major reviews, and they often do come later – last time the wonderful Washington Post review by Michael Dirda ran on Father’s Day for an April release of Under Heaven. And the UK release for River of Stars is in July. I won’t be touring for it, but there will be marketing and publicity there as they explore the effect of the rebranding I’ve discussed here (in the post with the new UK cover). New editions are always being sold to and appearing in various foreign language editions, but that counts as a chronic condition, not a launch period.

In other words, I have a sense this spring morning of a phase winding down and the need to start shaping the next one. River of Stars is still on the national bestseller list at Macleans, at #6 today after 5 or 6 weeks (I’ve lost count!), with new titles by Rutherford and Le Carre near the top, and with Dan Brown and Khaled Hosseini ticketed for later this month. By the beginning of August the fall titles are starting to roll out.

Spring books do continue to sell, and publishers push their bigger titles hard at selected times of the year. Mother’s Day this week for some, Father’s Day for others, obviously a big campaign for Christmas. Soon we’ll move into another ‘next stage’ and start deciding on a cover for the paperback. The Americans have already elected to stay with the blue cover of the hardback – everyone loves it there. Canada is still to make their call: last time they went from the green horse to the black cover with silk and sword (both US and Canada used that). There are different vibes and mandates as between hardcover and paperback. (And different again later here, when Penguin Canada do their third edition, the trade paperback.)

But that, too, is something that pulls me forward to thinking about next.

Next is good. This marketing phase is, fundamentally, a strange period for any writer. It is a part of his or her ‘job’ but can too easily come to be seen as the real job, and it isn’t.

4 thoughts on “What Have You Done For Me Lately?

  1. Please disregard if I pry too much sir, but I am very curious Mr. Kay, with regards to the decision not to tour UK.

    Is it a case of you and/or your publishers feeling the saturation coverage allowable nowadays remotely, doesn’t demand the author’s presence? (Even with a major rebranding push?)

    Or, as you’ve touched on before, is it the case of the live tour going the way of the dodo?

    It interests me, quite intensely, how live appearances affect an artist’s income. At one end of the spectrum, new releases in music make up less & less of a share of a musician’s income. For them, it is the live tour that can make or break them financially nowadays.

    The separation between performer and artist is something you have touched on also. The curtailing of the live tours has always seemed to me to be an ‘ABC’ solution to budget management by publushers. I often despair………….no, that’s too strong a word.

    I often question the lack of an attempt to find that beautiful ‘algebraic’ solution, to the ever more questionable relevance of live author appearances. The reading, the Q&A, the onstage interview, rinse & repeat.

    Have you heard any stories of an Author’s appearance being a catalyst to wider renown? In the sense of a performer’s breakout show catapaulting them onto a higher stratum after a particularly scintilating performance?

    Do you feel the slow burn of a written work precludes that from happening?

    My Thanks for your thoughtful insights on this Journal sir. If I may say, your latest work has challenged me more than anything I have read – from you, from anyone. I cherish that experience.

    Gregor Lewis

  2. Please disregard if I pry too much sir, but I am very curious Mr. Kay, with regards to the decision not to tour UK.

    Is it a case of you and/or your publishers feeling the saturation coverage allowable nowadays remotely, doesn’t demand the author’s presence? (Even with a major rebranding push?)

    Or, as you’ve touched on before, is it the case of the live tour going the way of the dodo?

    It interests me, quite intensely, how live appearances affect an artist’s income. At one end of the spectrum, new releases in music make up less & less of a share of a musician’s income. For them, it is the live tour that can make or break them financially nowadays.

    The separation between performer and artist is something you have touched on also. The curtailing of the live tours has always seemed to me to be an ‘ABC’ solution to budget management by publushers. I often despair………….no, that’s too strong a word.

    I often question the lack of an attempt to find that beautiful ‘algebraic’ solution, to the ever more questionable relevance of live author appearances. The reading, the Q&A, the onstage interview, rinse & repeat.

    Have you heard any stories of an Author’s appearance being a catalyst to wider renown? In the sense of a performer’s breakout show catapaulting them onto a higher stratum after a particularly scintilating performance?

    Do you feel the slow burn of a written work precludes that from happening?

    My Thanks for your thoughtful insights on this Journal sir. If I may say, your latest work has challenged me more than anything I have read – from you, from anyone. I cherish that experience.

    Gregor Lewis

  3. Gregor, Not too personal at all, this journal is in good part about the evolving nature of the business. Touring, which is expensive and requires a lot of groundwork laid, is indeed a slowly (or even rapidly) vanishing phenomenon. It largely has to do with the disappearance of media outlets that cover author visits and also the rise of online book buying (both paper books and ebooks). The cost of touring someone (especially from overseas) makes publishers in a retrenching mode think twice or three times, and it is actually hard to quarrel with this. It can be draining and dispiriting for a writer to be on the road with no one listening.

    My own sense has long been that the ‘magic’ of an appearance varies widely from writer to writer, and that the majority of any audience coming to hear someone read or speak are already fans of that author. There are always some who are just curious, or the partner/friend of a fan, dragged along, buying a book, becoming a reader … but a publisher still has to do some legitimate calculation of cost and return and the author has to weigh time lost against how it might have been spent.

    I think touring as a ‘catalyst’ is probably backwards for today – touring and all other marketing FOLLOW success (or they follow a very big advance to a new writer, aiming for success) more often these days. This question also opens up discussions about whether an author is to be seen as a ‘performer’ or not.

  4. Gregor, Not too personal at all, this journal is in good part about the evolving nature of the business. Touring, which is expensive and requires a lot of groundwork laid, is indeed a slowly (or even rapidly) vanishing phenomenon. It largely has to do with the disappearance of media outlets that cover author visits and also the rise of online book buying (both paper books and ebooks). The cost of touring someone (especially from overseas) makes publishers in a retrenching mode think twice or three times, and it is actually hard to quarrel with this. It can be draining and dispiriting for a writer to be on the road with no one listening.

    My own sense has long been that the ‘magic’ of an appearance varies widely from writer to writer, and that the majority of any audience coming to hear someone read or speak are already fans of that author. There are always some who are just curious, or the partner/friend of a fan, dragged along, buying a book, becoming a reader … but a publisher still has to do some legitimate calculation of cost and return and the author has to weigh time lost against how it might have been spent.

    I think touring as a ‘catalyst’ is probably backwards for today – touring and all other marketing FOLLOW success (or they follow a very big advance to a new writer, aiming for success) more often these days. This question also opens up discussions about whether an author is to be seen as a ‘performer’ or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *