Arts & Culture

Publishing 2.0

This past Sunday I went to a book party for a friend’s memoir about love addiction. It was held in a gallery on the trendy fringes of downtown Los Angeles and featured surrealist-tinged erotic art – Giorgio de Chirico meets … Read More

By / December 9, 2008

This past Sunday I went to a book party for a friend’s memoir about love addiction. It was held in a gallery on the trendy fringes of downtown Los Angeles and featured surrealist-tinged erotic art – Giorgio de Chirico meets Larry Flynt, if you will – on the lurid, red walls, and an assortment of mixed drinks designed especially for the event including a chocolate liqueur and vodka concoction called a "Pimptini" (delicious, thank you). The publishing house has a tiny budget for this book, so the authoress – a promo-monster – was left to her own devices and it was she who planned and executed the party. It was packed and she probably sold a hundred books, a big number for someone whose books are not available at Costco. That my friend had to leave her lonely writer’s hovel and magically morph into a combination of Anais Nin and Pearl Mesta is a recent development in the literary life that all writers working today would benefit from pondering.

One of the more vexing decisions a novelist makes today is how aggressively to promote a new book. Time was you sold it, then moved to Paris, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, or danced in Plaza fountain after a night of drunken carousing, while the publishing house did all the work.  Alas, those days have gone the way of the fifty-cent paperback. For example: to blog or not to blog? You can see how I answered that one.    

Publishing houses, which are at a loss for how to sell books (not to pick on them – no one seems able to do this anymore), expect their authors to have web sites. A few years ago, I barely knew how to check my e-mail.  Frankly, I can barely do more than that today. I do, however, have a web site, a book video, and a slightly conflicted attitude about it all. When I imagined the life of a novelist back in college, it did not include a position in sales. And that is not a value judgment. I respect the salespeople of the world; I just did not intend to join their ranks. It is not enough today that an author exhibits the psychological insights of a Dostoevsky or the prose skills of a Henry James. He must now be able to take those elements and skillfully blend them into a persona that takes as much from P.T. Barnum as it does from Nabokov or Martin Amis.

There are those who find this untoward or vulgar, who hold this new world as if in tweezers, examining it, repulsed, before depositing it on the ash heap. They do this at their peril. Newspapers and bookstores are vanishing and along with them the more traditional ways of getting the word out. Promotion is something anyone who wants readers and is not named Thomas Pynchon must embrace. I have been a professional writer for twenty-five years. If no one reads my books, my kids will starve. Okay, they won’t actually starve-starve, but it will limit the things I can do for them. And they’re good, hard-working kids. They deserve better. They actually deserve a father who is a hedge-fund manager, but they’re stuck with me. So I swallow hard, and make like Willy Loman.

Shining City is a comic novel about a middle class dad who finds himself, through a series of circumstances, working as a proprietor of a high-class escort service (I love the idea of "high-class" in this context).  I have worked in Hollywood, so prostitution is a concept I know a little about. And pimping is such a resonant metaphor. Is it prostitution to go out and try and draw attention to your work? Is it something that can be done with a modicum of dignity? Personally, I am happy to shill for something I believe in.

There’s a series of popular books about teenage vampires out now. My daughter, a high school senior who is an authority on this sort of thing, assures me they have no literary merit. But this has not stopped the author from a doing a promotional blitzkrieg that has taken up an extraordinary amount of media oxygen. Here is the world of fiction publishing now: teenaged vampires, shopaholics, and Janet Evanovich, whose books, incidentally, can be found next to the frozen pizza in my neighborhood supermarket. 

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.