Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Hemingway might have to do if he were writing today

My friend Jordie called me yesterday about an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times: "What Hemingway didn't have to do." The piece was by Michelle Slatalla who wrote about how authors, these days, must do promotion. Jordie is upset at the state of publishing and wishes things were different, like in the old days, when writers wrote and publishers promoted.

I don't know what to say about this. It depresses him, this state of publishing, Me, I accept it. Doesn't hurt that from '89 to '96 I had a small publicity biz and thought it was fun to get a client's name in the paper or get a reporter to call him/her just because I wrote up a press release and sent it to the paper.

I'm not an extrovert and yet I do find it fun to give talks and teach. I mean, you can only write so much, and then it's time to get off your butt and get out of the house.

Jordie's an extrovert so I doubt this is the problem. Maybe he's too much an extrovert and longs to be able to sit at his desk and muse and write; he's a wonderful writer. But he's disgusted with the publishing biz and I wonder if this discouragement causes him to just not write so much anymore.

I can see it from the publisher's point of view (the problem with being a Libra is you can see things from not just both sides, but multiple sides--from each facet!).

Publishers publish books and need to make money doing so. Publishers aren't exactly big business. So what should they do? If they publish a book and it just sits there, who's fault is it? It's theirs for not promoting it, but isn't it also the writer's fault, for not doing what he/she can do to get it out there? And if no one is buying, who's fault is that? Good books do sell via word of mouth, so a writer can do virtually no PR and if readers love it, it will sell.

It's a complicated issue with no easy solution. There's so much else to take up a reader's time. You're reading this blog, yes? At one time there was no blog and no Internet and so you'd read the paper or--ahem--a book.

On the other hand, maybe you read as many books as you did before the Internet. I do. I just don't watch TV anymore--except, of course, for the Turner Classic Movie channel. Yes, I've seen To Kill a Mockingbird numerous times and I will continue to, so shush.

What do we do, as writers, to support the publishing industry? Buy new books or used books? Borrow books from the library or a friend? This doesn't really support publishing. Or, if you write poetry, do you buy books of poetry? Or look up poems on the Internet? We've got to buy books to keep the machine lubricated.

Don't we? Or do we hide out heads under bushel baskets and chairs, like Rosie is doing above? Slatalla came up with a creative way to promote her book--by writing a piece for the L.A. Times. The piece might be construed as complaining or whining about publishing, when in fact she's having fun with it. No?


Anonymous said...

I love reading bits like this, but always appreciate a link to the source article! I found it finally, but online it's titled "The Author as Huckster" and the link is,0,3263367.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions assuming that's the same op-ed.


Anonymous said...

It *is* the same piece. Interesting that they retitled it for online use..... Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had a clue as to how to promote my book. I have a website that gets 300 to 400 hits per month from every continent on the globe. Yet, I don't sell one book. Not One!

I try to post on others' blogs (like yours of course, Barbara)and that drives traffic to my blog and my website. I write pieces on my blog that people read.

Can't sell a thing. I complained to my publisher. Unfortunately, that happens to be me. And me can't do nothin' about it. Pardon the bad English.


Nick (Borelli) Battista

Endment said...

Really appreciate your comments... However - guess there is often a however - the practice keeps talented writers who have health problems from even submiting their work to publishers because they know they cant deal with the travel and stress related to promotion.

Deborah said...

How's the bag going? I've not started mine, sorry. Back to school homework is kicking my butt - I hate it more than my kids. Actually, I'm trying to keep my end of the bargain - if they come straight home from school, do their homework, go outside and play - I'll cook a 500 course meal. Well, as Richard Pryor used to say, "shouldna done that!" Kids think they live in a buffet restaurant.

I read your post today and it is such an interesting question. I've had a few friends who wrote books that have done well, but I thought they were crap. They are in what I call the "negro novella" genre. I don't think I'm a snob. One of the women I knew to be intelligent and hardly superficial but she chose to write about what she could sell. There are books that are written purely for commercial gain. I don't think that is terrible, writers gotta eat too and how many MacArthur grants are given away each year anyway?

There was a time when I never read anything involving romance, I've since softened (therapy helped). I think I rejected romance books because A)if I read romance books did it mean my romantic life sucked? or B) if I read romance books did it mean I'm not intelligent? or C)if I read romance books did it mean I was only interested in what happened with my vagina and not my brain?... you get the idea. Too much thinking not enough fun. I read them now on occasion, my only requirement is that the dialogue be good, and a halfway decent plot. Human Stain is a romance book but it has so much more, love that Philip Roth.

I don't usually rely on best seller lists to make a book selection although I can't deny that I'm susceptible to suggestion. I check out other sources too from varied interests - lots of radio, I love radio; book TV; Charlie Rose; NPR; Pacifica; The Independent of London... Stuff like your picture of your books is terrific. I'm always plugging acquaintance from overseas for book suggestions too. (Yarnstorm just posted a picture of her books too). I have a friend who is a playwright in South Africa who recommends the best books.

Book jackets do have a subliminal effect. Book comments are very important to me too. If I see comments by people I don't necessarily appreciate, I won't buy the book regardless of what is said about it in a review.

Finally, I think that there are soooo many books on every conceivable topic it is overwhelming to the average person. Media is so big now, yet narrow minded, that I wonder how anyone can do well in music or publishing that isn't paying big time to the media giants. There are times when I don't believe that our culture in this country supports reading but then what are the reasons for a Barnes and Nobles success?? I find it all very fascinating. Thanks for posing the question!


Leslea said...

I'm still in that naive place that believes that if I make this book as good as I possibly can, then throw my heart into promoting it to the right agent, my own enthusiasm in talking about the book to my friends (online and off, but mostly online) will be enough to get things off and running. I'm hopeful that a good agent will guide me through the whole PR process.

We live in a world now where people are encouraged to go for their dreams, whereas perhaps Hemingway's peers did not have such easy access to National Novel Writing Month, Writers on Writing podcasts, Miss Snark blogs, and couldn't interact with world-wide best-selling titans like JK Rowling through websites that are more fun than arcade games. There's a great appeal to writing now that has less to do with sitting shiva with a typewriter in an empty room.

Being a writer in this day and age is like answering a call to adventure. Personally, I'm selfishly hopeful that many people who enjoy writing for kicks aren't as passionate as I am about finding a way to make a living at it, but despite all the competition, I'm hoping my love for this project is enough to carry it through.

It has certainly been one of the best things I've ever done, ranking right up there w/ my children. (Even if it's unreadable right now!)

Speaking of which, Barbara, I came here to ask you a question. My long-needed M-F retreat is coming up. I will have five days of time to myself to pray, meditate, and work on finishing up the readable draft of my book. I've vaguely made a plan of how I'm going to do this, but I was curious if you had any pointers.

If you had five whole days, uninterrupted by phone and internet and TV and didn't even have to speak to other people, how would you approach your novel-in-progress. (It's been through about 2.5 drafts.)

Thanks in advance!!!

Anonymous said...

If I had five uninterrupted days to work on Starletta's Kitchen, I would fill the house with food and drink, adjust to being in a hermit phase, rather quickly, I believe, and get to work. I would only talk on the phone or socialize at night--if that. I would get rid of email. Email is death to writers, said Dennis Palumbo, which I remember and repeat often, though it doesn't much help me to avoid it.

So I would do freewriting around my characters/situation/setting. I would do exercises--from my book, from other writing books--and I would soon become delirious, I'm sure, from all of this time to write. When all you do is write, pretty soon your writing is writing itself. You get into a mode that's like nothing else.

What fun for you. You must let us know how it goes.

Leslea said...

Thank you!!! I will literally be in a monastary with a bunch of monks south of Bardstown, KY, so that is exactly the circumstance you describe. I can't wait. :)

Anonymous said...

There's a place in Montecito (north of L.A., south of Santa Barbara, on the coast) that is run by nuns. The charge is nominal and the distractions are few. I wish I could remember what it's called; I have a brochure around here somewhere. How nice for you....