A couple of days ago I did a "call-out" post to booksellers, asking for some opinions about what the publication of a new "blockbuster" (in this case, the new Michael Crichton novel) meant to them/their store ["In Defense of the Blockbuster"]. I've been impressed by the smart and impassioned commentary that's come as result. [Side-bar #1: I especially want to thank Anonymous Poster #1, who despite my own snippy retort came back again to amplify impressively on the original post.]
Bob Gray was the first to reply to my post--and, so far, he's the only bookseller to do so. [Sidebar #2: this reflects what, to me personally, is a saddening pattern--that for the most part the people inside the business aren't responding to the content of this blog; which suggests, at least to some degree, that I still haven't convinced them of my trustworthiness. More on THAT subject very soon, I promise!] He said he had his own piece coming soon on a related subject, and told me to check back with him on Thursday.
Thursday, as in today. So I went to his site, at dawn this morning, and discovered that sometimes the early-bird really does get the worm... It wasn't the worm I was looking for, though--I was so much the early-bird that I got to Bob's site before he'd posted the essay he'd told me to look for. [Afternoon update: his Crichton piece, dated Dec. 9, is now posted.]
...and thus I got the worm (which, in the context of the early-bird metaphor, of course, means the juiciest, fattest, most satisfying morsel), a post from a couple of days earlier (December 6), an essay called "Booksellers Hate Rejection, Too". In which he explains how the process by which a bookseller falls in love, or doesn't, with a galley a publisher sends him mirrors almost exactly the process by which an editor falls in love, or doesn't, with an author's unpublished manuscript.
It's an ironic circumstance--and frankly one that, at first glance, had me quaking in my boots. Because, in addition to being a bookseller, Robert Gray is also a writer; and though he doesn't describe this in gorey detail, he has clearly--as has any, no, every writer--received his own fair share of rejection letters. I myself have written thousands, not all of them compassionate or encouraging... And all of my sins in this regard bubbled up into my chest as I read the beginning of Bob's essay. Oh boy, I thought: it's payback time.
It's easy to see how this would be a satisfying "shoe-on-the-other-foot; how-d0-you-like-it-now-asshole?" topic for a post. You turn down our books, as is your right. But karma has its way of coming full circle; and now it's out turn. And the subject leads, potentially, to a whole lobby of door behind which lie all sorts of legitimate opportunities to bash 21st century publishing.
But like any writer worth his salt, Bob shows you the lobby but then takes you someplace else entirely; goes past the good (and easily-defensible) jabs to arrive at something completely unexpected:
The author encourages the publisher to keep trying. So I don't fall in love with this particular galley, he says. I know you want me to, by I love what I love, and that can't be faked. It's not the end of the world. The fact I don't love this one doesn't mean I won't love the next one.
The bookseller tells the publisher: Don't give up. Keep trying.
I won't try to summarize this any further than I already have--believe me, it's far richer in the original. But I want to convey to Bob Gray, and on his behalf to booksellers the world over, how grateful I am that even one of you might express such a sentiment.
Sometimes I fear that you--booksellers--are so overwhelmed by the volume of books being published, and the numbers of galleys being shipped, and the number of "pitch" letters a you read, etc., that it becomes impossible to see the individual jiffy-bags as containing individual books. Seems a ridiculous thing to say to a bookseller, of course, because you obviously don't go into this business with profit/"product" in mind. You do this, presumably, because you love books. And understand them as individuals; understand that each contains its own world between two covers. The QUALITY of those worlds may differ; or, to use the more generous tone of Bob's essay, the reader's experience--in this case, the bookseller's experience--of those worlds is going to vary, inevitably, because such is the subjective nature of reading. But as an editor who is passionate about the books he publishes, encouragement from a bookseller, despite all the difficulties booksellers face, gives me unspeakable comfort; and reminds me of the extent to which (in principle if not always in execution), you and I--bookseller and editor--are, as ever, partners in this strange marriage of art & industry. Thank you.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
- ► 2005 (75)
- Happy Holidays & All That Crap
- Letters of Protest
- PART II: An Editorial Response
- Part I: An Entrepreneurial Proposal
- 'Here I Come, To Save the Day!' or; Dispelling th...
- A Love Letter to Booksellers
- In Defense of the Blockbuster--A Topic for Booksel...
- Inside & Out: An Editor's View
- You Can Trust the Man Behind the Max
- ▼ December (9)