On Friday, I was an employee at one of the largest publishers in the world, and now, by choice, I am my own boss. I was expecting it to be bittersweet, but so far it’s only sweet (though I’m sure some bitterness will seep into my days when this stops feeling like a vacation and I put my only employee—me--to work). Yesterday I spent the day in a sort of slothful interval training. Hours of “civilian reading” (I’m loving Jennifer Egan’s The Keep
, which has sat on my bookshelf gathering dust since it came out; I only just now have time to devour it) were followed by trips to the kitchen for slivers (ok, hunks) of the divine chocolate cake my friend Liz made for my going away party, equally delicious naps with my French bulldog, and then back to reading. But now my nose is back to the grindstone, though for the first time in several years, I’m sharpening my own knives.
I’m so excited to be working in the publishing industry in a new way. I always appreciated the cache of my job at Random House; I find editing supremely satisfying, I was proud to state my occupation at dinner parties, and brushes with great authors (and even friendships) were wonderfully abundant. But the business of publishing—that dreaded bottom line—has been getting me down for a long time. Publishers will spend millions of dollars on a project by a name—someone who can’t write but has legions of fans who will pore over every word written by the ghostwriter—but won’t take a $30,000 chance (or less) on a beautifully written novel by an unknown. And it’s not just the publishers’ fault. Publishing houses are providing what Americans want to read. Bookstores are stocking the books that will sell. But it still burns me up inside, and the injustices don’t stop there.
For example, bookstores began decreasing stock in recent years in order to display more books cover out. For obvious reasons, consumers are more likely to buy a book if the entire cover, and not just the spine, is immediately visible. But what books get shelved with the front cover facing out? The ones that are already selling! I understand that The Lost Symbols of the world enable publishers to afford smaller, quieter novels, but let’s give those smaller, quieter novels a chance!
Books that sell well are given prime placement in stores, leading to more sales. Books that receive good publicity attract even more publicity. Books that are making the publisher money inspire them to spend more money on advertising and marketing. I want the quirky, eccentric debut novel to reach all its potential fans, and to sell well enough to allow the quirky, eccentric writer to pen her second novel. How can we make this happen?
I hope that our business of words is undergoing a sea change—that it is evolving with the economic climate, that American readers are expanding their interests beyond the literary equivalent of white bread and American cheese (let’s have camembert! Manchego!), that the ignored single copy of a literary gem, shoved behind its more popular brethren on the shelf, will find its perfect audience.
We have the chance to make this happen at She Writes. This community has restored my faith in--and excitement for--publishing. We’re here to make changes. To help each other. To support each other. To buy each other’s books, and attend each other’s readings. We’re here to spread the word about the book that might otherwise be missed.
The Girl with the Red Pencil