I was speaking with a bookseller yesterday about the state of fiction. She's not terribly hopeful.
A well-known author, a great storyteller who made his name selling memoir, recently published his first novel. By all accounts it's good, but the bookseller who had standing-room-only events for the author when he toured to promote his non-fiction, is having trouble generating the same kind of interest for the man's novel.
An author I know has written an extraordinary novel, painstakingly researched, each word consciously chosen to suit the whole body of work. It's a near perfect book in the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha. Yet I haven't seen this novel on a single bestseller list.
The writing business is littered with a thousand clever ways to rip your heart from your chest -- none more so than the sense of freefall after your book has been published to a deafening silence. Imagine? Finally finishing a decent draft of that novel you've been working on for three years; getting an agent who actually likes your book and returns your phone calls; oh, sunny day, an editor wants to give you money (sure, it's not much, it works out to a pennies an hour, but still) to publish your book; and then...nothing. Your first print run is 10,000 and stores are not clamoring for more. Only a few hardy souls show up for your reading because the weather is snowy/rainy/sunny and the local papers ended up killing the review/profile/announcement because they needed space to run the next Paris Hilton rehab rehash.
Oh dear God.
So the next time an author comes to your local bookstore, clutching her heart in her hands wanting to share it with you, take a moment from your busy schedule to sit and listen. If you're too broke to buy a book (writers, this is a tax write-off; check with your CPA), know that your mere presence is comfort enough. But try to budget at least 5 newly published books into each year.
Writers need to support other writers. Go to readings, buy books, buzz the good ones to friends, join your local literary organization, volunteer there. I promise, it will all come back to you tenfold.
Inspire hope. Booksellers and other writers are counting on you.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007