Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Write, Listen, Buy, Read

By Amy

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.


kristen spina said...

Amy, yes, good for you. We do need to come together in support of each other—however we can. I am a long way from being published, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who have made the journey from idea to manuscript to space on the book shelf. It's a remarkable achievement, regardless of a book's commercial success.

(Still thinking of you and hope you and your family are doing well.)

Therese said...

Amy, this post goes a long way toward proving that we writers are...well...amazingly devoted--which is a much kinder word than "insane."

You've tapped into my pre-debut anxiety very well. How fickle are the whims of the media and the booksellers and the readers; how much of an author's success is far beyond her control!

I know I'm fortunate in the attention my novel's gotten pre-publication. I also know that I'd be foolish to imagine that means I can rest easy. There is no resting easy in this business.

But even so, there is great reward in just the doing of it--something all of you here are wise enough to point out regularly.

Terrific post and good advice!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Kristen, thanks for keeping us in your thoughts. I keep reminding myself recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And, yes, publication is an achievment all its own, but once each rung of the ladder you conquer, leaves you looking toward the next goal. We always want more.

Therese, in just two weeks, Souvenir will be published in the UK, and it will have its US debut in January, right? You're doing everything you can right now to promote it. That's all any of us can do. I suspect, however, that you've got a leg up on the competition because your name is already out there. Word-of-mouth is everything in this business. I'll personally stand in a bookstore holding your novel in my hands, nudging those around me and say, "Wow, this sounds amazing."


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Amy, yes reading, listening, buying and "talking up" are all so important for us to do for our fellow writers. Thanks for putting it out there so publicly. One thing I've been thrilled to experience as a writer is what a wonderfully supportive community we have out there--and that whole idea of "paying forward" really works. In the next week I'll be at two bookstore readings--not my own but for other writers whom I haven't even met. And I'm taking friends with me. When I meet with book clubs (I have a phone-in one tonight), I always try to make book suggestions for them--and I love tellign them about books (especially debuts) they probably haven't heard about. We, as writers, need to do what we want the general reading public to do, right? Plus, it's fun.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Judy, you're so smart and generous. Over the years, I've gone to every reading I can manage and I must say, the writers are wonderfully gracious. When they learn I'm working on my own novel, most have offered to refer me to their agents and few, their editors. Another good reason to go. My advice, though, is to go without expectations, just be a supportive writer.


Melissa Amateis said...

Great post, Amy. Writers really do need to support each other in this way - buy books and go to book signings, etc.

Larramie said...

My greatest thrill in blogging comes on a Monday when I can post a presentation of a debut author/novel. It's a small act, yet a humbling experience to introduce others to someone who has achieved their dream.

So, again, please continue to work and dream!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Melissa, I can't wait for the day when I meet you at one of your signings. I'll be there and bring every friend within a 10-mile radius. You will reap what you sow.

Larramie, I love your debut Mondays. You do so much for writers and Seize a Daisy is always chock full of interesting tidbits. When will your book be out, hmmmm?


Lisa said...

Supporting our local booksellers and authors is so important. I'm not as good about getting out to signings as I'd like to be but try to get to at least one a month. Denver isn't always on the beaten path for a lot of book tours, although we seem to get a lot of pretty big names on a regular basis and of course all our local authors -- but should anyone know of an author planning to come through town, please let me know and I'll be sure to show up and bring friends :)

Therese said...

All bookstore nudgings on my behalf will be very much appreciated!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, seeing your face in the crowd does so much to soothe the nerves of the authors. All of that will come back to you when it's your book that's on the shelf. I'll be first in line.

Therese, just let me know when you come to NE and we'll plan a few stops.

Anonymous said...

Amy great post, and may I add that it is debut novelists who need the most support.
This is something I realized over the past one year when I first thought about sitting down to write a novel.
I have started to buy more novels of authors I might never have tried. I have grown less critical, more analytical; because I now understand what it took for the book to make it onto my bookshelf.

Anonymous said...

Reality, I've done the same. Yes, I buy mostly debuts, though I do need to have the masters on my book shelves. I don't have a thing for clothes, jewely or gick-gocks, but it's difficult for me to pass a bookstore.