Book coverage a la FrancaisIn the United States, there is one nationally broadcast radio program that has significant coverage of books — NPR’s “Fresh Air,” which book publicists fight over like pi-dogs over a picked bone. In Paris, I soon lost count of how many in-depth radio and TV shows, some as long as an hour, I taped or broadcast live at the circular, weirdly sci-fi-looking Maison de la Radio. I happened to be in France in September, during the rentrée littéraire — the opening of the literary season, when publishers release their big books — and the frenzy was palpable. And not just among the soi-disant elite, either. Lost in a strange neighborhood late one night, I approached a group of club kids for directions, only to overhear them arguing heatedly about which of the new crop of books would be that year’s “The Kindly Ones,” the Holocaust blockbuster that had come out the year before.
Events are the future of the litbizRecall again all the schmoozing, learning, practice, hustling, reading upon reading upon reading that goes into the various editorial components of publishing; the pattern recognition; the storytelling that editors do, that sales reps do, that publicists do, that the bookstore staff does. Recall the average feted poet who makes more money at a weekend visiting-writer gig than her royalties are likely to earn her in an entire year. You begin to realize that the business of literature is the business of making culture, not just the business of manufacturing bound books. This, in turn, means that the increased difficulty of selling bound books in a traditional manner (and the lower price point in selling digital books) is not going to be a significant challenge over the long run, except to free the business of literature from the limitations imposed when one is producing things rather than ideas and stories.
The bookshop as precursor to the supermarketIn the history of shop design, it is bookstores, strangely enough, that were the precursors of supermarkets. They, alone of all types of shop, made use of shelves that were not behind counters, with the goods arranged for casual browsing, and for what was not yet called self-service. Also, when brand name goods and their accompanying packages were non-existent or rare in the sale of food, books had covers that were designed at once to protect the contents and to entice the purchaser; they were proprietary products with identifiable authors and new titles.
Getting a book into the world, it turns out, is an enormous endeavor, one based, still, on old-fashioned person-to-person communication. Yes, a book can be physically produced in a handful of weeks, but it takes a human being reading it, understanding how to talk about it, and suggesting it in person to another human being (who happens to run a retail outlet that suggests books to a community of human beings) for your book to actually make it into the world. Multiply that process by the number of booksellers, magazine editors, book reviewers, bloggers, social media loudmouths and public radio nerds nationwide and this takes some time. The upshot of this for the writer is you have a year to move on, start something else, and distance yourself from the material. By the time your first grade teacher and all your exes are reading it, it feels a little like somebody else wrote it. And I’ve found that to be very helpful.
From 1978 through 1995, he made a meagre living hawking more than 30 titles under his own Charnel House imprint. He became a minor Toronto landmark, a fixture at the University of Toronto, on Yonge Street and around the Toronto Stock Exchange.He would wear a cardboard sign around his neck, reading something like Rotten Canadian Literature or Worst-selling Author. According to his long-time friend, the poet and novelist Stuart Ross, he would display only one book, in his right hand, and hold his ever-present pipe in his left. The rest of the books – Literature for the Brain-Dead, Foul Pus From Dead Dogs, The Charnel House Anthology of Bad Poetry (he was a connoisseur of terrible verse), and his most infamous title, Lightning Struck My Dick – lay in a leather satchel at his feet.He supplemented such income as he managed by writing an advice column for the Canadian porn magazine Rustler. As Rev. Crad Kilodney (he was apparently a Universal Life minister), he answered mail from people with sexual perversions, most of them probably made up. For an alternative weekly called Only Paper Today, he reviewed, exclusively, terrible books, mostly from vanity presses.
In a historical quirk of the trade, publishers and booksellers negotiate co-op deals at the same time as the general agreement to carry titles. (For those who don’t know, co-op is the industry term for preferred in-store placement, such as face-out instead of spine-out, position on end-caps, front tables, window displays, and so on.) At publishers’ insistence, the same practice has continued in the online and e-book world, namely that negotiations regarding virtual co-op (e.g. high visibility spots on retailer sites) take place at the same time as discussions over general terms and publisher-retailer discounts.
“Can you imagine if your local bookstore *intentionally* delayed selling you books just because we were mad at the publisher? Luckily at Bear Pond we actually like books and respect our customers!” wrote Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont.