Classy stuff. One of the great challenges of publishing right now is finding a way to spread the word beyond people who already know about and love great words. The truth is I'm enough of a capitalist that my troubles with the New York publishers aren't principled -- I don't care if they're "corporatist" or even sort of evil, really. The ones that sell good books well are fine by me, and most of them manage it a fair amount of the time (not that I've got the time or energy to care). What bothers me is how crap their business plans tend to be.Vouched is here to spread and promote small press literature by peddling literary wares at art events and farmers/flea markets around Indianapolis. Every book on my table is a book that I’ve personally read and enjoyed and want other people to read and enjoy.Most of all, Vouched is about talking about books. Small presses are putting out some of the best and most artistic literature out there. I want to talk about these books. I want these books to be talked about.
Publishing today largely depends on the (rapidly diminishing) perception of books as status symbols, proof of education and class. A mixture of guilt and class/educational aspirations is about all we can count on to get people to read outside a very narrow spectrum of entertaining but not especially good books. And, really, we can't count on that anymore either. The problem with major publishers is that, outside the several fashionable categories recognized at any given time, they don't actually believe people want to read. They don't try to grow the market, largely because they don't seem to believe it can be done.
Small and independent publishers are often afflicted with a very similar disease, in that many don't really believe they can sell to anyone other than writers who would one day like to be published themselves. They use guilt and constant, brief cycles of hype to manufacture a sort of pyramid scheme -- buy these books, whether you want these particular books or not, so if someday your turn comes to write and publish one of these books, people will have to buy it. This is not a sustainable model, and it's certainly no way to expand reading, community, and bank accounts (all of which are important to me; I make no apologies for wanting to make some cash, if not a living, on my writing, and to help others do the same). There is a collective failure of imagination, a failure to believe in our work, and often, as a result, a failure to write our best.
Finding new ways to reach new readers won't only allow us the opportunity to show people what they're missing, it will make us better writers, because we will again imagine what our writing can be, what it can do in others' lives, what it can mean to perfect strangers. Projects like Christopher's are an essential beginning in reaching out, in reminding people how much they can love reading, and, in turn, how much we can love it ourselves.
I'm always surprised by how little is done to break outside the existing outlets. I used to be a fundraiser, used to go door to door persuading complete strangers to sponsor me for a development charity they'd never heard of, used to persuade shopkeepers to put out flyers, collections tins and so on. There are unsurprisingly many places that can support a range of retail outlets and services but not a dedicated bookstore - but there's no reason all those places couldn't be stocking books.ReplyDelete
Tin House recently made submission of receipt of purchase of book a condition for unsolicited submissions. It would have been more useful if everyone had to show that they had persuaded one non-bookselling outlet to stock five copies of a book. (Say you get 500 unsolicited MSS and every writer has opened up a new venue for book sales - that would be the kind of thing that would make indie publishers less dependent on willingness of stores to talk to indie reps.)
Yes -- of course I'm a bit hypocritical, as I'm a terrible salesman. But I could see making Christopher's idea work for me.ReplyDelete
Ironically, one of the biggest things that's happened for comics in the last fifteen years is the way they've gradually spread from the ghetto of comic shops to book stores, which introduced them to new audiences. Maybe books need to leave the ghetto of the bookstore to comic shops, and other places where people go expecting to be entertained. I wonder what some other unexpected venues might be.
Man, thanks for the mention and kind words. You hit it right here:ReplyDelete
"The problem with major publishers is that, outside the several fashionable categories recognized at any given time, they don't actually believe people want to read. They don't try to grow the market, largely because they don't seem to believe it can be done.
There is a collective failure of imagination, a failure to believe in our work, and often, as a result, a failure to write our best...
Finding new ways to reach new readers won't only allow us the opportunity to show people what they're missing, it will make us better writers, because we will again imagine what our writing can be, what it can do in others' lives, what it can mean to perfect strangers."
I've talked to so many writers/editors who all have stories about sharing some book with a friend or even stranger, and how the person freaked out over how great it was.
It's not that people don't want to read contemporary work; it's that the only contemporary work they know about is Foer, Klosterman, Chbosky, Palahniuk, &c. And it's not that this contemporary work is bad, just that there is so much out there just as good if not better, and the only thing keeping these people from it is lack of knowing how to find it.
So, why sit around and hope people find it? Why not go to them?
Agreed. And, as I've talked with Tracy about -- I wish she were in town so she could comment about this (and because I miss the hell out of her) is the way that most mainstream writing seems to come in part from a place of contempt for women -- not in the writers or writing so much in itself, but in the whole underpinning structure. Women are most of the readers but few of the big names in writing, stories that are genuinely about women can be terribly rare, and etc. (We had a lot of this conversation while we were drunk so I'm having trouble remembering some of the details now. Sigh.)ReplyDelete
Indie presses aren't always better about this, but I do feel like I see women getting better attention at least as writers among us.