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May 15, 2007


"'Is it the cover? The title? The buzz wasn’t there? Timing? It wasn’t that good?' The answer is that no one really knows. 'It’s an accidental profession, most of the time.'"

And thank God for it. I know of at least one profession where the sellers know exactly what people want, what will bring in the money, what will grab the customer's attention. That profession--politics--is a beautifully fine-tuned machine and one of the ugliest things on earth.

I'm happy that books are still not under the full control of the marketers because it means that outsiders, who don't pander to what will sell, who really have no chance of selling, still have a chance of sneaking in.

I know of at least one profession where the sellers know exactly what people want, what will bring in the money, what will grab the customer's attention.

I can think of another one.

Or maybe mine is a set that includes yours, Teju.

You mean those who do to the customer what Bush has been doing to the country? Yes, I'd say it includes politics.

Come on, now, you guys are giving that other industry a bad name! In Montreal we cut it a lot of slack, and don't lump it in with politics, which is really sleazy! (But then, this is a French culture where sex is considered necessary, like food...not a Calvinist one. It's a rather amazing difference in attitude that is taking me years to absorb.) Still - your point is well taken.

I wish the article--and talk about wishful thinking!--had questioned the idea of "best-selling" as a marker of value. I know it was a marketing article, but I always experience a disconnect when I read about how (most?) people in the real world think about books: not as a primary source of spiritual comfort but rather as merely another product to be cynically pushed. I keep hoping they'll say, "But one of the book industry's strengths is that, because it's business model is imperfect, it still has room for the kind of value that cannot be expressed in dollars."

I'm so naive I give myself a toothache.

This sounds rather like the art market. Depressing really, unless you are the one who wrote the bestseller or sold out your show in a prestigious international gallery!

Well, it's depressing if your only goal as a writer or artist is fame and fortune as the art or literary world defines it. If what you want to do is share your work, engage in dialogue, meet people of like interests, and be respected for your efforts - or even make a modest difference in the world - I think the fields is still open, especially with alternative publishing and distribution. This article describes the supposed Holy Grail that we, as artists and writer, are told is all that matters. As you say, Teju, it's up to us to disagree or not, to buy in or not to that definition.

The recent article in the NY Times about how musicians are connecting with audiences online and cutting out the middleman was incredibly inspiring, I thought. We writers need to follow their example.

Dave, isn't that exactly what blogging & self-publishing promise? The opportunity to connect with readers online & cut out the middleman?

I'm looking at the numbers in the article and I'm amazed. Advances set at 40,000$ ? In Quebec, your book is considered a best-seller if it sells around 3,000 copies! The market is so small here...

I wish the article--and talk about wishful thinking!--had questioned the idea of "best-selling" as a marker of value.

Teju, I had the exact same reaction!

I was thinking about my interactions with editors, and the sort of strange alchemy that takes place between readers and writers, especially when something unexpected results.

I've become cynical about the notion that life must be reduced to easily saleable rubrics - that way lies things like infotainment and Hollywood movies and processed food and identical McMansions - these things sate, sure, but they neither nourish nor satisfy.

I do wonder if there might eventually be a tipping point, a quiet revolution, rising. That is, on the one hand, I see this sprawling consumeropolis of franchises and name brands and bestsellers and price points; on the other, I see a lot of push-back, in the form of blogs, smaller presses, co-ops, farmers' markets, not-so-big houses... I find myself speculating that perhaps there might be an expanding subterranean world of more humane, small-scale ways of doing things, a world that may be increasingly viable for more of us ordinary, not-so-radical folks.

I certainly know I'd like to live in it.

Great discussion.

"Tell me again why you wanted to be a writer..." -- rephrase? why you wanted to be a successfully published writer?

Lots of quality writing, as you point out, on blogs. It's ephemeral, though, like the dance you talk about in a different post. Maybe those of us who love books feel that having our own book out there in the world is like having a child. Maybe as painful, maybe as rewarding.

I'd say there's nothing casino-ish, though, about an industry geared to producing what Oprah will select on her show -- it's a ghastly spectacle of hoorishness.

Great three pages article...But my personal opinion is,I always want to write few books in my life time about Entrepreneurship,Management,Self Development,etc.,Its not because i want to earn huge money from my copyrights,it just because of i want to pass my Thoughts,Confidence,Motivation and positive attitude to my fellow generations...
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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.