Page 76 - Vol. VI #10
P. 76

Selling a Book (continued from page 41)
“All right, all right,” she says. “Give me a couple weeks.
cist in my corner, and a publisher with deep pockets, my fourth book gets a good push. Publisher’s Weekly gives me their highest honor, a starred review, and, later, they rank it as one of the Best Books of the
Year. Even Kirkus is kind, calling it “an underground classic, though for all the wrong reasons.” The Los Angeles Times runs a feature on me and a wonderful full-page review in the Sunday edition. CNN produces a segment on my family and myself and it airs on national TV, twice, the second time as one the year’s best personal profiles. I’m invited to read at different universities across the country, occasionally packing auditoriums of several hundred. I do signings from California to New York. Foreign rights sell to the U.K., Germany and France. As usual the venerable New York Times Book Review overlooks my work, but I don’t feel the sting, as the New York Times Magazine publishes an excerpt from it, and more people read that than the book review.
I have a lot of new clients now.”
 That reference to new clients doesn’t bode well for me. It’s her way of saying that she needs to focus on the bigger, better selling writers she now represents. Maybe I was high on her totem pole when we first started working together, but apparently I’d slipped a few notches since then. My once loyal agent is not so loyal anymore, but it’s hard to blame her when my pre- vious books didn’t sell well. Take away all the fancy talk about art, its importance to society, etcetera, and you’re left with the cold hard fact that New York publishing is a bottom-line business like any other, except, perhaps, for the serious writer who would do it for free despite them, and most often does.
About a month later, Liza calls, and to this day I don’t know what to think of it. She isn’t enthusiastic about the book. That’s for sure.
I’ve finally hit it.
“I don’t know what tell you,” she says, “but I think I’d feel bad if I didn’t try to do something with it. Let me make a few calls and get back to you.”
I had always wanted critical acceptance and it is be- stowed on me in spectacular fashion. Never in my
life did I expect so much attention. Never in my life did I expect so much recognition. I get those quotes from famous writers using words like amazing and astonishing. I get those interviews in major maga- zines. After a while, if I were to let myself believe all the praise, I’d have one big head, and it’s big enough already. This is not to say I don’t lap it all up, just that I don’t believe I deserve this much of it. The president and publisher of the company goes so far as to send me a specially made leather bound, gold-gilded copy of my memoir, with a note attached, saying that it is the single, most highly acclaimed book that he’s pub- lished in his fifteen-year tenure.
It’s hardly the response I’d hoped to get from her. What I want is excitement. What I want is to be told that I’ve written something different and special, something terrific—not that, as an agent, you’ll feel guilty if you don’t halfheartedly show it to a few edi- tors before you once and for all scratch me off your client list.
Where Liza spent over a year placing my first novel, and months with my others, for this one she gets two offers inside of seven business days. We go with the editor who published my last book, so there is,
I have to admit, some loyalty still in play. She is also now vice-president at a big publishing house, and the advance is more than triple that of my three previous books combined.
I must be selling tens of thousands of books, or so I think, until my first royalty statement shows up in my mailbox.
This, I am soon to learn, is what separates those whose work is given a fair chance to succeed and those whose work is simply tossed out into world, hoping that it somehow takes off all by itself, miraculously, through some fluke or good old fashioned word-of-mouth.
Apparently the accountants failed to place the num- ber three or four before that first number, making it thirty-four or forty-four thousand instead of a mere four thousand copies. We all make mistakes, though, so I don’t take it personally. Still I’d like the matter cleared up. I reach for the phone. I call my editor.
If a publisher sinks a healthy chunk of money into buying a book, then it’s incumbent upon them to sink a healthy chunk of money into promoting it. If, as in the case of my other books, I was given another small advance, then the publisher would again have little to lose other than the cost of printing, postage, and the like. But this time is different. With a top publi-
“No,” she says, “the figures are right. People just aren’t buying books like they used to.”
“But what about all the great reviews?” “Reviews are nice,” she says. “But they don’t sell

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