Why Salinger wouldn't make it nowadays
By now, you have heard the story of John Twelve Hawks whose "debut" novel "The Traveler" got all sorts of press -- mainly because Mr. Hawks, who purports to "live off the grid," refused to identify himself even to his editor. Word is, he is a moribund midlist toiler who is reinventing himself thru a this ruse and a grandiose pen name, but we will reserve judgement.
Then there is the story of "The Historian," a vampire tale written by an engaging college prof who apparently has charmed audiences on her first national tour. "The Historian," the WSJ points out, has almost 1 million copies in print. "The Traveler" has a "mere" 200,000 in print. But given the big push and huge expectations by both books' publishers, "The Traveler" didn't travel far enough -- as least for Doubleday's bean-counters.
So what do we peon authors take away from this? In a nutshell, to quote the WSJ article: "Only 'The Historian' has emerged as a breakaway hit, and their differing fortunes show how relatively small differences -- the personality of an author, for example -- can have a big impact on the bottom line for publishers trying to create a best seller. It also demonstrates the new marketing challenges in a segment of publishing that has the power to spawn sequels, movies and other spinoffs...
"...Publishers say it is hard to over-emphasize the publicity value of a writer who also is an accomplished speaker. Best-selling authors such as John Irving, Janet Evanovich, and David McCullough all sparkle on book tours, retailers say."
I guess it doesn't matter how big or little you are, you gotta get your act together and take it on the road. Problem is, not all of us are good at that sort of thing. I have an author friend -- won a major awards, starred reviews in PW, goodlooking chap -- who hates the very idea of public appearances. Ironically, when you get him talking about his craft, he is marvelous. But he just isn't that comfortable in front of a crowd. Then there is my friend Joe Konrath, an admitted self-promotion nut (you don't believe me? Go read his blog...link over at the left there). Joe could sell New Jersey swampland -- and would probably throw in a couple Jets end zone tickets to boot. Both guys write good books. But we all know, great books go unnoticed every day.
More on that to come...I gotta go find a Toastmasters class or print out some bookmarks or something. Or maybe work on my chapter. Geez, now there's a real time-waster.