In the New York Times Book Review, Rachel Donadio’s column on author tours confirmed something I’ve argued for several years — that the rise of literary series such as Arts & Letters Live has been, in part, due to the lack of sufficient (and sufficiently big-name) promotional visits in other venues, particularly bookstore chains. In response, publishers have developed their own speakers bureaus to handle (that is, organize and promote) non-bookstore engagements — authors giving motivational addresses to business conferences, for instance, or even appearing at a socialite’s birthday party.
As one can imagine, novelists are at a disadvantage here, especially non-big-name authors. Fiction generally doesn’t translate into easily digestible office truisms, and if the author isn’t already a bestseller or prize-winner, who wants to hear from him? Throughout the column, non-fiction writers tend to be more in-demand and fare better in the world of hawking books and hawking themselves. Typically, perhaps, Lawrence Wright, the Austin-based journalist, author of The Looming Tower, talks about turning a tour to Cairo into some helpful fact-finding.
Novelist David Leavitt, on the other hand, got booked in Milan as the opening act for Jethro Tull.