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Book Tours: the Boffo and the Bummer


by Jerome Weeks 28 Jul 2008

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 […]

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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.

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  • I encourage this blog to dig deeper than the books published by a handful of mainstream publishers. Note the biggest US publisher is owned by the German conglomerate Bertlesmann. That raises the question whether the main source of publishing in the US should be owned by a company in the US.
    Also novels are the cutting edge… the cutting edge of 1851! And in looking at the new novelists we see that there aren’t any really great ones in the last 3 decades or so. Talk about the inability of the mainstream publishers to publish a decent novel let alone a classic novel.
    Then too there is the too high cost of books, the printing and remaindering of too many copies – sometimes an excessive amount of books published is a part of the author’s demands! The horrible book covers, the refusal to talk about zines – the BULK of publishing in the US and by far the greatest writers since the 80’s, and the refusal to talk to literary advocacy groups that oppose all this mess..
    This blog needs to go further than the surface if its going to talk about publishing. You can’t limit it to what publicists tell you to talk about, and come across as accurate and fair.