Only big-time publishers have the means to take a book nationwide. Only a big-time publisher, once it (or he? or they?) decides your work is commercially viable, can line up the Big Names who will say nice things about your work. By log-rolling, and tugging on coat-sleeves, I’ve collected a few cover blurbs on my own --- personal acquaintance seems to be the coin of the realm, and thank God for that --- thank you Larry, thank you Gertrude --- and when I set up this website I’ll mail book copies to a dozen-and-a-half newspapers that still maintain a review section. But if these reviewers don’t see that Big Time Muscle is behind a book, then they have little reason to read it, let alone put their name on a review. It will simply not help their career to use valuable newspaper space to promote a self-published book. Say nice things about a HarperCollins book, and the Big Boys in New York will smile and send you more books to review. Your career is assured, lifted off the runway, running strong. You have gained clout, and the first rule of clout is, don’t squander it. Don’t use valuable column-inches to praise something that will not help you.
For a self-published writer of ambition, this presents a problem. I think that my book is an American classic. The reactions I’ve had from acquaintances to strangers range from strong liking to crazed enthusiasm. These reactions are of course colored by personal contact, shaped by diplomacy, and stoked by social necessity, but they confirm what I already know --- that my child is a beautiful child. Unjustly neglected, of course, and shut out of the party --- no cupcakes for you today, dearie. So one must become an outraged parent, half-mad, beating on doors. One must list the reasons the book will be a commercial success. One must say why this book will burrow into the heart of the reader and make itself a nest. One must develop the lines of promotion carefully, teaching the soulless tin-eared morons in the advertising department what must be said.
“Captures something essentially American”
“ --- moments of beauty when, poised at the edge
of time, we are ready to fall into life . . .”
In the meantime, let us try to make this book an Amazon/Createspace success. If we sell fifty thousand copies, then that should get the attention of the New York calculators. Then I can unscrew the lid and let Books II and III out of the can. Because I think you will agree, this is a book that should be read by as many people as possible --- after being tumbled through the commercial wash it should come to rest, dried pressed and folded, on the American bookshelf. Read by every tenth-grader. Recognized by bigwigs. In the canon.
Part of the problem is people do not belileve that any more classics can be written. Classics are all written by those frozen icons, nineteenth-century men --- Poe and Cooper --- and turn-of-the-century women --- Wharton and Cather --- and the day of the classics is over. Ipso facto, no more can/will be written. It's all over and done.
Well, this proud author contends that his book should be hand-fed to middle-school students or high-school students every year in perpetuity. Like 'The Outsiders', right? Like 'Roots' --- make it a 'useful' book until it reaches 'classic' status.
This is madness, right? The writer is a fool who should not be indulged. Or --- IS HE?
Although the book is teenage-accessible, it is written for adults. All the books my teenage friends and I enjoyed, fifty-sixty years ago, were written for adults. The phenomenon of what the industry calls 'YA' books --- 'Young Adult' books --- has grown up in the intervening years. Back then, of course, the publishing industry did have its 'juveniles' --- the Hardy Boys, et al --- but after the sixth grade, no one I knew read them. We quickly moved on to adult writing, to 'pulp', an American invention, written for maximum speed and unobstructed comprehension. Great talents learned the trade and mastered its techniques under these new rules. James M. Cain, H. P. Lovecraft, and Philip K. Dick, to name three wildly disparate writers, grew up under the happy anarchy and tough discipline of 'pulp'. It was the people's revenge on Henry James. It set a style that went worldwide.
One step up were the mass-circulation weeklies, the 'slicks'. Here the better writers trained. The story still had to 'move', but style and implication crowded out the two-fisted whiskey-soaked obvious. Dames no longer signaled their availability. Guns were seldom carried.
It goes without saying that the themes and style of the pulps are anathema to today's YA writers. Sailor Steve no longer slugs it out with the pimps at the waterfront. Phil Marlowe is no longer cracked over the head by a gun butt. These things are forbidden --- cheap thrills, be gone! The blood-and-thunder romances that enraptured earlier generations of pubescent boys are quaint historical artifacts now, and justly so. TV and movies have taken their place. Into the breach rides a posse of concerned adults. They realize that the young have problems, issues, dark and troubled souls. They mean to offer help: to encourage them, buck them up, show them the way. They are a cautious lot, and have evolved a set of values and standards that they think will guide the young reader in the right direction. Only, one has the impression that these are adults writng for other adults' approval to see who can be the most motherly, the most caring, the most instructive, and the most encouraging, while hiding these goals behind a story they have tricked out in baubles to hold the kids' attention. One would think the kids would sense the hand of manipulation, and squirm away from it. That is not what real writing does. Because these writers are not real writers; they are helicopter parents.
My little book, while it may actually do some of these things invadvertently, is a piece of real writing, and will be received with gratitude by a generation unused to such but ready for it. Hosanna! It has what all those Lord-of-the-Rings clones don't have, all those Madeline L'Engle imitations: fire, sharpness, intelligence. Just what my friends and I looked for when we read unguided by cautious adults.
It's not 'The Grapes of Wrath'. It's not the Second Coming. But it's something, and it ought to be out there.
WHY REVIEWERS WILL NOT READ YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK
It dirties them. It's like dipping their name --- their hard-earned name --- in rancid water. They mean to use that name to advance their fortunes. That means , "Get more assignments from major publishers." It does NOT mean, "Get more cripped introverts to send you their weak-ass poetry." It does not mean, "Throw open your mailbox to a thousand Star Wars knock-offs."
BUT WHAT IF YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK IS A GEM OF LITERATURE, A POTENTIAL BEST-SELLER, A PERPETUAL FOUNTAIN OF REVENUE?
Then why didn't an agent take it?
AGENTS HAVE MUNDANE MINDS, THEY THINK IN TERMS OF PROVEN GENRES, THEY PLAY THE PERCENTAGES. WELL-USED PANDERING TECHNIQUES BEAT OUT LITERATURE EVERY TIME.
I'll play Pilate. What is literature? (Washes hands)
LITERATURE IS UNFORGETTABLE. IT MAKES A NEST IN THE HEART OF THE READER. IT ENLARGES YOU. YOU FEEL AWE AND GRATITUDE.
Well, best of luck, Sophocles. I'm sticking with my vampire romance. There's nothing like a sexy vampire to arouse the teenage girl in me.
Now for something completely different. Written October-November 2016, we proudly present ---