Book Marketing

“Not Being Talked About”

31742378An article in Book Riot summarizing the recent spate of books on Oscar Wilde ended with a footnote.

*Two more books related to Wilde came out in 2018, Oscar’s Ghost by Laura Lee and In Praise of Disobedience: The Soul of Man Under Socialism and Other Writings, an anthology edited by Neil Bartlett. I do not know enough about them to discuss them.

The article began with the old Wilde chestnut “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

It has got me thinking about what makes a book worth talking about and what makes one worth mentioning in a footnote. It can’t be the quality or contents. You have to read a book to dismiss it for that. Is it the status of the publisher or the author? Is it the promotion budget? It’s a nut I haven’t been able to crack.

Let me just take a moment to tell you why I thought the story in Oscar’s Ghost was fascinating enough to spend a number of years on. One of the great literary feuds in history took place in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s disgrace and early death. By following the events in the bitter conflict over his prison work De Profundis you see how a writer who had a confusing public image and professional reputation in his time was transformed into the mythic figure we know today.

Put another way, it charts how Wilde came to enjoy “a wonderful posthumous life, portrayed as a tragic hero who fell victim of Britain’s anti-homosexuality laws and sentiments.” (To quote the Book Riot article.)

Also, some of the things that happened in the course of the feud are hard to believe.

Anyway, that’s why I thought it was worth writing, and that’s all I can say on why it might be worth reading.

 

What Book Reviews Have in Common with Dating

In many cultures there is a tradition of incorporating a deliberate flaw into a work of art. This shows humility and a recognition that only God (or the gods, as the case may be) is perfect. In Japan they celebrate the concept of finding beauty in imperfection is called wabi-sabi.

To put in a flaw on purpose seems redundant to me. I am quite capable of creating work with flaws without making a special effort, thank you very much.

Still there is something comforting in the idea that art should be imperfect.

Putting your work out in the world has all of the anxiety and vulnerability of dating.

As I have often said, a book is a relationship. It is not completed by the writer but by the reader. So of course a writer is anxious for reviews: to know how the this thing she spent so much time and energy crafting has been received.

Some relationships are better than others. Some books and readers fall in love and others just don’t hit it off.

Putting yourself out there you open yourself up to rejection. Rejection hurts. It hurts in proportion to the amount of love you invested in it.

It would be flattering to hear “you’re perfect in every way.” That rarely happens, in love or literature–or at least in the context of dating, when it does, it doesn’t last. The best case scenario is when two people find each other screwed up in ways that they are willing to accept because they like each other so much otherwise. Relationships have a way of making you aware of your flaws and foibles.

Book reviews are like that too. The best of them say “This was a worthy book but…”

There are different kinds of criticism that show up in reviews. There’s stuff you simply disagree with. It’s a matter of taste and you wouldn’t change a thing. I find I am not bothered by this sort of review.

It’s the stuff where you read and think, “You know, I could probably have done that a bit better,” that tends to sting more.

The problem with a book review is that unlike a relationship, there is no way to work on it. Once you are getting reviews the work is done. It’s printed and set.

So there it is, with all your human imperfections on full display. The existential reality hits you that this thing that you love, that you made the best you could, fails to match its Platonic ideal. It will never be as good as it was in your head.

That’s the time it helps to think about those deliberate flaws in art. It’s not supposed to be perfect. Human beings made it. This wonderfully imperfect thing is beautiful.

How Big Are Pockets in England?

Last week I obtained a copy of the UK edition of the updated Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation. Besides the spelling of “tyres” I noted a few differences in the books. Most notably the prominence, or lack thereof, of the author’s name on the British book cover.

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Whereas the Americans were fine with focusing on life’s little vexations because it is entertaining, the British (who prefer Aaarggghhh to Ughhhhh!!) seem to be marketing the book (curiously to its author) as self-help.

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Also note the lack of an author bio on the back of the UK edition. (Did I do something to piss them off in England?)

The last little oddity is that the books are different dimensions. On the left (as you can tell by the prominence of the author’s name) is the U.S. edition, which is taller and thinner. The UK edition is shorter but wider. Does this point to some international variance in the size of pockets?

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Bowker Hates Being Corrected

A few weeks ago I was pleased to see that the Toronto Public Library was stocking my “Oscar’s Ghost” and that all of the copies were checked out. I was surprised, however, when I clicked on the author biography to hear my life summed up this way:

Laura Lee has written several books, including Bad Predictions and The Name’s Familiar.

She lives in upstate New York where the bugs constantly annoy her.

(Publisher Provided) Laura Lee is the author of the bestselling Karli Lane series as well as the upcoming Dealing With Love series. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America focusing on paranormal, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance.

Laura lives in the Pacific Northwest with her wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and three of the most poorly behaved cats in existence.

Laura’s titles include, Beautifully Broken, Deal Breakers, and Pixie Dust.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Now, if you don’t know me personally and have not followed my career, you might not immediately notice that some of these titles are mine, and some are not, and you might not be confused by the reference to a husband and children (and cats) I don’t have. You might at least find it a bit confusing that I am supposed to be living in both Upstate New York and The Pacific Northwest. (I leave in the Detroit area.)

This seems to be a combination of my biography from 15 years ago at the beginning of my career with this person.  It is an easy enough mistake, but one that warranted correction. I wrote to the Toronto Public Library and they responded right away and explained that they got their author blurbs from a service, but they would contact them and let them know about the error.

Today the librarian wrote back to me to say that the blurb had been updated. “It’s not quite what I thought they would do, but it does include the information you gave us.”

So I looked up the new biography. This is what I found:

Laura Lee is based in the metro Detroit area. She is the author of 20 books (The Name’s Familiar and Bad Predictions being the least impressive). Her biggest sellers to date have been Blame it on the Rain (Harper Collins) and The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (Black Dog and Leventhal). In addition to my humorous reference titles, I’ve written two novels and a children’s book (A Child’s Introduction to Ballet). I am a regular contributor to the journal The Wildean.

(Bowker Author Biography)

I guess I annoyed them.

For the record, here are the titles I have written:
The Name’s Familiar
The Name’s Familiar II
Invited to Sound (poetry)
Bad Predictions
Arlo, Alice and Anglicans
The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (2001)
Blame it on the Rain
100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them
The Elvis Impersonation Kit
Broke is Beautiful
A Child’s Introduction to Ballet
Schadenfreude, Baby!
Angel (fiction)
Identity Theft (fiction)
Don’t Screw It Up
Around the World in 80 Cliches
Savoir Faire
Avoiding Everyday Disasters
The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (revised edition 2017)
Oscar’s Ghost

I was also a contributor to The Best American History Quiz Book.

Do What You Love, The Audience Will Follow

 

“Never play to the gallery,” says David Bowie in the clip above.

I discovered something interesting when I looked at the logs for my blog. (My blog logs.) Conventional wisdom is that writers need to blog in order to build “an author platform.” The way to build such a platform is to have a consistent, recognizable topic or area of expertise.

A funny thing happened. I started this blog when I branched out into fiction as a way to distinguish my fiction writing persona from my non-fiction writing persona. Initially I wrote largely on subjects that touched on the theme of my first novel.

Eventually, however, I lost interest in those constraints as I moved on to other projects. I started to post on whatever topic caught my interest on a given day, whenever I felt as though I had something worth sharing.

A number of years ago I started reading a great deal about Oscar Wilde and his circle. This had nothing to do with any book I was writing at the time (although it has come full circle as I have sold a book on this topic and am working on it now).  From an “author platform” perspective, it made no sense to post about Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas and the like. It had nothing at all to do with my second novel, which is about personal identity, rock stars and online impersonation. If I was trying to create a Laura Lee brand the Wilde posts only muddled things.

Yet those posts are consistently popular. Now, I can’t say that this means that all of the people who googled “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” and landed on my page can be claimed as “my audience.” They came for Wilde, not Lee. I get that. But they do come, which is more than they were doing before. Maybe some read what else I’ve written and find some through-line that persuades them to stay. Now that I am actually writing a Wilde-related book it has come full circle, the “platform” was built without conscious thought or effort because I wrote about what was interesting to me.

Do what you love, the audience will follow. Or maybe they won’t. In any case, it is a more pleasant way to spend your life than doing what you don’t love.

Quote of the Day: “The Less People Read, The More Books They Buy.”

As the leading publisher in France, Jonas’s father was of the opinion that books, because of the very slump in culture, represented the future. “History shows,” he would say, “the less people read, the more books they buy.” Consequently, he but rarely read the manuscripts submitted to him and decided to publish them solely on the basis of the author’s personality or the subject’s topical interest (from this point of view, sex being the only subject always topical, the publisher had eventually gone in for specialization) and spent his time looking for novel formats and free publicity.”-Albert Camus, Exile and the Kingdom