July 23, 2004


Dan Wickett


Thanks for this posting. Poor Stephen has sunk so low he's contacted the EWN requesting a review/interview which I'll be doing sometime in late August/early September. The bits I've skimmed of the book are very well done and I look forward to really getting into it.


Jimmy Beck

A truly cautionary and heartbreaking tale that has prompted me to reach for my credit card and buy the book.

Kevin Holtsberry

Not to trump one cliche with another but isn't this a way for blogs to help? Not just in telling this tragic story but in getting the word out. It seems to me that blogs and bloggers can be a sort of underground system for those whose books aren't getting the attention they deserve. Aren't quirky novels the ideal thing to promote on the internet? If traditional representation and marketing doesn't work I say look elsewhere. Bloggers are frequently looking for content and interesting books so authors can make themselves available and begin to build a buzz. If the quality is there this often jumps into web magazines and even into traditional media. If people really love a book they will do a lot promote it.


i couldn't agree more with kevin h. above. this is the brand new world, and as we lawyers know all too well but never like to admit, simply brute-forcing the old rules on it will not create the results we long for - the old days are gone, and they may never come back. think outside the box (if i can trot out the oldest and most tired jargon-cum-cliche ever) and create the buzz this novel apparently deserves (i say "apparently" only because i haven't yet read it myself, but quite apart from the "do the right thing" aspect of this tale, i really think i will enjoy it).


Damn straight Kevin is right. That's why I have author guest bloggers and am also participating in Monday's VBT. That's why I am free with my raves (and a little less so with my dislikes, except with regards to a certain Booker winner) because even if one person who reads any of our blogs sees what we wrote about a particular book and goes out and buys it, then we've more than accomplished something--not necessarily a job, but something nonetheless.


Hi Stephen: Please send me a copy of your book and I'll try to review it on my blog.

Dan Green

"I try to remember that and knowing that a few people have actually admired Beautiful Somewhere Else almost assuages the intermittent rage I feel at being turned into that publishing cliché, disappointed first novelist"

Almost? What's preventing him from being assuaged can only be the lack of attention and/or competence on the part of those in the "book business." And, as this essay makes clear, why would anybody care about them?

Also: What Kevin Holtsberry said.

Laura Strachan


Unfortunately, you've run into the plight of the mid-list author. I know that it doesn't help to say that you're not the only one. You might want to hop over to Gerard Jones' website, everyonewhosanyone.com, to commiserate.

I do believe that blogs can help shine a spotlight on deserving but neglected literary works. But authors lucky enough to make it to print need to recognize that their work isn't finished when they turn in their manuscripts. Publishers' resources, always limited, are directed at authors in whom they're most invested (read, the ones they've given the biggest advances to). Sadly, it is up to the individual author to keep the marketing engine running, to investigate and exploit every opportunity for news features or reviews and to bring any coverage or possiblilites for coverage to your publicist's attention. Work with your publicist, by all means but don't rely on him/her. In all fairness, some publishers -- and publicists -- are better than others, but you've learned a difficult lesson. You can't sit back and wait for it to happen. It generally won't. (I should say that I don't necessarily condone or advise Mr. Jones' guerilla marketing tactics, despite my representing him. A better place to start may be John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books.)

Laura Strachan
Strachan Literary Agency

P.S. Tina Pohlman is fabulous, and I'm sure she's horrified at the fate of a book she loved enough to publish.


"Almost? What's preventing him from being assuaged can only be the lack of attention and/or competence on the part of those in the 'book business.' And, as this essay makes clear, why would anybody care about them?"

One can hardly blame Stephen for being frustrated that hardly anyone even knows about the book, especially given the anectodal evidence that some people might actually like it.

Dan Green

"Sadly, it is up to the individual author to keep the marketing engine running, to investigate and exploit every opportunity for news features or reviews and to bring any coverage or possiblilites for coverage to your publicist's attention."

The hell with this. If it's up to the writer, why does the book business (including agents) exist? Exactly what do they do there?

To do what Ms. Strachan suggests is to stop being a writer and become just another widget peddler.

Laura Strachan

"To do what Ms. Strachan suggests is to stop being a writer and become just another widget peddler."

In a perfect world, writers would just write. Unfortunately, it isn't a perfect world. Presumably, writers write to be read. Some may write for themselves, but then what is the point of publication?

The big business attitude of the largest publishers demands that marketing money follow the advance money. Corporate conglomerates don't care about nurturing the small, literary gem; they care about showing a profit on the balance sheet. Smaller publishers simply don't have the money to do what it takes to grab the attention of a public bombarded with entertainment choices. They do what they can with what they have. Sadly, that's often not enough, and literary gems fall through the cracks.

No one has as much interest in the success of a book than its author, and so it's only reasonable to expect that the author will do what he can to get the book on the public's radar. I know that this comes as a shock to many writers, but the better educated a writer is in the business of publishing in all of its aspects, the more successful he's likely to be.

Laura Strachan

I realize that I didn't answer Mr. Green's first question. As an agent I weed through a lot of manuscripts. I find ones that I not only think are saleable, but that I also think have something to say in an artful way. I don't take on books simply because there may be a public appetite for them. This would probably explain why I don't make a lot of money.

Once I've accepted a manuscript for representation I work with the author to polish or refine it so that we're presenting the best possible product to an editor. And it is a product. I try to find the best possible home for each book I represent. I negotiate contract terms, play good cop/bad cop, and do whatever is required to intercede between author and editor. I pester when pestering is required, I mollify when mollification is required. I'm an intermediary, pure and simple.

I am not a publicist. That doesn't mean that I don't try to do everything in my power to get attention for my author's book. I do. It's just not my primary job.

Dan Green

I know what an agent does. My comment is about the "book business" as a whole, which includes agents on one end and publicists (or whomever) on the other. The point is: what earthly good is it for a writer to have his/her book printed by people who apparently don't care whether anyone reads it or not? One may as well self-publish if it's necessary anyway to go through all the rigamarole you describe. If "Corporate conglomerates don't care about nurturing the small, literary gem" and "Smaller publishers simply don't have the money to do what it takes to grab the attention of a public bombarded with entertainment choices" then the whole enterprise of book publishing as it exists today is just a pathetic charade.

Laura Strachan

I am not about to write an apology for the publishing industry. There is a lot that is wrong with the current state of the business. And yes, in some cases an author may be better off self-publishing. But most authors are not editors, book designers, or experts in purchasing raw materials (like paper). Nor do they have experience in finding and negotiating with printers, distributors or wholesalers. They don't have a recognizable name, big glossy catalogs or sales representatives. Established publishers do, and for all the shortcomings, they're still the way most authors get their voices heard, however imperfect the process.

Kevin Wignall

I'm in rather late on this one (but then I am in England!). Blogs can indeed have a big impact. The contacts made as a result of my guest tenure over at Sarah's place have played an important part in spreading the word about my books. And in the same way, I've discovered a large number of authors through the blogs. May it long continue.
I accept Laura's point about authors needing to market themselves. The real problem here though, is that there's a lack of disclosure. If agents, publicists and editors were more open about what they can do, and about what the author might do for himself, we'd able to work with that. As it is, no one likes to break bad or troubling news, so if a new book looks like it might be in trouble, the author is usually the last to find out. I found out that my first book in the UK was in trouble before it was even published, not from the publisher, but from a friend with inside knowledge. Authors are creative people, so it baffles me that they're rarely consulted on marketing plans and troubleshooting matters.
In the meantime, I sympathise with Stephen. I'm sure it's of little consolation to him that he is not alone and that he won't be the last.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."