Monday, February 14, 2011

SUCCESS STORIES

I had intended to write about the thrill of being part of a community composed of people who are passionate about—among other things—artfully written fiction. But this blog was delayed by the riveting events in Egypt, playing out on television 24 hours a day for 18 days. It was a worthwhile distraction watching the passion and joy of those brave people who, communally, brought down a dictatorship. And what happiness so many of us felt seeing this struggle succeed!

Success stories abound in the media, with success being measured in many different ways. For some it’s gaining riches, for others surviving calamitous injuries or illnesses (Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), achieving artistic stardom or acclaim (the premise of American Idol), having a break-out Best Seller, giving birth to a healthy child after being told conception is not possible, ending conflicts by diplomacy rather than warfare. The list is endless, but we all love it when, against great odds, someone succeeds. Remember the joy so many people around the world felt when an African American was elected President of the United States. But this Egyptian story certainly stands as one of the Ultimate Successes of our day, for it gives hope to so many others that things are possible despite the so-called immovable obstacles placed in front of people. It reminds us that, despite the odds, good things are possible.

How does one measure success if you are an author who has written an extraordinary novel? Or if you are the publisher of such a book? Take Charles Davis, for example, whose first novel, Walk On, Bright Boy, was released by us four years ago. I suppose Charles felt successful in getting his novel published, having it picked as a “Book Sense Selection” by The American Booksellers Association, and having had translation sales in Russia and Poland. ForeWord magazine described this short novel, that takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, as “A haunting, gothic novel that speaks to contemporary collusions of political expediency and religious faith.” And yet, when all is said and done, only 450 copies were sold. As his publishers, Judy and I are happy to have discovered and published Charles and to continue to publish him, for he is “the real deal.” Yet, from our point of view, it was not the sort of success we would have wished for him. This is the arbitrariness of this business. If there were a God who loved good fiction, these numbers would have been increased a hundred-fold. But I think He/She/It is indifferent to literary fiction.

Still, we’re releasing, with hopefulness, his next 160 page novel, Standing At The Crossroads, this month. I know of no one who can pack such power and suspense—while contemplating big issues—into so few pages, and once more the advance reviews were exceptional, with Kirkus calling it “An absorbing novel of evasion and pursuit,” and Library Journal describing it as “An exciting and thoughtful adventure story as well as a subtle political and philosophical meditation on Sudan’s long-term tragedy,” while The New York Journal of Books said it was “A remarkable journey through the real and imagined landscapes of civil war-torn Africa.” Perhaps the Gods will be in a better mood this time around...

For ourselves it is a joy to be part of the aforementioned community of lovers of quality fiction, among whom are the editors and publishers of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist. And of bloggers like Sheila Deeth, Amy Steel, Ann Hite, Julie McGuire, Heather Teig, Wysteria Leigh, Allison Campbell, Amy Kersnick, Jim McKeown, Marc Schuster, Vera Pereskokova, Karl Wolff, Maggie Ball, Judi Clark, and others. And of columnists like Judith Applebaum, Ted and Rhonda Sturtz of the online New York Journal of Books, book critic Joan Baum, whose radio reviews originate on NPR Connecticut, and Jay Strafford at The Richmond Times Dispatch, who is particularly fond of good mysteries. All of these good people have consistently covered so many of our titles. As have critics at Library Thing and Good Reads. And at least 10% of all the writers we’ve published who keep reading our galleys and help “spread-the-word” about the other books we publish.

The latest examples of these reviews are those Marc Schuster wrote for Thomas Rayfiels’s Time Among The Dead. Wisteria Leigh’s review of Chris Knopf’s forthcoming Black Swan, and Amy Steele’s review of Joanna Higgins’s Dead Center.

Staying alive and being able to publish fine fiction for 32 years, is truly a blessing that this whimsical God has bestowed, and none of it would have been possible if this community didn’t exist.

Yet, between the last paragraph and this one, I watched Wael Ghonim on 60 Minutes. This 30 year old Google executive whose posts on Face Book served as the major catalyst in bringing about the Egyptian revolution was asked what he attributed the success of this movement to—other than the social networking that made it possible. Repeatedly he said it was “the stupidity of the regime. Without that none of it would have been possible” and that they never realized how disconnected they were from what so many people wanted.

His comments made me realize that we, too, owe a good part of our success to the stupidity of those running the six major publishing conglomerates who sell, through their various imprints, 85% of the books bought in the United States. So I thank them, as well, for rarely taking a chance on relatively unknown novelists, for failing to stay with writers whose early efforts didn’t sell at least 10,000 copies, and for pinning most of their hopes on fiction by name brand authors and on novels that might appeal to the widest audience instead of more demanding and sophisticated readers. Without your failures, dear people, even with our supportive community, we would never have had a chance of succeeding.

More success stores about out own books can be found in the Newsletter section of our our Website.

I look forward to reading your comments after February 28, when Judy and I return from our vacation on Virgin Gorda.

Marty

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't realized how much fun it might be to read good reviews of good books I've enjoyed, so thank you for those links. And I do wish you and Charles Davis the best sort of measurable success with Standing at the Crossroads, another book that I really enjoyed reading.

    While it's kind of sad, thank you for those sales numbers too. It's good to know someone can be a "real author," respected by a real publisher and real reviewers, without the impossible tens of thousands of sales that we see quoted in the news.

    Hope you have a great vacation!

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