the book biz


The stalwart and ever-interesting Fiction Writers Review has posted the conversation I had recently with Michael Shilling (author of the novel Rock Bottom) — in which we get into all kinds of writerly business. Check it out!

“When I’m down in the guts of a book I work sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph, scene-to-scene, and I worry about pacing, timing, narrative interest, that sort of thing, and then suddenly there’ll be a chiming sound from some unfamiliar area of my brain that will suggest that A is going to fit neatly, or interestingly, into slot B. Which I then take note of, I think, and go on doing what I was doing. If you can understand the book you’re writing as you’re writing it, I think, it’s not big or interesting enough.”

What do you do if you’re a major book chain – let’s just say you’re the #2 chain in the country – and you see a novel gets the lead fiction review from Publishers Weekly, gets glowing reviews from Booklist and other major pre-pub outlets?  And what if that author lives where you happen to have your world headquarters, in Ann Arbor, Michigan?  Not only that, but teaches at the University of Michigan?  Surely you’d want to promote that novel, wouldn’t you?

Eh, not so much.  Borders doesn’t even stock the novel.  Nowhere, nohow, not nowheres — nationwide.  Calling the local flagship store, one is told that “Borders doesn’t stock books that are out of print or self-published.”  Yeah.  Huh.

This is a little embarrassing to an author, I’ll admit.  Yes, it gives me a cringey, gross feeling in my gut to walk into my local mega-chain bookstore and not find the book I spent years writing.  (Plenty of notecards, vampire novels, and calendars, but no Percival’s Planet.)  But I do think it’s considerably more embarrassing to the Borders chain, who might like to explain why a local author of at least some note (not that much, okay, but some!) isn’t carried in their flagship store. It ain’t me, I’m thinking, it’s them.

As to the looming Borders bankruptcy — well, whatever they’re doing…it’s not working so great.

Meanwhile, Nicola’s Books — the independent store in Ann Arbor — is happy not only to carry the book but to host events for their local authors, not just me but Sharon Pomerantz and Steve Amick and Laura Kasischke, among many others, and they’re also getting Sara Paretsky in the store soon, not bad!

So after walking out of Borders feeling like crap, I walked out of Nicola’s feeling really fine.  Nicola Rooney is a peppery little treasure; the excellent staff makes hearty and carefully considered recommendations, they carry litmags and brand-new hardcovers (and ones that aren’t so new), tons of sci-fi and children’s books, and they’re next to a bagel shop, so your entrance is wonderfully perfumed.

Long live the independents.  It matters where you buy your books, it really does.