Slightly infuriated

So, I’m feeling slightly infuriated, and all because of one little sentence, a brief almost parenthetical comment by a book industry person in response to the posting of Cory Doctorow’s very nice account of the importance of the publisher’s sales rep to the building of buzz around book titles.

This is the kind of longitudinal, deep, expensive expertise that gets books onto shelves, into the minds of the clerks, onto the recommended tables at the front of the store. It’s labor-intensive and highly specialized, and without it, your book’s sales only come from people who’ve already heard of it (through word of mouth, advertising, a review, etc.) and who are either motivated enough to order it direct, or lucky enough to chance on a copy on a shelf at a store that ordered it based on reputation or sales literature alone, without any hand-holding or cajoling.

Exactamundo. The first email I sent, after the announcement of my resignation, was to the Publishers Group West sales force, to thank them, because their work was the only reason anyone gave a fuck about my resignation.

However, this comment, given on the Facebook forwarding of this note, included a sentence to the effect that this was a nice article, given all the blather “about the death of the book.”

People, the book will live on with the publishing business!!! That is not really what is changing, and to the extent that it might be, it will only be because the writers and the readers want it to.

The book isn’t in trouble, it’s that everyone who takes some of the money that a consumer pays for an author’s content need to re-justify their share and not assume that because they used to get that % they still in fact deserve that %. And I sense too many people hiding behind the notion that this has something to do with grandiose cultural notions about the life and death of the book rather than more quotidien concerns about the vision and competence of individuals populating this business.

On one extreme, booksellers, wholesalers, sales reps, publicists, editors, and agents could all fail to make a good case for a piece of the action; another extreme is that they all succeed in making that case. Unsurprisingly, I think it will likely be somewhere in the middle–some intermediaries are likely to be necessary, others not. I firmly believe that people with the talent to persuasively communicate the merits of cultural content are going to do immensely well in the future (and, depending on their inclinations, immense could mean lots money, or lots high-brow authority, or both, or something else immense entirely) and I suspect that people who are now publishers’ sales reps, and indie booksellers, and publicists, and so forth will number amongst those.

Who exactly, and structured in which way, that’s what remains to be seen. But the book is fine. Focus on connect writers and readers and you won’t have to ask for whom the bell is tolling.