Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Well & the Flying Trapeze

I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that it’s a rocky time for books—that the creation of international mega-corporations who own many houses has meant the simultaneous proliferation of books and the restriction of choices for readers because so few books are visible in a culture that promotes only lead books.

This puts a new obligation on the writer to be not only a writer, but to be an ingenious marketer. One has the choice of refusing to participate or joining in the fray—or being, as most are, somewhere in between. I have a lot of sympathy for Dan Green’s arguments that one should avoid the conflict entirely and let the book find the readers that are “right” for it. Even that simple-sounding process risks, however, nigh-complete invisibility. The distant splash in the well that signals most book launches does not mean that readers, bubbling down there under the water, will catch a book, even when dropped by golden houses and presses with esteemed and established lists.

On the other hand, I have a kind of observer's fascination with those who fling off their clothes, dodge whirling daggers, and set themselves on fire, all to promote a book. That may be metaphorical, but it’s getting close. We have writers who allow absurdly sexy photographs of themselves to be shot and slathered across the jacket, a writer who renames himself and goes “incognito” and speaks to editors through a voice scrambler (the secret that snags the news!), celebrity ‘writers’ who lend their blinking marquee names to books, writers who hunt for fresh blasphemies and dazzling violations to attract the media to their plots, dead writers who keep spinning in the grave.

Spinning stories, I mean. No doubt there are others who just plain spin, and with good reason.

The most ingenious of those who do join the melee must be M. J. Rose, author of five very commercial novels and of books and web sites about “buzz” and “hype.” With a background in the ad world, she is equipped to promote far more than the usual writer. Her latest effort to knock over readers like ninepins is an “innovative new online campaign that aims to connect readers with a good cause and a great summer read.” This push asks for 500 bloggers to mention The Halo Effect—a “sexy thriller”--and the short animated film for the novel( With each post, five dollars goes to the nonprofit literary organization Reading is Fundamental.

I suppose there is a halo in the campaign as well. The book is literally "Halo." Doing good suggest "halo." The glow of 500 blogs is a kind of halo for the launch.

$2500 is cheap publicity for 500 blogs, I’d say. Even a beginner blog like mine elicits private letters from writers and, occasionally, a books editor or so.

I’m torn between feeling mournful for the state of things and feeling a kind of dazzled astonishment at how daring Ms. Rose the acrobat is, whipping around on her flying trapeze.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.