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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Amazon, Invisible Writers, & a Christmas Resolution


Everybody knows that a lot of writers read their reviews at Amazon. In the past, I’ve admitted to reading enough of mine to be amused that Francis McInerney, the “commercial-real-estate-development executive (currently between jobs)” made famous for his fifteen minutes via The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town, thought that the style of The Wolf Pit was a bit rich for his taste.

Sorry, Francis, not all books are for all people! This is, in fact, a blessing.

The New Yorker noted that “McInerney’s first Amazon review, in 1997, was of Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Countdown (‘Wonderful book, may you write dozens more!’), and his most recent was of The Da Vinci Code (‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as Sir Winston Spencer Churchill once wrote. . . . A fantastic ride’). He said that he reads about a hundred and fifty books a year, and his body of work suggests an omnivorous appetite: biographies, thrillers, histories of science and art, mountain-climbing yarns, and anything relating to Star Trek or Star Wars.”


Mid-list book is defined in many ways. I define it as a book by a writer that the publisher knows and values as a good writer—perhaps values as a writer of excellence—and desires for the purpose of adding brightness to the house list; nevertheless, the publisher does not plan to provide the marketing and promotion needed for the book to attain a measure of visibility. The mid-list writer is the ultimate cheap date, who will make some money for the publisher and not be much of a bother otherwise. Most of what such a writer gets will be the sending out of review copies, with a few flourishes on the side.

If I look at Amazon (a place that does not particularly support or sell mid-list writers but does keep their in- and out-of-print books available), I see the results of such a status. I can find my name and my books mentioned in books by other writers: there are books about good books, like American Historical Fiction: An Annotated Guide to Novels for Adults and Young Adults or Best Books for Young Teen Readers: Grades 7-10 (Best Books for Young Teen Readers); there are books that dedicate to me (Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog: On Writers And Writing) or acknowledge me (Ursula, Under); there are books that use my books to talk about great fiction (Ron Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting (Write Great Fiction Series) or to talk about something else entirely (Girls Speak Out: Finding Your True Self by Andrea Johnston and Gloria Steinem); there are numerous anthologies with my stories.

Curiously, a book about writing, like Rozelle’s Write Great Fiction, will do better than the book of mine that it uses as an example—and it will also do better than Rozelle’s own fiction! Are more people trying to write than are actually reading books? In general, books about novels do better than the novels themselves.


Numbers do have an impact on writers, even if those writers are determined on paths less taken. Last year I made a resolution last year to publish more stories in visible, less “literary” places. By the end of December, I will have closed on sales of at least 15 stories that are out or forthcoming in many anthologies and magazines. That’s in addition to the other work I did this year: revising a long novella; working on a novel; and writing poetry.

And I can see that one little resolution is making a difference, as I have received lots of requests for stories, novels, and poetry this year. How much difference? Time tells, as ever.


Among other things, I’ve been reading Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being. This morning the new paperback of her lovely 98 Reasons stands at 890,817 on It’s no surprise that more people want to read Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele than Clare Dudman, but the familiar news has inspired me to make a Christmas resolution, or perhaps my first New Year’s resolution: next month I will write something about Clare’s book, and I will try to do more all year long to help shine a little light on interesting mid-list writers who remain invisible. That is, not the writers who receive a first print run of 20,000 or more and a decent promotional budget, but the true invisibles who are known only to a coterie of followers. Many of these writers are, no doubt, utterly invisible to me now. (Feel free to offer a favorite.)

I will also pledge to write something about some of the unpublished writers who contacted me last year. Perhaps I will interview a few of them . . .

And I’d like to challenge other bloggers to make spreading the word about invisible writers one of their own resolutions for 2007. A peeper is a tiny creature, but set a chorus of them going and they can shake the spring nights.


The angel and the partridge-on-tree with pears that are trying to metamorphose stems into beaks and fat pear bodies into fat partridge bodies is by Laura Murphy Frankstone of Laurelines. I suspect that this display is at Fearrington Inn, but that's a mere guess. She may have a book of her Paris sketches soon, and she's thinking about further books, hurrah!


And that’s Merry Christmas to you, whoever and whatever you are. Wish me whatever you like in return . . .

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

--from the late, the marvelous Charles Causley,
with his poem, Ballad of the Breadman

Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away. --Dickens, The Pickwick Papers



  1. You are a gem and an angel in your own right. Many of your heartfelt posts make me cry--in a good, positive, heavenly way of course.
    A very merry Christmas to you & yours.
    Keep writing!

  2. 'A peeper is a tiny creature, but set a chorus of them going and they can shake the spring nights.' Ah, Marly, this post, all of it and not just that wonderful peepery sentence, takes my breath away. You just write so damn well, regardless of content. And when content is so heartfelt ( Eileen is right) as in the present case, the impact is powerful.

  3. Great blog. Peep into My Blog for some unique and interesting info and ideas.

  4. The blue Persian has been shaved and now oddly resembles a manticore... Company has been fetched... One more day of school, and in the afternoon a visit to Saint Nicholas and the trees in the wood.

    Thanks for the confetti. My email says that this one hit home with writers.

    Though a post has to be clear, I have many mixed thoughts about these things. Perhaps the whole thing should have been murkier, spotted and streaked.

  5. To echo Laura...the peeper sentence got me, too! Let me know how I can help spread the word; one way is to keep reading your wonderful posts and then tell others about them, which I do.

    Buon Natale to you and yours. I'm going to midnight mass in Il Duomo; I wish you could see it and put it into words for me!

  6. Merry Christmas, Amanda and all--

    Wish I could! My children will be singing here and there, so I will be dashing to this and that and the other. And I must, must get a tree today, in between practices...


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.