Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Publishing Olympics Are Needed

Book publishing lacks a big event, one that is televised, reported on, and tweeted about. The Olympics make me jealous. I would love to be a part of some big international gathering of the publishing world that is covered by the news media the way athletes and sports are.

Book Expo America, The Frankfurt Book Fair, and the London Book Fair each serve as conventions for the book industry but they don’t consist of pomp and excitement that is viewed by billions of people. There are no gold medals or awards distributed, no winners and losers, no two-week long dramas.

I would love to see a major spotlight put on the individuals who make book publishing the fascinating industry that it is. Books are so important to us – they educate and inform, they inspire and enlighten, they challenge and explain, they entertain and provide escape. Shouldn’t those who contribute to the process of creating and selling a book get to tell their story? Where is the recognition for editors, page designers,  cover artists, book printers and binders, distributors, wholesalers, retail stores, salesmen, book jacket creators, catalog copy writers, advertisers, marketers, publicists, ghost writers, book shepherds, literary agents, and all of their assistants and interns? For every best-selling author there are 10,000 writers whose names go unknown but by the few who read their works. And for as big as some publishers are, most consumers could not name more than a handful of them.

Books greatly contribute to our world. Some TV shows and many movies are based on books. Books are in our schools, homes, and place of business. We bring them everywhere – on a train, to the park, on vacation, while waiting online, to a cafĂ©, etc. They are a part of our culture and life, so why don’t we honor them?

I think book publishing could certainly make a splash with an Olympic-like gathering of the global publishing community and people would tune in to segments that reveal the creative, production, and marketing processes. Or maybe we can combine the Olympics with “Booklympics” – and have the athletes get timed for fastest reading, quickest writing, most books bench-pressed, most books jumped over, etc.

Okay, so publishing lacks the physical competition that people naturally connect with, but at an intellectual level, it invites many in. Maybe we don’t need 16 days of 24/7 coverage but for now I will take a day that honors the world of books. Or at least a Ken Burns documentary on book publishing.

Interview With Author Eric Dinnocenzo

1. What type of books do you write? The Tenant Lawyer was actually my first novel. I had been a writer of short stories beforehand, got a couple published in small magazines, but had never taken a crack at a novel. At age 31, I gave it a try and after a few years of writing and re-writing, including putting it down for extended periods, I finished it. The novel is, at least to me, a mixture of legal fiction and character-driven fiction, with a strong current of social justice running through it. Novels with protagonists who are young men fighting against odds or in some way outsiders, with a strong voice, including an off-beat sense of humor, have always appealed to me, and, for better or worse, I tried to jump into the fray.

2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? I haven’t started another book. I’ve thought about characters and plot in a very disorganized and meandering way. For instance, I’ll be walking to the grocery store and think about it, but then when I start roaming the aisles I’ll quickly forget about it. My vague notion of it is that I would like to continue with the same protagonist, Mark Langley, but make him a couple years older so that he’s in his mid-30’s and no longer working in the public interest, but rather at a top litigation firm in a major city like New York. I think there is a difference between the early and mid-30’s—generally speaking, you are really no longer a young person, though in your early-30’s you’re still hanging on by a thread, and you are more ensnared in the adult world, yet lack the standing that someone in their 40’s and up has. Also, there are interesting themes that could be extracted from that type of law firm setting such as power, indoctrination, alienation, and false idols. Just as one example, I see many people who sacrifice themselves at the altar of organizations in the hope of advancement and then, in turn, are sacrificed by those same organizations. It’s interesting to think about why people do that, why organizations do it, and just in general why it happens? It might be interesting to see it all through Mark Langley’s eyes.

3. What inspired you to write it? I had just broken up with a long-term girlfriend and suddenly had more free time on my hands. I didn’t have a girlfriend, I wasn’t dating anyone, and I didn’t have many friends, at least not in Boston where I lived at the time. I had to do something with that time, and my solution was not to gratuitously put in longer hours for the overlords at my law firm where I was an associate. I figured trying my hand at a novel was a good idea—I always had a submerged desire to write one, and I figured, at age 31, if not now, when? Also, I enjoy solitary activity and all it took was sitting at my computer. I didn’t have to go anywhere or buy any equipment or satisfy any pre-requisites. That aside, I had worked as a legal services lawyer in the Worcester, Mass. Housing Court and I found the dynamic there to be a fascinating and often deeply unfortunate one and thought it’d be interesting to write about. Think of it: a small number of people are property owners, and they go to a branch of government – the court – which is financed by the taxpayer – to evict people from their homes and, in effect, put them on the street. You thus have the state – through its court system – operating on behalf of the landlords in order to ensure their right to earn income from their private property. It is a state-subsidized manner of helping a small number of landlords evict a sub-population of a much larger segment of the population which are tenants. And, on a more human level, so many people are deeply affected by what goes on in eviction cases and it was not a topic I had seen described in writing. I figured it would serve as a good setting to create an engaging plot and put the spotlight on political and social justice in the context of housing. Plus I like the idea of a young lawyer going up against a more powerful adversary in that setting. That is one reason I enjoy John Grisham books.

4. What did you do before you became an author? Before, during, and after I have been a lawyer. I consider myself quite fortunate because I’ve always represented the underdog in the 10 years since graduating from law school. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, since there are many more positions available in the service of power rather than as a check against it.

5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? There is a sense of accomplishment in writing a novel and then seeing it in print. It’s also gratifying to know that some people have actually sat down and read it. Other than that, I don’t think about it too much. My advice for struggling writers is, well, I’m not sure that I have any. They’ve probably heard the mantra to “keep writing.” I don’t do that myself, because life gets in the way, especially when you work full-time as I do, and I’m not always motivated to write, so it’d be hypocritical for me to say that. I think it is helpful, if one wants to be a writer, to be a reader and to get into certain authors who excite you. I can’t imagine that I’d have written a novel if I hadn’t read authors like Bukowski, Pete Hamill, Pat Conroy, Salinger, and Tom Perrotta, just to name a few. Their voices were like a healing tonic to me as a young man who felt alienated from his surroundings. I would also advise writers to make their work “marketable.” I hate to say that, I really do, because it’s anathema to creating a work of art—for instance, can you imagine Gertrude Stein telling Hemingway he should make Jake Barnes more “likeable” in order to sell books?—but, unfortunately, it’s the truth if you want to get published. Good writing is not always appreciated. Writers should also craft good “pitch” letters to agents. Admittedly, I’m not good at that at all. But many agents won’t even look at your work, and instead will screen by reading “pitch” letters only.

6. Where do you see book publishing heading? I can’t say for sure. It’s a time of great flux. And who knows what new technological marvel could pop up tomorrow and change everything? I have a friend who is a doctor, and he says patients often want to know with certainty what will be their outcome, and he tells them, “If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t have two ex-wives and I wouldn’t have lost a ton of money in the stock market.” That said, I hate to see hard and softcover books go the way of the cassette tape and transistor radio and become outdated, because I think that the book as physical object is one of its defining features. It gives a book more of a flavor and feel. I can remember where certain passages generally are in the hard text, which I cannot do with an e-book, and of course there are some novels like Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby whose identities are connected to the book cover. On the other hand, in our computer age, it is promising that there are so many avenues for writers to self-publish and get their writing out there. I think that publishing is becoming more democratized, which is a good thing. The caveat, and it is a significant one, is that now there are two major booksellers: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I think it has a negative impact on society if two corporations have control over the marketing and distribution of books.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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