The Sunset and Jericho Book Launch
product vs. process in the publishing world
On Thursday, April 13th, I’m launching Sunset and Jericho at the Irish Heather’s new private room. 7pm-9pm, a reading and refreshments, book sales by Pulp Fiction, all welcome.
My first novel came out in 2014. Since then I’ve accumulated more doubts than wisdom about writing and publishing. Here are some of each:
When you teach English, you’re told to teach process but mark product—grade the finished essay on its merits, but teach how to write an essay. An unfair but necessary methodology that makes it possible for someone to work very hard and fail, and someone else to crap out an acceptable paper with disturbing ease.
Ten years as a ‘published author,’ most spent ‘making a living,’ means very little in a BookTok world. Every book stands on its own merits. Product, not process.
Science fiction and fantasy are big right now. High concept thrillers (“she must kill five serial killers in 24 hours…or her child dies!”) are big right now. The comedy of awkwardness (“Um…so that happened”) is big right now. The crime novel is small and out of fashion.
Contractions in the publishing world, the rise of AI, the dominance of IP controlled by a relative few…none of it is good news.
There’s an affinity between detective fiction and jazz (and prizefighting), maybe because of this this process/product disjunction. Or maybe because you’d have to be a lunatic to try to do these for a living. They don’t fit comfortably into any economic model.
What I keep hearing from the lit and film/tv world, what I see taking hold—“what people are talking about,” to use their terms—are light mysteries and cozies, the high concept, the fantastic and spectacular, the unrealistic, the easy to pitch. “People are talking about” equates to what is easy to talk about.
Taking nothing away from the entertainment value, ’What if an AI and a witch teamed up to solve mysteries?’ is a lot easier to digest than ‘what if a troubled person with no special abilities tries to figure out why some seemingly decent people got knocked off.’ One survives as a premise, the other only survives on its execution.
A book with a ‘strong premise’ might actually be easier to sell if it’s not complex and ‘good’—while a detective novel can only be good. Or it’s nothing.
“People don’t want anything dark” is the prevailing wisdom, though the “people” I know still admire James Lee Burke and Lawrence Block, wait anxiously for a new Tana French novel, get excited for what the genre can do. Those people might not be Nixon’s silent majority, but they’re out there, and I think they’re ill-served by a lot of book culture. But it’s also very hard to mobilize them.
I don’t think in terms of darkness. I try for realism. Violence is a terrible thing, and while I love John Wick as much as anyone, I don’t find much satisfaction reading or writing about expendable people.
The point of all this?
In ten years, it’s increasingly a battle to get something right, and then get it published.
It’s tough to demand things from an audience which is handed so much by so many.
Every book is still difficult. When I’m feeling especially woeful, I think every book is still too difficult.
But it also means each one is worth a couple hours of celebrating. That’s what the book launch is meant to be—a chance to share the work and see friends and say thank you.
I’m lucky to do this, grateful, and keenly aware of how provisional an existence this is. My relationship to the product is difficult and changing, but I love the process deeply.
Hope to see you there.