The Pulitzer Prize and the Novel TINKERS: What Dreams May Come in Publishing

Tinkers One of the hardest things to do is write a novel. I guess that's why everyone attempts to do so.

Even when you spin prose into gold, like Paul Harding has done with his book, Tinkers, you still have to overcome the reticence of those publishing industry decision makers (agents, then editors) that your book will somehow catch the zeitgeist and find an audience.

Even when word of mouth is enthusiastic, a book has to compete with those tried-and-true commercial (operative word here) bestsellers who come out the same month and also have three very big things working in their favor: "co-op" (the marketing push that gets a book on the front table beside the door, where 70 percent of most books are sold); vast distribution (not just independent bookstores, but large purchases from the chains, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books, as well as, perhaps some big box store sales, from Wal-Mart, Costco or Target; and most important of all author name recognition (James Patterson: I'm lookin' at YOU...)

Needless to say, I'm always happy to read a success story about a book that might have been mired in oblivion if it didn't get that extra push from somewhere. In the case of Mr. Harding, he had an angel of an editor (yes, they do exist: I am proof of that — thank you Ms. M, of S&S!). He also had a sales person on his publishers team who became his advocate in the wilderness; and those at the front line of defense–the independent bookstores–recognized his genius, too. That is to be expected: they love books with a passion, and and always the first to recognize a great one and put the wind beneath its sales (pun intended, thank you).

The New York Times has done a marvelous job of telling Mr. Harding's journey from first book oblivion to Pulitzer prize winner. It is also quick to give a mea culpa for missing out in reviewing the book for its readers.

It's not in 3-D, and there is no three-act arc, but that's okay. I can't wait to read it.

(And maybe that's why),

—Josie

http://twitter.com/JosieBrownCA




SecretLives400 Josie's
Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it
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"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in
the
bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money
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Jackie
Collins
, bestselling author of Hollywood Wives and Poor Little Bitch Girl

April 19, 2010



IOWA CITY — Six years ago Paul Harding
was just another graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a quiet
little novel he hoped to publish. He sent copies of the manuscript, in
which he had intertwined the deathbed memories of a New England clock
repairer with episodes about the dying man’s father, to a handful of
agents and editors in New York. Soon after, the rejection letters
started to roll in.

“They would lecture me about the pace of life today,” Mr. Harding
said last week over lunch at a diner in this college town, where he is
now teaching at the workshop. “It was, ‘Where are the car chases?’ ” he
said, recalling the gist of the letters. “ ‘Nobody wants to read a
slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book.’ ”

His manuscript languished in a desk drawer for nearly three years.
But in perhaps the most dramatic literary Cinderella story of recent
memory, Mr. Harding, 42, not only eventually found a publisher — the
tiny Bellevue Literary Press — for the novel, “Tinkers,” he also went
on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last week. Within an hour of the Pulitzer announcement, Random House
sent out a news release boasting of the two-book deal it had signed
with Mr. Harding late in 2009. A few days later the Guggenheim
Foundation announced he had received one of its prestigious fellowships.

The early rejection “was funny at the time,” Mr. Harding said. “And
even funnier now.” Mr. Harding, a onetime drummer for a rock band, is
far too discreet to name any of the agents or editors who wouldn’t
touch his work a few years ago.

But he is quick to praise those who helped “Tinkers” become a
darling of the independent bookstore circuit, including Erika Goldman,
the editorial director of Bellevue, whom Mr. Harding described as a
“deeply empathetic reader”; Lise Solomon, a sales representative in
Northern California for Consortium, the book’s distributor, who
passionately advocated for the novel with booksellers; and the
booksellers and critics who embraced the book early on.

Although “Tinkers” sunk under the radar in some quarters (including
The New York Times, which did not review it), it made several year-end
best lists, including NPR’s best debut fiction and The New Yorker
magazine’s list of reviewers’ favorites. According to Nielsen Bookscan,
which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, “Tinkers” sold 7,000
copies before the Pulitzer announcement.

Now many independent booksellers are claiming Mr. Harding’s victory
as their own. “This shows how indie bookstores truly are the ones that
can be movers and shakers when it comes to a book,” said Michele
Filgate, the events manager at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H.,
who raved about the book on Bookslut, a literary blog. As it turns out,
it was Ms. Filgate who first told Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, a former
editor of The New York Times Book Review and chairwoman of this year’s
Pulitzer fiction jury, about “Tinkers” at a book-reviewing workshop Ms.
Sinkler led in Manchester, N.H., last April.

In classes at Iowa Mr. Harding has become an instant celebrity, of
course, but also, a reassurance. Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer
Prize-winning author of “Gilead,” Mr. Harding’s former teacher and now
a friend, said last week in her workshop office that she had already
repeated Mr. Harding’s story several times.

“One of the problems I have is making my students believe that they
can write something that satisfies their definition of good, and they
don’t have to calculate the market,” Ms. Robinson said. “Now that I
have the Paul anecdote, they will believe me more.”

Mr. Harding is an avid reader of 19th-century novels, theological
works (Karl Barth is his current favorite) and physics, making it hard
to believe his claims that he was a poor student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he majored in English. The university does confirm that he took six years to complete his degree.

Wearing wire-framed glasses and a white button-down shirt tucked
into Levi’s, he talked effusively, the antithesis of the taciturn
father and son portrayed in “Tinkers,” a novel with sparse dialogue and
large portions set inside the characters’ heads.

Framed partly as a deathbed vigil for George Washington Crosby, a
clock repairer, the book wanders through time and consciousness,
describing in fine-grain detail its rural Maine setting and the
epileptic fits of George’s father, Howard, an old-time tinker who
traveled the countryside by wagon.

The story’s genesis came from Mr. Harding’s own grandfather, who
grew up in rural Maine and whose epileptic father abandoned the family
when he learned that his wife, Mr. Harding’s great-grandmother, planned
to send him to an asylum.

Mr. Harding spent his childhood in Wenham, Mass., a town not far
from where he lives with his wife and two sons, and he went fly-fishing
in northern Maine during the summers. He apprenticed with his
grandfather in clock repair, and after graduating from college he
recorded two albums and toured Europe with Cold Water Flat, the band he
helped form at UMass.

The band fell apart (the usual: creative differences), and Mr.
Harding decided to scratch another itch. He enrolled in a summer
writing course at Skidmore College, where he took classes with Ms.
Robinson.

With his application for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he submitted two stories, one of which was his first stab at “Tinkers.”

But for most of his time in Iowa Mr. Harding worked on a novel about
a 12-year-old girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to work in a
Mexican silver mine during the 16th century. As he graduated, he
realized the novel didn’t work.

Once again the story of his grandfather beckoned. Turning back to
it, he said, “was just such a sense of relief to not have to go looking
in history books.”

After his first son was born and he was teaching expository writing to undergraduates at Harvard
and creative writing to night-school students, the novel became an
extracurricular project. “It got so it was guerilla writing,” Mr.
Harding said. “I could flip open the laptop and start writing
anywhere.” He wrote on bookmarks and the backs of receipts,
transcribing the scraps into the computer later.

Finally, one Saturday night, he printed out his mishmashed computer
file and laid it out on the living-room floor. Nursing a few fingers of
whiskey, he cut up the document, stapling and taping sections into the
structure that ultimately made it to publication.

Shortly after Ms. Goldman finally agreed to buy the book — paying a
$1,000 advance — things began to go right. Ms. Robinson, who rarely
gives blurbs, gave “Tinkers” a stellar one, calling it “truly
remarkable.” Independent booksellers started to push it.

Meanwhile Ms. Sinkler began to champion “Tinkers” among her fellow Pulitzer jury members, Charles Johnson, the author of the National Book Award-winning “Middle Passage,” and Laura Miller, a senior writer at Salon.com.
“I think that sentence for sentence, it was the most beautifully
written and most gorgeous use of language of any of the books we looked
at,” Ms. Sinkler said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Harding is working on his next novel, set in Enon, the fictional
town where George dies, focusing on one of George’s grandsons, Charlie,
and Charlie’s daughter, Kate.

The Pulitzer may change some worldly things, he said, but not how he works.

“I sort of feel like I know how I got here, every step of the way,”
Mr. Harding said. “Something like this can befall me, and it won’t be
catastrophic success.”



Copyright 2010
The New York Times Company

Buy Books at a Holiday Bargain!


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— Josie


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Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives (From Borders)

Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives (From Barnes & Noble)

imon & Schuster/Pocket

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

Look for it in bookstores June 1, 2010

5 Reasons Why Borders’ Sue Grimshaw Is a Romance Writer’s BFF

Readingissexy One of the joys of belonging to my local chapter of Romance Writers of America – the San Francisco Chapter (major shout-out here) is because of some of the wonderful programs they pull together for published authors.

(Of all ilk, really. Yo: mystery, thriller, commercial lit, and lit writers, seriously: it's worth attending these meetings, for the mojo alone.)

Take, for instance, yesterday's speaker: the incomparable Sue Grimshaw, the romance buyer for Borders Books on a national level. I've heard Sue speak at least three times in the past five years, and each time not only do I learn something new, but her message is always up-to-the-minute on industry trends, from the bookseller's perspective.

Besides being one of the most unassuming and gracious book industry people on the planet, Sue is also very open and forthcoming with information from the perspective on how and what makes it easier for her to want to buy your book on a national basis (it all comes down to the writing, folks: character development sells…), and how you can make her phalanx of in-store romance booksellers aware of it, so that they can enthusiastically sell it. (There are 200 of them in Borders stores across the country! Talk about knowing and workin' the genre…)

That said, here are my top five reasons why Sue is a romance writer (and romance reader's) best friend:

Reason #1: Romance books are her focus, day in and day out. A dedicated romance book buyer isn't necessarily the norm in many of the other chain bookstores, or the majority of indie stores. Sue has worked in that capacity at Borders for over a decade, and it has allowed her to analyze sales and reader trends in this book genre.

Reason #2: She works hand-in-hand with publishers of the genre. She lives to give input on ARCs and covers, and to update publishers on sales trends in the romance subgenre categories (historical, contemporary, paranormal, inspirational, etc).

And by the way: According to Sue, in the romance genre, the male torso on the cover still pulls the impulse buy, even more so than a woman on the cover. Both on the cover, done well, works, too.

Does publisher co-op get you more front-of store and end cap placement? Well, duh, yeah of course. But there is still some "store option" on the local level, which brings us to . . .

Reason #3: She encourages you to get in touch — and stay in touch — with her romance booksellers and store managers.
Hey, we're all in this together. Authors have to promote, too. To quote
Trollope (Anthony, not Joanna) it's the way we live now.

To
that end, it would behoove you to walk into your local Borders — for
that matter, every Borders within reach, even (or especially) when
you're out of town — and make it a point to introduce yourself to the
store manager and if they have one, the romance specialist. Yes, you
should drop off bookmarks or advance reading copies, if you have them.
(and if you don't, CREATE SOME.)

Reason #4: She talks to authors. Ask her anything: How is my subgenre doing? What kinds of stories or plotlines sell? What do you think of my cover? She won't hedge. And as we all know, knowledge is power. The best thing about it: although she's in a power position, she's not intimidating. She's just like the rest of us: reserved (okay, maybe not ALL of us) and loves books. Contact her via email: via email at: sgrimshaw at bordersgroupinc.com

Hey you can even find her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SueGrimshaw  

Reason #5: Sue — and Borders — are doing all they can to get you in front of readers. Truly, that's what you want from any bookseller, right?

To help this process along, email Sue when you have your pub date and blurb and cover. Be sure she gets an ARC as soon as possible. Let her know what you'll be doing to promote the book (online excerpts, book trailer, special promotions). Get quotes and raves from other authors (she says this is something that gets her excited, as a reader, so she presumes it works on other readers, too).

In fact, Borders is one of the sponsors of RomConInc, a humongous romance fan convention and  booksigning, to take place in Denver, Colorado July 9-11, 2010. Here's hoping it's a huge success, and that, eventually, we'll see similar events more frequently, and in various regions of the country. Considering the number of romance books launched each month, there will certainly be a demand for it, by readers and authors.

Another must-do: Create an affiliate account with Borders, and put links to its specials — and your books, of course — on your site. Not only will it make your books more accessible and affordable for your readers, but affiliates get commissions (cha-CHING!)

And yes, feel free to send her your book trailer. Her vlog, which lives at bordersmedia.com/trueromance, is updated daily with all kinds of reader recommendations and other goodies. Who knows? Maybe yours will be one of her greatest hits.

In other words, make Sue and her romance bookseller posse your new BFFs,

—Josie


SecretLivesfaux

Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives
Simon & Schuster/Pocket

Look for it in bookstores
September 2010

Red Hot Read Coupon: Buy 2 Books, Get Another for Free!

Womanbook

Yo, Peeps!
Have I got a deal for YOU!

Here's how to enjoy (and support) your favorite authors:

Click onto this link below that goes to Borders, and you'll be eligible to purchase a third book when you order two others. However, this offer ends September 30, 2009, so ACT NOW.
Remember, reading does a mind and body good,

Josie