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Is It Hard To Make Arrangements With Yourself


B+.  I give myself a B+ for the tour. Guys, I did everything I could. Wore dresses, heels, make up and  bling. I flossed like a mother fucker. I met some incredible booksellers and librarians. And lots of bridge ladies with teased hair and leopard print tops, bags and shoes. Love talking no trump with the bitches of South Beach. I have to take some points off for forgetting to use sunscreen and eating for two. Missed you guys.

What’s the worst author reading you ever went to?

Could It Be That It Was All So Simple Then

Guys, guys, guys, guys. It’s Book Expo in New York. I just tripped over Scott Turow. I didn’t get invited to the Malcolm Gladwell party. I didn’t get invited to my own publisher’s party. That I take as a badge of pride. I ran into a book rep I haven’t seen since the Fifties, but he’s still wearing that bolo and I still remember Miami. I saw a machine that makes books on demand.  I saw a vampire in broad daylight. I saw my beloved Japanese agent and she was wearing a gorgeous floral skirt that she bought at thrift shop, then corrected herself: Vintage. I met with a mother-daughter team who sell audio books. When I told the daughter she looked like Kim Kardashian she seemed to be insulted. I wandered through the booths thinking about all the publishing jobs I had, all the bosses I didn’t blow, all the massive excitement I used to feel helping books come into the world and learning how to galvanize my passion.  Or how I could get high off the smell of books fresh out of the carton. Or the party I once threw for a first collection of stories, decorating my apartment with candles and peaches.

Were those the days?

I Pick A Moon Dog

I like to watch people in bookstores. If I could, I would follow them around with a survey or a tape recorder. I want to know why they pick up the books they pick up. Did they go into the store knowing what they wanted? Had they read a review, heard the author on NPR, or had the book been recommended? Were they just looking around and a jacket or title jumped out? Were they familiar with the author? DId they read the jacket copy, the blurbs? Did any of that make a difference? Did they read the first page, the last? Did they smell the spine? Did the display make a difference? The jacket art?The author photo? I live to understand why people are attracted to books.

When I was a young editor, I worked for a publisher who would walk around the conference room while an editor was presenting a book. She would pick on people randomly and ask them if they would read the book being discussed and why. She wanted to know why they wouldn’t read it, too. She would really put people on the spot and it was more than a little terrifying. But what she’d tease out over the course of a meeting was what connected a reader to a book and sometimes, before our eyes, we saw a marketing campaign, an approach, a hook, a narrative come alive. And sometimes that idea would translate all the way through from writer to reader.

What do you do when you walk into a bookstore?

You Can Radiate Everything You Are

Small World Books on Venice Beach is so wonderful and not just because they seemed to stock every book I’ve worked on in the last six months INCLUDING the poetry.  And it’s not easy competing with a beach. I was so in love with the place, I forgot to check if they had my frickin’ books. But I did peruse the entire poetry section, as is my wont. Wont? This, to me, is always the measure of a truly great store — the depth of the poetry section and it was superb.  But SWB also has a great small press display. Amazing paperback section beautifully displayed. They have recently reviewed books up front. Tons of front list — but you could feel a really smart buyer behind the selection. Looking at the books was like having a really great conversation with well read and charming stranger. God, it was like breathing fresh air.

How do you case a bookstore?

p.s. Extra credit. We are reading To Kill A Mockingbird with our eighth grader and came upon the sentence that title comes from.  Anyone remember?

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

Remember the moment in BIG when Tom Hanks presents his ideas for a new toy and his jealous colleague played by John Heard snarks back, “I don’t get it,” in an attempt to short circuit the presentation. Of course, it backfired because this is a feel good movie.

In publishing, there is an equivalent moment at editorial board. A passionate editor (maybe young) presents a book he or she loves and wants to acquire. Some (usually senior and vaguely threatened) editor says, “Who’s the market?” or “Who’s going to read that?” Look, they are  valid questions, but it’s the smug, dismissive way they are delivered that  sounds more like: can I piss on your face?

Maybe I’m sensitive, but that’s what it sounded like to me. An editor has to come prepared to a meeting knowing that she is going to face the eventuality of that question being asked, whether by John Heard or an editor with a few flops he’s trying to live down.

And that is why it is most excellent for you, dear author, to have some sense of that. Of course you will work with your agent to put a pitch together. But if you’re pitching to get an agent, then you should also try to make some cogent comparisons. And don’t say you’re the next EATPRAYLOVE. Comparing yourself to an inexplicable phenomenon is a mad mix of hubris and magical thinking. Of course, if you find a lovable animal stuffed into an overhead compartment of a plane that goes on to rescue everyone from hijackers, then you, by all means, should compare your book to DEWEYMARLEY et al. This is a hungry market.

Ask yourself, who is going to read my book. Actually, fuck that. Just write it.

All You Do Is Treat Me Bad

Dear Gap, the advertising slate is pretty full, so please act now!

Dear Betsy,

Did you know…your book, The Forest for the Trees, is out of stock in Australia. Bookstores have to order it from USA. And it has been like that for a few months…it’s not normal, you are losing readers and customers!!

As an author, if you know (from your spy ring around the world) there are public demands for your book, do you have the power to influence your publisher’s decision regarding the distribution of your book?

I know…we only represent a potential of 22 million readers/customers in Australia…it’s not a reason for neglecting us…so, do you mind forwarding my email to your publisher? If it’s not enough we’ll organize a petition. Thanks Betsy.

Dear Nicole Kidman:

This is an outrage. I had heard rumor of a spotty stock situation in NZ and Mumbai, but this is OUTRAGEOUS. What’s worse, come to New Fucking Haven, CT and you won’t find books in the YALE bookstore, the Barnes & Noble near the movies, or at Atticus. My own home town. Every bookstore I’ve ever gone to in the last number of years has not had the book in stock. More galling, every time I stalk the writing shelves (and it can only be described as stalking or skulking), right there in the smack middle of the L’s is Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, like a poke in the eye. And I really like her book. How then does my darling stay in print if you can never find it, you ask. I believe it’s the internet and piracy. Mostly piracy. But miracle of miracles, I get a check twice a year and it is the sweetest money ever earned. I usually do something fun and kooky with it, like pay my babysitter for a couple of weeks.

Speaking of babysitters, how is Sunday Rose?

Thanks again for the shout out, sister.

Love, Betsy

Where do you get most of your books?

Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

Dear Readers: I apologize in advance. And if you can’t take it, then skip today’s post. But here’s one where I can’t find anything negative to say. I just can’t. Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida is mecca to book lovers. And following that line of thought, its proprietor, Mitch Kaplan, is a god. Do not go to south Florida and fail to stop in (and spend serious time) at this store. Your aching body will straighten itself, your exhausted brain will oxygenate, your bunions will dissolve. Why? Because this is one of the country’s great independent bookstores and from the moment you set foot inside, you become part of a working intelligence that cares about everything you care about.

When I saw Mitch the other day, I went away feeling encouraged in ten different ways. I realized ours was the only publishing conversation I’d had in months that wasn’t about Kindles and e-tailing and the end of the world. He is a person of tremendous capacity and generosity. He is a co-founder of the Miami International Book Fair, and is also a film producer. The entire plane ride home I kept thinking about ways in which I could grow my business, create opportunities, produce new work. I have to say one of the things that I find most enviable/inspirational is the way Mitch appears to have time. (Mitch, if you do yoga — and especially if you do yoga on the beach — please keep it and your blue mat to yourself.)

Would love to hear about your favorite bookstore, past or present.