Aspects of the Novelist’s Dilemma (6)

Blog: What's the Big Idea?

Aspects of the Novelist’s Dilemma (6)

6. Book bloggers replace book pages.

There’s another group to whom the publisher still seems to matter, and that’s print and television journalists and book reviewers who need a way to decide what to report on. The imprint of a major publisher can be one shortcut to deciding whether a book is worthy of their review or coverage.

There’s no question that a news or feature story in a major national newspaper or a large local paper can (though won’t necessarily) spike book sales. For nonfiction writers in particular this may be a good argument for going with an established publisher. But novelists rarely receive what we used to call “off the book page publicity,” and when they do it’s usually because their novel is already selling in stratospheric numbers or they’re a living legend like Stephen King.

The poet Philip Levine once commented that when you’re an unknown writer and can’t afford to pay your rent, nobody gives you anything, but when you’re already established and no longer need the money, you start to win awards and stipends. Mainstream media coverage is a little like that for novelists. Usually you already have to be famous or unusually successful to get it. These unspoken rules apply as much to Simon & Schuster as they do to a self-published author.

The real action these days, it seems, is on the internet, whether it’s via social media or bloggers. Indeed, as the number of newspaper pages devoted to book reviews has fallen through the floor, the number of book reviewers online has exploded. But it turns out that these people don’t have quite the same biases as mainstream journalists do. In fact, they might respond to the list of self-published authors I provided below by saying, “I knew that.”
So…
Dilemma: When you’re not already a famous novelist and book bloggers overwhelm mainstream media reviewers in numbers and impact, does it matter very much whether your publisher can open doors at the New York Times?

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