Recent Work By J.E. Fishman

Here comes a confession: I have never had a sustained relationship with a bookstore.

Oh, I’ve had quite a few casual on-and-off bookstore relationships, places I’ve visited more than once over many years. Likewise I’ve had my one-night stands, hitting a store hot and heavy, walking out with armfuls of books but never going back. I’ve bought books from guys on the street and from national chains and from mass merchants and from newsstands. Of course, I’ve also bought books from Amazon.

The other day I had a phone conversation with the head of sales for my distributor. As readers of this column know, we had a good lay-down (i.e. sales to wholesalers and retailers), with about half the books going to airport stores. Information on retail sales (sell-through) has just begun to trickle in, and that information is incomplete: BookScan only tracks 70% of bookstore sales, and sell-through data at the airport stores won’t be available to us for several weeks. From what we know at the moment, hardcover sales look modest, but not discouraging, since first-time fiction nearly always requires building from the ground up.

The beauty and shame of blogging, we all know, is that you can post whatever you want whenever you want. But guest blogging is a little different, since it requires the cooperation of a host site.

I’ve been asked to do a few guest blogs in support of Primacy, and I’ve obliged.

I’m a word guy and I hope that’s obvious. But numbers are important, too. Here are some numbers to date with regard to the Verbitrage effort of publishing Primacy.

One Friday in May, a beautiful cloudless day, Liane Vinson had the shock of her life.

By the age of twenty-five, Liane thought she had become inured to profound surprise. She worked as a veterinary technician in the biggest animal testing laboratory in the world, Pentalon, where she had seen plenty in two years—seen plenty and done plenty. She had starved and poisoned more rats and mice than she could count, some of them her dearest animal friends. She had watched a close associate, Ronald Berg, put toxic ingredients into the eyes of rabbits. She had witnessed dogs living for months with wounds that the scientists wouldn’t allow to heal.

On some basic level, the type of independent publishing that I’ve undertaken with Verbitrage is an expression of self-reliance. Nine months ago I turned my back on big-house rejections and small-house opportunities and seized the best tools I could find to foist my novel onto the world.

Here’s a shocking statistic courtesy of Fast Company magazine: four hundred independent bookstores have opened in the past six years. Don’t these people know their industry is supposed to be on life support?

But the article went on to say that some bookstores are changing their business models and thriving. Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts, for example, has increased store traffic seven percent by cross-merchandising books with non-book products. In St. Louis, four bookstores banded together in an alliance that saved one business while increasing sales at the other three.

The website GalleyCat has been running a series, based upon numbers crunched by an outfit called Glassdoor, about the average salaries of publishing professionals. The numbers aren’t pretty. The average salary for a book publicist in the New York area, for example, appears to be $37,093 per year. (I say, “appears to be” because in the surveys that generate this data the sampling is very small.) The figure is higher for those working at the biggest houses, but only by about ten percent.

I recently wrote a post (on my very occasional blog) about the way theme gives depth to one’s reading experience regardless of how a novel is otherwise categorized. There are themes inherent in each category, of course, but in the better books there is something more, something that lends resonance.

In these dog days of August one can easily feel adrift. Emails go out and automated out-of-office replies come instantaneously. London burns. Wall Street is tanking. The bookstores seem empty. Unless you’re in the Hamptons, it requires monumental effort just to raise a tennis game.

Although I no longer live there, for most of the past twenty-five years I resided in the northern section of Westchester County, New York — first in Bedford Hills and then in North Salem. The main shopping and dining town of that area is Mt. Kisco, where nowadays, I’m told, New York’s current governor can at times be found strolling the sidewalk.

In the mail today I received a sample of the finished dust jacket of Primacy. After opening the package, I did what I suppose every author does upon receipt of such things.

First, I gaped at it in awe. Second, I studiously avoided reading the copy, for fear of finding an embarrassing typo. Third, I broke down and read the copy anyway, finding no embarrassing typos but at least one disconcerting hyphenation. (How did everyone miss that?!)

It has been said, with regard to the stock market, that Wall Street traders know the price of everything and the value of nothing. As I watch the price of e-books fall through the floor, I begin to wonder whether the traders have company.

Perhaps this is the loner or curmudgeon in me talking, but I have never felt much attraction to conferences. People droning on about theory has always seemed to me like a poor substitute for doing, and if you’re a writer-entrepreneur you’re paying for the big schmooze out of your own pocket, to boot. I think “conference” and I picture a roomful of middle managers debating how to move a stack of forms from one tray on their desk to another.

Dear Mystery Writers of America,

I am in receipt of your kind offer to renew my “affiliate” membership to your organization for the sum of ninety-five dollars. In consideration of this invitation, I took a moment to reflect on my status as a sort-of member of your organization who does not qualify for full membership under your standards (but apparently qualifies to pay full price — there being four levels of membership but only one level of dues). This brought back a few memories.