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Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding Kindle Edition
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If you've ever read about how an author becomes published, you'll know that luck plays as big a role as talent and perseverance. There is no by-the-numbers guide for how to get your book published, because every book seems to take a different path.
This is the story of The Art of Fielding, a first novel that is currently on the New York Times bestseller list and is getting very good critical reviews. That it is a "good" book is hardly a guarantee that it would be published, let alone be a bestseller.
Gessen's narrative emphasizes the quirky characters that populate the book industry. Author Chad Harbach sent his book to dozens of agents and publishers for ten years, until finding the one agent that loved it. Gessen also tells of the designer who created the artwork for the hardcover and had to change it half a dozen times to please everyone. Then there's the publishing consultant who has "zany" opinions about where the book industry will be in the next decade.
Considering the state of flux the publishing industry is in now, The Art of Fielding took a fairly traditional road to being published, going through agents and publishers and eventually an auction for the rights.
Self-publishing and ebooks are not part of the story of The Art of Fielding, but according to Mike Shatzkin, the publishing consultant Gessen writes about, once people migrate to e-books, there's no turning back. He predicts the demise of half the traditional publishers, most of the physical bookstores, and virtually all of the public libraries in the next fifteen years.
I thought the Kindle Single version of the article would be little more than a padded version of the magazine article, but it appears that there's some real added content. The story of the book jacket design is new to the Single and the section about Shatzkin is beefed up. You don't have to be a would-be author to find this article pretty gripping.
"How A Book Is Born," as the title suggests, is the back-story and publishing history of the novel the "Art of Fielding," the 10-year effort to write it and the adventure and struggle in getting it published, which it eventually was and for a moneybag filled with $650,000. The article is nonfiction with most all the drama and narrative drive of a good piece of storytelling.
Keith Gessen and "Fielding" author Chad Harbach are cronies and co-editors at the hip journal "n+1." Their long-time personal relationship is important. It gave Gessen the inside scoop as the novel gestated just as it gave him access to the business of books at the very time the paradigm is shifting and the future of publishing is as unstable as it is uncharted.
For me what made this e-article worth reading (this Kindle Short is pretty much a reprint from an October 2011 "Vanity Fair" piece "The Book on Publishing") is the glimpse it gives inside book publishing in the age of e-commerce where no one seems to have anything close to a good formula for success and where more often decisions seem to be seat-of-the pants choices that can give shape to either success or failure, as defined by number of hardcover and digital books sold.
Publishing today is a $14 billion business (in annual sales and that doesn't count educational materials or textbooks) in an imprecise world where "No two books are the same book and no two authors are the same author. The fact is: no one has any idea how many copies of a book will sell."
Trying to figure what will sell a book involves everything from typeface to cover design. "The Art of Fielding" went through more than a dozen drafts of cover art before the final jacket, an all-text design with stylistic white letters on a deep blue background. And what's interesting is that none of the versions carried a visual reference to baseball. That apparently wouldn't be good for sales. The cover is intended instead to convey the novel's "depth and warmth." How it does that is beyond me.
This is a rags-to-riches tale about a guy who couldn't pay his college loans who writes a book that's now on the bestseller lists and a story about book publishing in the digital age, where everything is uncertain and job security a perilous commodity. I don't know which of those two stories is better. I enjoyed "The Art of Fielding" for its grace and humanity and for being a very good story told well. I liked "How A Book Is Born" for its ample insight and inside look at an uncertain business.
The book is a very thorough look at the journey a book takes -- from writing to re-writing, querying to finding an agent, bidding wars to marketing. And it also explores the amazing changes going on in the industry since the inception of Amazon and the Kindle.
I'd recommend it to any and every writer I know as it really does provide a lot of insight into the craft of writing and the uphill battle of getting published. The one thing I'd recommend is to read novel before this tell-all because the latter will make you want to read the former, but the latter also contains many spoilers of the former. You've been warned. Now go get both books!
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