Tuesday, March 04, 2014

My Inadvertent Promotion of a Book I Haven't Read

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

I have nothing against self-promotion by authors.

How could I?  I'm been shamelessly flogging my own books since publication of "To Speak for the Dead" in 1990.  (See!  I just did it there).

But self-promotion is one thing in the publishing world.  Self-pity and whining are something else.

I refer to a piece in Salon by first-time novelist Stephan Eirik Clark, in which he complains about the difficulty of finding his book on Amazon, seven months before publication.  In doing so, Clark, an English professor at Augsberg College in Minnesota, picks up the tired old cudgel of Amazon bashing...and also seems to criticize his own publisher, Little Brown.

Clark's article, "Amazon Buried My Novel: Those Search Algorithms are for Sale," 
is wrong on many levels.  I have no trouble finding his book, "Sweet #9" on Amazon when putting his name into the search window.  Sure, plugging in the exact title confuses Amazon's search engine because it doesn't recognize the "number" symbol, and that troubles him a lot.

But wait there's more.  A conspiracy may be afoot.  Clark suggests that maybe his publisher failed to bribe Amazon into giving him better search results through those mysterious Amazon algorithms.  For this proposition, Clark relies on George Packer's recent New Yorker article, bashing Amazon for extracting promotional fees from publishers.  

As he is new to publishing, Clark might be surprised to learn that Barnes & Noble, the late Borders, and many other chains historically squeezed "co-op money" from publishers in exchange for front-of-the-store or end-cap placement, advertising and marketing.

This isn't new.  Amazon just does it better than...oh, let's say the defunct chain Waldenbooks.

What really seems to frost Clark's Minnesota buns is that Amazon's search engine places "Sweet # 9," a book he considers literary fiction,  on the same Search Results page as  "Sweet Valley High." 

I felt ready to channel the words of the great unifier, Jonathan Franzen. “I’m writing in the high-art literary tradition!” I wanted to scream at my computer. “And you’re going to lump me in with “Sweet Valley High” and “Sweet Valley Confidential — The Sweet Life?”
 Now, "Sweet #9" may be the best first novel since "Catcher in the Rye."  Or it might be dog poop.  I don't know.  But I hate pretentiousness in all its forms.

(I also realize that Clark may be so damn smart he purposely opened himself to ridicule by writing that...all in an attempt to get a thousand bloggers to tell him his ass is too tight.  In other words, his aim was to get others to cleverly flog his book, even inadvertently.  And here I am, doing just that).

I'll close with this advice for Professor Clark.  Keep on writing.  Keep on flogging.  But quit your belly-aching.

Paul Levine


  1. Paul, you have pushed the book all the way up to #258,219 in the Kindle Store!

  2. He should be fed to dogs.

    Good catch, Paul

    Jim Born

  3. Thanks for naming him, too. I hate it when authors diss someone and don't tell us who it is. Just that icky quote raised my hackles.

  4. from Jacqueline: I haven't read the articles about this person, however, when I was first published, I was so darn beyond amazed to have finished a novel that someone saw fit to publish, that I couldn't even think straight enough to criticize anyone. I think it behooves authors to learn a bit about how the publishing industry works and how some elements (such as co-op purchasing of space) pre-date the internet - as you point out. They used to call it "point of sale merchandizing" - but it amounted to the same thing. Another thing that doesn't change is that, big as it has become, the book business is still a tight business where you don't get very far if you mouth off about how you're being treated - remember that author a few years ago who complained about a $150,000 advance for a first novel? Never heard of again ....

  5. I get what Jacqueline meant. It is like when I was trying out for my high school play and I was happy to get any role, even if it was only as a member of the chorus.