Save a Writer–Buy a Book

Haim Watzman

“It’s a very ugly time in American publishing,” my agent wrote to me. I had just received my semiannual statement from my publisher, which informed me that a total of 716 paperback copies of Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel were sold in the year after that edition came out. I never had high expectations, but only 716?

People in the book business are notoriously downbeat, but my poor agent sounded even more depressed than usual. No doubt he’s reeling from the news that a major trade publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has announced an indefinite moratorium on the acquisition of new manuscripts.

Taken together, my statement and this week’s book industry news indeed confirm my talent (inherited from a long line of ancestors) for having chosen to be in the worst business at the worst possible time. The two things that a writer needs most—readers and publishers—seem to be going the way of the woolly mammoth and the trilobite. . . .

Read the rest at Comment there or here!

7 thoughts on “Save a Writer–Buy a Book”

  1. Thanks for this post! I too just got my first statement from my publisher on my first book, and my heart sank just a bit. I have another book coming out next year, and have been following all of this publishing industry doom-and-gloom closely. But it should be noted, that the publishing industry is always going through crisis and always freaking out about a loss of readers, a poor business model, poor growth and a weird acquisitions process that relies on creating “the list” even if there aren’t great books on it that season. Publishing will survive, as it always has, and I hope that we, as individual authors, will too!
    As for Pinsker’s essay, I wonder where he got that 500 years from? It made no sense. There are great readers around now. I agree that education in America needs to stress reading more, but there are a lot of great Jewish authors out there (he missed one of my favorites, Michael Chabon) and there are a lot of great Jewish readers out there–The so-called “Jewish Book Tour” is one of the saving graces of publishing right now. It is generally understood in the publishing industry that books on Jewish themes sell. Books of great literary merit that also become blockbusters are rare and will always be rare, Jewish or no. We shouldn’t fret about it; we should just keep writing and encouraging others to write, and hope that more philanthropists create more fellowships to enable more young others (like me! hint…hint…) to keep writing.
    So the problem, in my mind, is not one of material or audience, but rather marketing and publicity. How do we reach the readers where they are–online, watching tv, and sometimes, trying desperately to unplug. Sadly, book coverage in traditional media is shrinking to the point of irrelevance, and we can’t all get on Oprah. I think you’re on the right track with this blog, reaching out to your readers, so don’t despair just yet. Just hope that the marketing and publicity staff at your publisher can get creative. Quality finds its way to light, and while the challenge of making a living writing definitely keeps me up at night, it also keeps factory workers, real estate agents, and waitresses up at night too. Writers are no exception. But as for finding readers, we live in a great time with access to a multitude of voices in a multitude of media. I’m optimistic. But I’m also updating my resume.

  2. Hey, don’t look at me! I bought them when they came out in harcover and recommend them to all my friends!!

    Happy Thanksgiving anyway. Yihiye beseder…

  3. Dear Haim:

    I watched the Big Lebowski last night so I get the “we don’t roll on Shabbos” comment. Of course, I could have just clicked on the link like I just did. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Anyhow, about your writing. Within the last year, I saw “Israel at 60” and I said to myself, “Haim should have wrote that!” Guess I won’t buy it. I still stand by my observation that you are best positioned to write a Dubliner’s styled book about Jerusalem or Israel . . . and after reading your blog, I would say S. Jerusalem in particular. Think of Michener, Wouk, and Joyce all in one. You could have the fire in the kitchen during HH, then the Haredi woman hiding out from her wacko [insert blank], adventures in Turkish coffee etc. etc . . . the unfinished schul basement! (these scenerios cry out for literary justice . . tzedek, tzedek). I just finished another quick book: Testimony by G. Laub (2007) which is a photography book; it brings the Israeli flavor and texture to the immediate senses even though it is essentially on first read a moral equivalency book about Israeli-Arab relations. I think this is your talent: literary nuance like an experienced cook (like my wife) who no longer uses measuring cups, you can bring the full flavor to the senses.

    Am I right? Am I right? (that’s a Bg Lbski quote BTW). Proper response to me is “shut the F up!”

    Best wishes and I look forward to your upcoming magnam opus “Israel at 100.”

    Off my soapbox now.

    Very warmly, Lloyd

  4. Chaim, I bought your book in hardcover and enjoyed it, so there you have it. I’ll recommend it to friends and family; look for more sales to come.

  5. Haim, I read the book and enjoyed it very much. A question – are there any plans for a hebrew translation? I think it will succeed. The book can provide Israelis an interesting prospect on our military and the institution of Miluim.

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