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Hempelian Moods; My Friend’s Fancy Book Deal

May 13, 2011 | by

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel has converted me back to reading short stories. Where would you go next after Hempel?

Isn’t she good! If you want to expand on that Hempelian mood of yours, I suggest—in no particular order—any of the collections of Mary Robison, the latest issue of the short-story annual Noon, David Gates’s Wonders of the Invisible World, Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way, Christine Schutt’s A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer, Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive, and Gordon Lish’s What I Know So Far.

I know this person who got a fancy agent and sold a book, and, recently, I’ve noticed he has a very inflated ego. He talks about how great he is compared to other people, and how he has to network and get to know important editors. It’s a little weird, especially after years of saying he was devoted to the “craft." Maybe it's a case of sour grapes, but it’s pretty damn annoying. I also feel pretty strongly that this book won’t be making it onto the best-seller list. Nor does it mean he’s going to be published by the New Yorker. Is it my job to manage expectations here? —Sam is not my name

Well, “not-Sam,” getting a fancy agent and selling a book have been known to puff a young writer up. And it can be annoying to watch—yes, even when you know the book is going to sink like a stone in the scum pond of posterity. But really there’s no percentage in trying to manage an author’s expectations. For one thing, it simply can’t be done. No one but an academic ever believes he has written a dull book until it is too late. Even after the book fails, disappears from the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and is pulped, if your friend has invested time and libidinal energy into schmoozing editors, he won’t blame his book. He will blame all the powerful new friends who didn’t give him the review he wanted or wrangle him the blurb he deserved. He will blame his publisher for not taking out an ad on the front page of USA Today. And he will blame you (buzz starts at home).

Besides, I have found it’s hard to give good, gentle, constructive advice when you want to slap somebody upside his silly melon-head.

My advice is to be friendly and supportive. Go to the launch, ask him to sign your copy (buy a copy), and otherwise try to avoid quality time alone with him until the thing’s in paperback.

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  1. Lysa Williams | May 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    You know getting a fancy agent and selling a book is no small feat. I work in publishing and I’d congratulate him on making it this far. As to the success or failure of the book itself…we all know there’s tons of great writers that go sadly unnoticed and tons of mediocre ones that do well. Basically unless the publisher is marketing the ass off the book, it’s a crap shoot. No pun intended Let him/her enjoy the moment.

  2. Betty Dotson-Lewis | May 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I can see both sides of this (inflated ego over getting a fancy book deal).
    As a self-published author of 3 books (all on Appalachia) I am feverishly wanting and needing a traditional agent/publisher now. Yes, when people inquired about my books, I would almost whisper (self-published) now, after learning my 1st book is in Denver, Co. public schools, all locations and Penn. St. Mining Div. and WV Div. of History and Culture, I feel like I can stand on the mountaintop and say, “Yes, I did it myself.” Now, when I get my traditional agent/publisher, I’ll breathe a little easier and again feel like going to my mountaintop-a new achievement for me and my novel “Girl from Stretchneck Mountain.”
    Congratulations to anyone getting a fancy agent – I wish for one also.

    Betty Dotson-Lewis (B. L. Dotson-Lewis)

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