By Ellen Crosby (Guest blogger)
New year, new book. For the fourth year in a row, the first Tuesday in August is mine--the day Scribner, my publisher, officially releases The Riesling Retribution, latest book in my mystery series set in Virginia wine country.
I’m not the only writer in the country with an August 4 pub date, though it’s nice to feel unique for a day, especially that little heart-flip the first time I see my book actually on bookstore shelves. Truth be told, I’m in first-rate company for the entire month, joining fellow mystery writers like Charles Todd, Marcus Sakey, Dan Fesperman, Marcia Talley, and Jeff Deaver (among others) who will be hitting the road visiting a bookstore near you. But how will you hear about us?
Last year my local events would have been billboarded in the calendar of The Washington Post Book World. First thing I turned to every Sunday morning over a cup of coffee: Who’s in town? Now it’s gone. I freelanced for the Post for a couple of years so that loss really hurt. More Post hemorrhaging followed, with buyouts accepted by some of the paper’s most famous names, by-lines gone for good. My former editor left two years ago for a research foundation. (Why did he do it when he didn’t want to leave? “Next time they might not offer me money.”) I met Marie Arana, former Book World editor, at the Annapolis Book Festival—she’s now at the Library of Congress. Their gain; our loss.
How many newspapers have folded their tents or jettisoned their book review sections? A story on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” discussed the slow death of book reviews—back in 2007. As for newspapers, there’s a list on a cheery website called Newspaper Death Watch. In the past year we’ve lost the print editions of the Detroit News/Detroit Free Press, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and—one I truly lament—The Christian Science Monitor. Gone for good: Rocky Mountain News and the Baltimore Examiner. The Boston Globe is on the skids. I’ve only named the big guys, but trust me, it’s a much longer list.
On to bookstores, but first please put away any sharp objects. Just in the mid-Atlantic region, we lost Mystery Loves Company in Baltimore, as well as Olsson’s and Trover’s, two beloved Washington, D.C. landmarks. One stop on my book tour is a “favorite authors” final farewell signing at Creatures ’n Crooks in Richmond, which closes its doors on September 30. I promised to go if there weren’t too many tears. (She wouldn’t promise; I’m stocking up on tissues). As I write this yet another bookstore, Kate’s Mystery Books in Boston, will close on August 1.
Is it just me, or is the drumbeat growing louder for doing away with quaint twentieth century customs like reading newspapers, buying books in bookstores, and turning actual pages instead of pressing a button? What’s going to replace the institutions we’re dismantling at the giddy pace of kids leveling a sand castle? The front page of the business section of the July 22 New York Times (yes, the print edition!) featured a story called “Musician, Market Yourself.” It spoke about doing away with “the old model of doing things” as musicians create their own direct links to audiences over the Internet.
Ditto the book world. Like it or not, we’re all becoming cottage industry promoters, each of us tooting his or her own horn on individual websites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. Is it better, worse, or just new and different? I dunno. Right now, I’m resisting—though sure, you can find me on Facebook and I think I’ve tweeted about six times. But I mourn what we’re losing because once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
A few weeks ago I attended a bookstore event in Middleburg, Virginia videoed by a young reporter for washingtonpost.com. Naively I asked how long the link would be available, remembering how in the past some of my news stories would drift into that hole in cyberspace where broken links went to die. He blinked and stared at me. “Forever,” he said. “It’ll be there forever.”
Later an author friend explained how to post that video to Facebook. “Go to the article online,” she wrote, “and click on ‘Tools.’ It asks where you want to send the link. Click on Facebook and, voila, it’s there on your page. Doesn’t even ask your name because it knows who you are. Scary, huh?” Yeah, real scary.
As part of this individualized promotion gig—and because there are so many of us out there—we’re reaching for what’s new and different, opening doors to our lives, places we once considered off-limits, in an effort to get you readers to pay attention . . . or just to find us. Last spring I filmed a (very) brief video for Simon & Schuster answering questions about my favorite movie, favorite place, and wished-for talent. Fun stuff, a bit of fluff, all part of S&S’s new “Author Revealed” website. But I’ve decided to draw a line beyond which I won’t go in this whole promotion thing; parts of my life are private and there’s such a thing as Too Much Me.
As August 4 rolls around, I’m excited about getting out there and spending time with folks, after a year of living in my head alone in my office. Nothing virtual: real meetings, real people. In the meantime, I’m still wrestling with Facebook and Twitter. Guess I’d better get used to it; next year could be a whole new world . . . again.
Ellen Crosby is the author of The Merlot Murders, The Chardonnay Charade, The Bordeaux Betrayal, and The Riesling Retribution. Visit her web site for more information, and if you're on Facebook, please be her friend.