Saturday, June 14, 2008

BEA (Day 1)

Been there. Now I'm back. That's the important thing. (Yeah, I know. I got back a week ago, but here's my effort at a timely post anyway...)

The first day was really just travel and then heading out to the Random House Dinner. Ever gone out to function and realized you might be... um... under dressed? That's not exactly how I felt at the dinner, but it did feel like I was doing catch-up all night, only figuring out how things worked as the evening progressed...

Does this sound strange to you? The "Dinner" is really all about charmingly doing business. Each author has their own table in this super cool posh restaurant that we pretty much own for the night. Each author sits at said table with a hand selected group of editors, reviewers, publicists, book buyers and sellers, etc. You're supposed to hold court, field questions, convince these folks that you're awesome so that they'll do awesome stuff with your books. I guess that makes sense. It's just that nobody had told me ahead of time that that was in store for me!

I can't say if I achieved said goals completely, but I did blather away right through dinner, which seemed to be the right thing to do. The food was fabulous. Really, really good. I've got this thing where I don't usually eat much in situations like that, mostly for fear of ending up with bits of food prominently displayed across my front teeth. But, man, I had to have a feed this time. Stunningly good food.

So what about all these famous people I was supposed to hang out with? Well, it kinda happened. Thing is, once we were all situated at our tables I was caught up in that tight circle. So, while I was in paper airplane throwing distance of Barbara Walters, we didn't exactly have a sit down. I did smile at Mia Kirshner and sort of gawk at Ariana Huffington. (I mean that in the most favorable terms, of course.) Somehow, I managed not to even see Anne Rice or Jim Crace... I did actually shake hands and talk a bit with David Guterson. That was cool. It was some of the folks I didn't know as much of before that made the evening, though. For example...

Amada Boyden. Lovely. Used to be a contortionist and trapeze artist, you know. I don't know what she thinks of me, but I enjoyed our brief interaction. I hung on to the ARC of her new novel, Babylon Rolling, on my plane ride. She's a good writer, and brave. She writes about a very multicultural New Orleans and is willing to cross boundaries (and express an interest in) topics that few white American authors do.

Nick Harkaway – author of the forthcoming (and massively promoted) debut, The Gone-Away World – was great fun to hang out with. He emailed a few days after all this with a story that kept me smiling all day. Just before he left Britain for LA he’d bought a new fantasy novel. He read a few chapters and was enjoying it. When he flew, though, he packed light and decided to leave the book at home – especially considering the heft of the thing. I think he had a good, very busy time at BEA. It must have been quite overwhelming really, being dropped right into the book-pushing whirl of it all, suddenly a vip with the Random House machine behind you. Anyway, we got to spend time together on the Friday night. I liked him straightaway and we had some laughs. Talked all about our books, life in Britain and America, the weirdness of many things. On his return trip to the UK there was a glitch with the plane’s video system. He ended up with hours and hours of flight without anything to watch or much of anything to read. (I would have thought he’d have some free arcs with him, but who knows?) He got to thinking about that fantasy novel he’d left on his bed stand. It taunted him. Made fun of him, etc. He got home, eventually, and picked up the book, read a few more chapters. But only on closing the book and reading the cover did the title and the author’s name ring a bell. Yes, friends, he was reading Acacia by yours truly. Somehow, though, in the swirl of flights and LA and BEA he’d never connected me with the book! I actually understand exactly how this can happen.

You know who was a hoot to hang out with? Julia Glass, author of Three Junes (National Book Award Winner and Today Show Pick), The Whole World Over and the forthcoming I See You Everywhere. We were crossing the street from one bar to another restaurant when she introduced herself to me. I reverently said (yes, goofy things come out of my mouth when confronted with celebrities), "Oh, you're famous..." She forgave me that inauspicious beginning and we had some crack. (Don't gasp! I mean "crack" in the Irish sense of the word - craic - as in good, amusing conversation, a laugh, an easy social interaction. I could have said that in the first place, but good "crack" is what came to mind and describes the exchange. Anyway, don't say I didn't warn you about this word for the next time you head over Ireland...) She's got the coolest green glasses I've ever seen, and as others were dropping from fatigue she seemed content to chat away into the wee hours. (I'm clearly having a British moment, for some reason.)

There were some other great meetings that night. As I said, Nick Harkaway is getting a stellar launch in the UK and likely here as well, but Andrew Davidson, author of The Gargoyle, is one of those guys that's already "an international sensation" before his book has even pubbed. Hey, he was big even before his book was accepted for publication! Check out this article in the NY Magazine, with the title Agent Turns Down $1 Million Offer for First Novel. Geeze... And one of the editors mentioned there, Gerry Howard, in my editor. Apparently, Gerry did buy the book, for a whopping sum. (In case you're wondering - no, I've yet to have to struggle with whether to accept the Million $ book offer. Yet...)

I was reading through his arc, and noted that he'd sold the rights in twenty countries. I said, "Twenty countries, blimey." Andrew shrugged and said, "Actually, it's twenty-seven now." (Or some number higher than twenty. You get the point.) Yep, he's one of the "those guys" that arrives in a flurry of attention and makes jaws drop. I'm curious how this plays out. I liked him, so I'd like his book to do well. And I wish Gerry and Doubleday the best of course - they're my people. But these big deals are notoriously risky. Well see...

Also enjoyed a brief conversation with Nam Le, whose novel The Boat marks his debut. I enjoyed talking to him. I can't say much more than that, though, as my recollection of the evening starts to blur right around here...

I do know that I finished the evening by ordering late night room service and watching Fox News. (I know, I know... It's just this weird thing I do when staying in hotels by myself. Don't ask.) And that's about it, except that before I called it quits I checked my email and found a greeting from none other than John Scalzi, who wanted to meet up on the morrow out on the floor of the conference! Nice.

More on that soon...

Labels: , ,


Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Scalzi said over on his blog that he was going to stalk you.

This is really cool. You're giving away some of the big secrets of the publishing industry - interesting to know how this stuff works.

So, basically, you all hold court around a table of rich food and wine and try to convince a bunch of people to give you money? Sounds good to me! Maybe you'll be next in line for that $1 million!!

It'll be interesting to hear your take on Scalzi.

3:55 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Well, I try to convince them to help sell my books, which is the same as saying I'm trying to convince them to give me money. Yeah, I admit it. Publishing is weird.

I've been in it since, what, 1999 I guess (that's when Doubleday bought Gabriel's Story) but I only have a grasp of a tiny portion of how things work. I learn more all the time, but I'm also constantly surprised. I sometimes laugh a bit (inside) at debut novelists that seem to feel they have the whole thing figured out, got it sussed, sorted, and they're working the system. I laugh because I think it takes a lot longer than that to understand the lay of things. Frankly, some of the most experienced people I know in the industry themselves admit they don't know how it all works. I guess with experience comes humility.

Anyway, I'm happy to share my limited experiences when I can.

As for the million, I'm working on it. In my case, though, I can't work that debut author voodoo to make the cash register ring that way. Sometimes new authors have the advantage (it's one of relatively few advantages, by the way) of having no track record. The right buzz on the right book can get people crazy. I wouldn't for a minute suggest that happened with Andrew Davidson because Gerry Howard (our editor) is nothing if not a cool customer. But still, the basic premise holds.

I, on the other hand, have a sales record, review record, foreign sales record, etc for four books. That gives my publisher a lot of hard information to go on when deciding what sort of advance to give me. The good news is that my record is pretty good. So there's a lot to be hopeful about.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Hey, speaking of figuring out how things work - back to the discussion of being a New York Times bestseller (or any kind of bestseller) - I asked Tobias Buckell's editor at the Tor party at WisCon how they determine that.

He said it has only to do with how fast the book sells off the shelf. They get their info from that book selling program (I forget what it;s called, but it tracks the books sold) and reports the info back.(Booktracker? Something like that.)

After the first print run or two of the book, and during the reorders, they put the "New York Times Bestseller" tag on the masthead and there you go.

Now, the only thing is, the sellers report back the sales, so it could possibly be a thing where they see a book to promote, send in the info slightly inflated, and get a book to be called a bestseller before it is indeed a bestseller - but I think that scenario is probably highly unlikely. It does seem, though, that they should have a bit more check and balance on it, but cest la vie.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Durham: This thread seems as good a place as any to let you know that I finished Pride of Carthage over the weekend and totally loved it. It's not every day that I find descriptions of carnage and villainy just plain beautiful. I especially liked the battlefield description where Adrada finds Imco. You have such a marvelous gift of observation. Just for a tiny example, I figure you're either a horse-person or have carefully observed horse-people (I'm one), because that passing description very early on of Hannibal brushing the eyelashes of a favorite horse struck me as uniquely "real." One of the first things I do when I get within reach of my beasties is brush the gunk out of their eyes. So POC is definitely a keeper for me. I hope some day to be able to get your signature on my copy. And now I'm looking forward more than ever to the follow-up to Acacia. Keep up the great work!

5:46 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


That makes sense. It's one version of how to do it. I guess what I've come to understand is that there are many, many versions of how each aspect of publishing is handled - including when a publisher decides to call their own author a bestseller.

For example, the Spanish edition of Pride of Carthage was a bestseller in Chile and Mexico. The paperback of that book says Bestseller on it. Also, my UK publisher calls me a "Bestselling" author on the cover of Acacia. I'm not sure what their criteria is for determining that, but they're happy with that. Considering that - and considering I made some extended bestseller lists in the US, Doubleday could call Pride of Carthage a bestseller. Even an International Bestseller! I'm sure a lot of other publishers would have done that.

Doubleday hasn't, and my feeling for why they haven't is that it's part of their style to only call something a bestseller when it's earned that by big margins. As in, bestseller should mean "Bestseller!", not "technically" a bestseller. Do I feel slighted? Absolutely not. They've treated my books with great respect and even construct them with much higher quality materials than most books. It's just that they have a way of doing things that isn't going to be exactly like how any other publisher does things. I'm not saying different imprints are miles apart, but they're definitely not all working by the same play book.

It all varies from publisher to publisher, and it varies from author to author. Publishers don't treat all authors the same, obviously, but sometimes it's hard to figure out why not. I mean, sometimes two authors that look like they should be getting similar treatment have entirely different budgets, marketing strategies, manner of releasing books, everything.


Awesome! Thanks for all those kind remarks. I'm glad you liked the book and especially glad those details work for you. Personally, I like the details and I put them in intentionally. They mean something. Some readers get impatient with stuff like that, which is unfortunate. But it's always nice to hear that things like brushing a horse's eyelashes strikes someone. Things like that are, for me, part of how I develop character. That action says something about Hannibal, but it says it kinda quietly.

Oh... and I might as well admit that I'm not a horse person. I've just had to write about horses in all my books - especially in my first, Gabriel's Story. You could say that some of those details come from research. That's true. But just as often it's things that I've just IMAGINED that end up hitting the right note to people in the know.

Please tell people about the book if you will. Nothing is better than positive word of mouth!

9:42 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home