Direct From the Mouths of The SuperAuthors
One of the strangest exponents of my IFOA experience this month has been the window into the business world of the festival’s handful of bestselling authorial behemoths. I ate dinner with a novelist (not in the intimidate, 1-on-1 sense, but in the sense of group dynamics just happening to sit us together) who spoke of a year-long book tour, of separate publicists in each national market, and of translations into Serbo-Croat and Swedish.
Obviously the writing life of a popstar novelist who sells millions of copies is markedly different from that of a moderately-famous-on-his-street poet with lifetime sales in the
few thousands, okay maybe a couple thousand. Okay, well, I do alright for fucking poetry! What was most notable about this (and other) conversations was the tendency of this literary superclass to be impacted by trends in the publishing industry in ways exactly the opposite from how I experience them. A quick mention of the internet as democratizing agent (something that I hold to be self-evident) was met with a face of confused dismissal by one author, who spoke of torrent downloads of their recent bestseller numbering in the mid-four figures.
Now, it had never occurred to me that sites like The Pirate Bay even dealt in text files, so I was left opinionless when it came to this specific example. But as the conversation shrugged forward into more familiar territory, I found myself holding my counterarguments in check, choosing to bask in the rare opportunity to watch someone with whom I ostensibly shared a profession speaking ill of things I was thoroughly in favour of, and (most unusually) feeling that way for the same exact reasons.
I don’t consider myself a class-warrior, though I feel that my work is somewhat class-conscious (better to be conscious of it, as it is surely conscious of me). And it was this consciousness, not that warrior-instinct, that took hold of me as I listened to this person complain about Radiohead putting their album online, as doing so removed a revenue stream for their label that could be used to foster young musicians. The fact that such an argument is ridiculous (really, a major label would spend their Radiohead money on “fostering young musicians”, instead of just spending it on another Radiohead?) lost out to the spectacle of it being made. I was speaking to one of the maybe 20 or so authors in the world for whom things like big-box retail bullying and preferential shelving were doing them a world a good. In an industry populated by a million Mom and Pop Stores, I had come face-to-face with Walmart. While part of me felt like a sell-out as we ate out Bison Tartar and waxed philosophically about how eReaders will lead to increased book piracy, bearing witness to the other opinion won out, however temporarily, to the white-hot necessity of the argument.