Jewish World Review May 29, 2002 / 18 Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Why one book sells and another does not is a mystery that publishers and bookstores have not solved. When a good book by a well-known author comes out, they can usually depend on strong sales. There are also thousands of books by little-known authors and every once in a while one of them catches on and sells a million copies. That's what keeps writers writing and publishers publishing.
No one knows how to write a winner. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has written a book called Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children.. The publisher gave her a big advance. She has appeared on everything, been interviewed and reviewed by everyone and the book is a bomb. It's simply not selling and the people who think of themselves as experts in this area can't figure out why.
I wish writers were not pressed into service as salesmen. As a writer of books myself, I've been embarrassed dozens of times to find myself being interviewed on some radio or television show for the sole purpose of getting a book of mine mentioned so people will buy it. It's demeaning.
Publishers will do anything to sell a book. Because of my weekly appearance on television, I am sent a hundred books a year by publishers suggesting this or that book might make a good subject for my commentary on "60 Minutes." The fact that I've never done this and am unlikely to ever do it in the future does not deter them. Neither, until now, have I ever used this column to plug a book.
One of the things that makes me uncomfortable about my job is that people come to me for help that I am incapable of giving. Over the years, I've probably received a hundred book manuscripts written by veterans of World War II. Some are quite good and it makes me feel bad that I can't help the authors get published.
Almost everyone, it seems, plans to write a book. They wouldn't think of attempting brain surgery, but everyone thinks they can write a book. They ask me about agents and publishers. They want to know what percentage they'll get, or which agent or editor they should go to. This is all before they've written the book. Actually writing it is one small detail in their new career as author.
Good old friends who write books make me feel the worst because I can't help them, either. I'm asked dozens of times a year to write a preface or jacket blurb for one of their books. It's embarrassing to say no, but it would be even more embarrassing to have meaningless blurbs on the dust jackets of books by all the friends who ask.
I'm looking at five books here on my desk sent to me by publishers. They were all written by friends who write for a living. I implore all of you to go out and buy these books:
05/24/02: The "Days" of our years