Guest Commentary: KAREN TEMPLER

08Jan09

One of the very first replies that I received this week was from Karen Templer and I asked her if I might publish it here and she said yes and I was delighted! Because I can’t post every day; I also have to go to the post office and drink iced coffee immediately afterward for its palliative effects (also, noted: THE GIVEAWAY CONTINUES). Herewith:

“I just read your heartfelt manifesto on The New YOU, and when I went to type up a comment, it got long and could possibly be read as a little rant-y, despite my intentions to the contrary, and I didn’t want that to be the first comment on there. So I’m sending it to you privately with this note to say that that’s not at all my intention. It’s just some combination of genuine encouragement and an ongoing frustration of mine. I hope that’s clear. Anyway, here it is –

I will never understand the publishing industry’s fixation on pub dates. I mean, I do to a certain extent. I know some media outlets only want to pay attention to things that are certifiably brand-new, whether books or toys or cooking gadgets. (Though this isn’t even true with Oprah — she picks what she loves.) And I know the publishers need to assign marketing/pr people (and dollars) to books for manageable periods of time, and then they all need to move on to the next thing. And I’ve certainly had the experience of trying to set something up with a publisher after the 2- or 3-month window (and me not being Oprah), when everyone HAS moved on.

But the fact is: readers do not care when anything was published. They only care whether it’s good and worth knowing about. I can say this with 100% certainty, having literally talked with readers all day every day for the last 11 years. (First at Salon’s Table Talk and then, for nearly nine years now, with Readerville.) Publishing’s own idea that there is a brief window is the ONLY impediment to that window being much much wider, or even non-existent.

In 2002, when the publisher and I were in New York launching our short-lived print magazine, The Readerville Journal, we made the rounds of the publishers. I will never forget the dismay we encountered one day at lunch with the two heads of marketing and publicity of one of the most respected literary houses. They loved the first issue (which had Jeffrey Eugenides on the cover, and an interview inside) and wanted to know who would be on the cover of the second one. I said Charles Portis. They looked at each other with some combination of confusion and excitement and one of them said, “Does he have a new book coming out?” As in “wow, I hadn’t heard.” When I said, “not to my knowledge,” their confusion deepened noticeably. They could quite literally not understand why I would be running a tribute to an author who hadn’t published in years, and even putting him on the cover. But from a reader’s perspective, all that matters is that Portis is worth knowing about and not enough people do. (Coincidentally, the Believer launched shortly thereafter, and they too ran a Portis tribute.)

I had also made the rounds in NY when I launched Readerville.com in 2000, and my message to the publishers was “here are readers, talking to each other about what they read, what they want, etc., and you can go right in and talk directly to them!” The letter on our About page has always been about the disconnect between what publishers do and what readers want, and my desire to bridge that divide. Though the last time I updated it, I defeatedly toned that part down. Even in this era of “social networking” (as if that hasn’t always been a core function of the web, but I’ll save that for another day …) they are still just barely starting to grasp this possibility, or even think about why they might WANT to talk directly to readers. But there is so much to be learned by doing so.

All of this to say that I applaud you, Lauren, for taking on this book that you loved despite its being a whole year old. I understand you may have a harder time getting certain kinds of coverage, given that fact. But I also find it utterly depressing that the environment you work in is one where you feel you have to explain your decision to work on behalf of any great book. I wish you all the success in the world with it — and please do send me a copy! — and I hope it means you’ll take on more books just like it.

Readers will always thank you for bringing a good book to their attention, no matter when you do it.”

Agreed! And there’s no such thing as a rant if you’ve got a point, in my opinion. Karen’s is entirely apt. Do we have the same expectations for novelty as readers as we do as professionals? I always tell people who need a reality check that for the vast majority of people in the world today, anything that’s been published since Moby Dick or On the Road or since they were in high school is unequivocally current.

And also, do visit Readerville at once if you haven’t yet. No passport required.

Back to YOU: Want to join the conversation? Start here, and let’s talk!

LAUREN CERAND

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