The Millions: The Future of Book Coverage, Part 1

Garth Risk Hallberg at The Millions has a brilliant essay up this morning which discusses the future of book reviewing, specifically focused on the possible death of the New York Times book review section. Garth manages to bring thoughts that have been floating around (both in my head and on the internet) into a clear and thorough analysis of the current state of reviews and where we might be headed.

Given the economic realities that have hit recently
, it may not be crazy to imagine the print edition of the Times book review changing drastically.

“Numb” by Sean Ferrell, sold to HarperCollins.

I’ve sold my first novel to HarperCollins.
Excuse me while I am struck dumb and stare at those words for a minute or twenty.
This has been a long time coming. The novel has been kicking my ass for years. Then it began kicking uber-agent Janet Reid’s ass. Now it’s gonna have a go at Gabe Robinson, my editor (did I just type “my editor?!?”). Poor Mr. Robinson, Editor Extraordinaire, doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. Sure, he’s fine with the novel, but he has to work with me. He’ll be kicking himself in no time.
Actually, I pray that’s not true. I met Gabe face to face recently at the Brooklyn watering-hole “The Gate” and he’s a real gentleman and I look forward to working with him. His first go around with suggested improvements was spot on, definitely made the book better, and I feel such gratitude at having both an agent and editor who “got” the book and wanted it.
“Numb,” the book in question, will be coming out in 2010. No publication date is set in stone, but I think I’ll be able to keep everyone up to date with a post or two between now and then. Until then, I think I’ll just go back up to the top of this post and stare at my first sentence for another hour or two.
(I guess I do now have the problem that the Dear Abby writer had. Lucky me.)

Department of Eagles.

Over the weekend Wife, Son and I gathered round a table at a Brooklyn restaurant (the always satisfying Belleville). As we ate I kept getting distracted by the music playing in the restaurant. Slightly off-kilter. Playfully dark. I loved it.
“What are we listening to?” I asked the waiter.
He smiled knowingly. “It’s Department of Eagles. If you’re familiar with Grizzly Bear it’s a side project of theirs.”
I nodded knowingly. I am good at faking knowingly. I had no knowinglyness about Grizzly Bear at all. “Ah, Department of Eagles. Okay. Grizzly Bear. Yes. Ah.”
When I got home I looked them up. Department of Eagles is here. They give away two songs for free (two GOOD songs). They have videos (GOOD videos, not the crap that plays on cable). They are also on iTunes.
Check them out. They’re excellent. If I had to pick one band to perform on a mud covered fairground while the Ferris wheel burned, it would be these guys.

We should all have this problem.

A few days ago a letter in “Dear Abby” got me to knock my head against the wall. See it here:

DEAR ABBY: I have recently enjoyed the success of having my first book published . However, this achievement has begun to change my life in ways I hadn’t expected.
I am a somewhat shy and reflective person by nature, preferring to live quietly rather than being in the spotlight. Having the freedom to spend time with my family and to enjoy the little things in life is more important to me than success. However, since my book’s debut, I have felt myself pulled into a different sort of world.
I am meeting more “important” people than I can remember, and I am struggling to keep up. My inbox is inundated with questions, appointments and invitations. I am expected at speaking events and signings that don’t feel entirely authentic. I know I would be an idiot not to embrace these opportunities, but I am becoming more and more uncomfortable and stressed. Maybe this just isn’t me.
How can I be who I am without feeling like a disappointment to those who believe in me?

Are you kidding me? If that’s a problem sign me up.
The most disturbing part of all this is that, yes, I do read “Dear Abby.”

Pants 1, Sean 0.


The other night, as I was giving my three-year-old his bath, my cell phone rang. I checked the number: it was uber-agent Janet Reid. Always happy to get an unexpected call from someone who might tell me my writing is going to sell, I ignored the three-year-old splashing water at me and answered the phone.
“Sean? It’s Janet.”
“Hi, how are you?”
“Good. Um, you may want to check your home phone, because your son just called me on my other line.”
I stood in the bathroom, looked down at my son as he drank a gallon of soapy water.
“Yes.” She laughed. “I saw your name, but when I picked up all I could hear was his delightful squealing.”
I continued to look down at my son. He threw bubbles at the wall and then dumped water on my foot.
“When was this?” I asked.
“About two seconds ago.”
Now I was really confused. My home phone had called her? And my son was on the other line? My parents were visiting, and either of them might have called Janet by mistake thinking the phone was the television remote, but neither of them is what I would call a “delightful squealer.” How had my son, sliding himself in circles around the tub, called Janet on the home phone?
The answer was obvious: Janet is insane.
“Oh, okay, ha ha. Thanks, Janet. Sorry about that.”
“No problem. He’s adorable. Talk to you soon.”
We hung up. I knelt on the floor and wondered what to do about the fact that an insane woman represents my writing. My writing is insane enough without having to worry about it and my advocate both being certifiable. My son watched bubbles rise from his lips. A result of the soapy water, no doubt.
I still held my phone in my hand. I realized its keypad wasn’t locked. I stopped myself from turning it off, and checked the outgoing call history instead. The last call was…
Five minutes ago. To Janet Reid.
The keypad unlocked, the phone in my pocket, pressed against keys and change, buttons pressed at random, and it had called Janet. What she had heard was my son in the tub. His delightful squeals had been about drinking soap, belching bubbles, dousing my foot. My phone, in my pants pocket, had called my agent.
The dream for a pantsless society lives on.