Either/Or: A Disruptive Approach to Literary Readings
I have some readings coming up in the next few months, but I don’t want you to come to them. Don’t worry. There’s something in it for you. Let me explain.
Book publishing is broken. Everybody knows it, and everyone wants to do something about it, but no one agrees what the problem is. Is it the advances? The supply chain? Is it Andrew Wylie? There’s even a growing concern that literary readings don’t sell books.
For this, at least, I have a solution.
In the past—say, the 1990s—writers were rare enough that the presence of one or several could be used as bait to lure curiosity-seekers into dusty, mould-ridden enclosures known as bookstores, where they would listen to these hothouse flowers read words aloud from printed pages. This was paralytically boring, of course, but writers were rare creatures. It seemed worthwhile to hang around and hear them explain how they “came up with their ideas” and dispense advice to “young writers, just starting out.” Then, before you knew it, you were speaking to a writer in person and watching him or her scratch your actual name into the front of a book, which you then had to buy because it was ruined. You had fallen for it again. Writers. They could not be resisted.
Today, however, we live in a world of writerly superabundance. Writers are everywhere. That one or several of them will be anywhere isn’t surprising, much less enticing. Writers have become a repellent, actually, ruining your local Starbucks and the comfy economics of the author event. You used to buy a book to get face time with an author. Now, however, this feels like double taxation. You mean I’ve got to buy a book AND talk to a writer?
No. You don’t. Not with my disruptive approach to literary readings. Here’s how it works: If you buy my book, you don’t have to come to my readings. Not only that, you don’t have to explain why you didn’t come to my readings or check the “Maybe Attending” box on Facebook. Nothing. You are indemnified. Buy my book and we will never speak of it again. $8 well-spent, right?
In current practice, you receive an invitation from an author—generally a friend or close family-member, since publishers have replaced publicity with the exploitation of clannish ties—asking you to attend a reading. As a veteran of such situations, you make a quick calculation based on some or all of the following factors:
- Personal closeness of the author to yourself
- Physical closeness of the venue to your home or work
- Availability of alternate plans
- The likelihood that you will one day hold such an event for a book of your own and will not want to be standing there alone like a moron
- Probability that you will run into the author on the F-train platform and they will ask you if were on vacation or in prison during the period of their reading
If your decision comes up positive, your expenditures don’t end there. You have to attend the event, buy the book, wait in line, make small talk, etc. Publishing, I would argue, can ill afford these additional barriers to purchase. In fact, publishing needs to incentivize purchases, as my approach does.
Buy my book and you don’t have to come, wait in line, or make small talk. You don’t even have to take your ear buds out if we ever see each other on the F-train. And if you write a book, I’ll be more than happy to buy it to avoid coming to your readings. Everybody wins.
Verification will be a problem, although vendors could easily solve this. Amazon might add a “Tell the Author You’ve Bought His/Her Book Already” option, or Facebook could add a “Purchase in Lieu of Attendance” button to its RSVP menu. In the meantime, you can just send me an e-mail with proof of purchase—a screenshot of your Amazon receipt will work—and a terse expression of your desire to be left alone.
Please. Do not come.