Today we say goodbye to this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book. If someone had told me way back in the last century that I would be guest blogging for a major festival in 2008 and 2009, I would have said, “Blogging. That must be something you do from a flying car.” Turns out that this year’s festival coincided with the maiden flight of the world’s first car/airplane hybrid, which I don’t think was chance.
So we are living firmly in the future. And yet still reading books, a medium older than peanut butter, even while people all around us are predicting that these are end times for books. But to my surprise and delight, yesterday’s “What About My Book? Navigating the Industry Now” panel was optimistic. Although Ron Hogan of GalleyCat and Beatrice (and the author of The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane! American Films of the 1970s, which must have won some kind of title award) described the New York publishing industry as being “in freefall,” the panelists all agreed that a good book always has a future in the business. Authors might not receive the $5 million advances they’ve come to expect, but a commercially successful book will award them royalties above and beyond a small advance. According to the panelists, the recession has forced big publishing houses to stop overpaying for projects, or issuing “bad bank loans” to authors, which is a positive change to their business models, even if it might cost jobs in the short-term.
The big publishing houses are still going to rely too heavily on books like the latest celebrity memoir or fad diet book that don’t require massive promotional budgets (these things sell themselves), so mid-size houses like Algonquin that don’t need to answer to stockholders might be a better fit for new authors, even if they can’t provide the coveted six-figure advance. Does that make sense? Did I get that right? Is anyone else falling asleep? Ha – that’s actually a fun game. Let’s keep playing. Is anyone else eating her first ever box of Cracker Jacks, wondering what the big deal is? Is anyone else biting her nails to shreds? Is anyone else kind of liking Keith Gessen’s novel All the Sad Young Literary Men even though their friends gave it bad reviews? Is anyone else easily distracted?
Returning to this idea of the celebrity memoir being a surefire, no-brainer hit, I went to my last Festival of the Book panel this afternoon, entitled Francois Coty: The Perfume Magnate. Skipping over the variegated history of this French billionaire turned fascist who founded the Coty fragrance company, it interests me that the Coty company, although now out of the Coty family’s hands, is still hugely profitable because it sells celebrity perfumes almost exclusively. J.Lo, Sarah Jessica Parker, the Beckhams, and Celine Dion all have their own smells in the Coty catalogue. Even Tim McGraw and the Olsen twins are in on the action. Do people even buy perfume anymore if it’s not affiliated with some superstar? Mary-Kate and Ashley are the new rose and lilac. And are certain celebrities perceived to be better smelling to the general public? I bet Obama smells good. Can someone put that in a bottle? And then pour the bottle all over the back of my neck three times a day? What?
I sense that I’m losing you again. Let me conclude by bragging about the other fabulous thing I did as part of the Festival of the Book: scored a free ticket to the Authors’ Reception. Because I came by myself, I subjected numerous people to my mingling skills. Fortunately novelist Sarah Collins Honenberger was lovely as usual (you can find her blog here) and I met Robert Stilling, an English Ph.D candidate who co-authored What Should I Read Next?, a book of recommended reading from UVA professors. Then I decided the party was too grown-uppy so I sat down with a first-grade girl and got to talking about frogs until I lost track of time and security ushered us out of the Special Collections Library. I don’t know what it is with me and hanging out with little girls at literary soirees, but I seriously need to find some writer friends my own age.