Friday, April 30, 2010

"Tinkers:" You Too Can Win the Pulitzer Prize




Fear not rejections my fellow scribes, for even you can win a Pulitzer. Well, maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. Paul Harding, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Letters, awarded for his debut novel, Tinkers, was rejected numerous times by savvy New York publishers, who seem to be in search of something a little racier than an old man’s last days on his deathbed. "They would lecture me about the pace of life today. It was, 'Where are the car chases?' Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book" (Paul Harding).

You know, I doubt that NY publishers regret not publishing this story. They could probably care less about high society Pulitzer Prizes and even less about a book that is not an out-of-the-gate huge blockbuster bestseller, which, I predict Tinkers will eventually become in due time.

This is nothing new, where big publishers miss out on the book of a lifetime. New York publishers, in particular like to keep their publishing picks, “down and dirty” and usually frown upon uppity little feel-good books like Tinkers. And no, this is not a wake-up call for publishers. They do have a “list” (code word for micro-market) to fill and your book is most likely not a good match for their list so, no regrets. To hell with art, they prefer the money.

Is this wrong? After all, everything is about money and far less about art, and what’s wrong with making a fortune selling pulp-fiction? Isn’t that what most readers want? Yes. Well, there you have it.

It just seems bizarre to me why most New York publishers are obsessed with fast-paced, edgy, commercial stories, as if this brand of story represents or justifies the citified image of New York City, just because it was published there. Are they campaigning for the city of Manhattan or trying to sell books? Seems to me that most NY publishers are caught-up in all the big city hype and are too blind to see what’s real in the world, or what is noteworthy in the world of literature. Have they forgotten that literature is all about the human condition, whether it’s pulp-fiction or not. The humanity of things is always at the core of any worthwhile story, in any genre. Period.

BTW, university presses are always a good option when trying to market literary stories, especially when themes in the story (epilepsy in this case) match the institution’s background. I suspect that writers whom have written these kinds of stories will query more of them in the months to follow. But don’t get your hopes up too high. Don’t forget, you still have to write a great story first. Yes, there is always a catch.

I congratulate Mr. Harding with his wonderful book and his Pulitzer Prize win. He didn’t give up for too long and eventually got around the publishing maze and found a publisher in New York (an editor, as in Erika Goldman, editorial director) that not only liked his story, but championed it to resounding success. Good for him and the Bellevue Literary Press, and especially good for the readers who still believe in this kind of story.

Readers are still human--last time I checked. It’s no wonder they like Tinkers.

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BTW, if anyone knows where I can get a hardcover copy of Tinkers, please drop me a line. And no, I’m not plunking down $2000 for one. I’ll be happy with a copy from the next printing, fourth, I think. First printing limited run was only 3500 paperbacks and 1250 hardcover (500 copies produced for The Book Passage Bookstore, and 750 copies for Powell's Books. How I wish I had a handful of those, they were all signed!

A note about the book jacket: First of all, it is minimalist, fitting the themes of the story, and the image appears to be a dreamy, cold, snowy field in heaven with a lone man wandering about, lost perhaps. It’s a simple, austere, and beautiful cover, but more importantly, it stands out like a sore thumb in store bookshelves since it’s mostly white.

This is an old advertising technique used by admen where they use a lot of white space to compete with the colorful and mostly cluttered ads (book jackets) that surround it. This seems like somewhat of a trend these days. Kitty Kelly’s new book, Oprah’s Unauthorized Bio, also uses white space to its advantage.

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