Bart Schneider, author of four novels—including Secret Love, a meditation on San Francisco in the 60s that’s not nearly as saccharine as the title suggests—writes a worried piece in Metro Santa Cruz about his fate as writer. In the 80s he helped launch a literary journal, Hungry Mind Review, which was distributed in independent bookstores around the country. (It later became the Ruminator Review, a journal to which I contributed; it went bust a few years ago after a rebranding as a general-interest cultural magazine failed to take off.) Pulling out a 1996 issue of the journal, dedicated to the “State of the Book,” Schneider had reasons to despair:
Glancing through the huge list of independent bookstores from that issue, I fear that more than two-thirds, along with Hungry Mind itself, have gone out of business. Most New York publishers are no longer independent companies run in the old-gentleman spirit of their founding, but are more likely the poor cousins of huge multinational entertainment corporations that demand greater returns than mere books can ever provide.
This isn’t enough to prompt Schneider to get out of the writing racket, but the experience does do some damage to his flinty midwestern demeanor. He describes what happened during the run-up to the publication of his most recent novel, The Man in the Blizzard:
Last summer, when I asked my publisher how to get the word out about my new novel, given that it had no advertising budget, he had a simple answer. Start a blog. But there was more. “You’ve got to contribute actively to other people’s blogs,” he said. In other words, become my own full-time publicist. As someone with an unfailing instinct for the dead end, I started my next novel instead.
Well, he didn’t give up entirely. And shopping an op-ed to an alt-weekly is probably as good a promotional tactic for him as any print ad in a newspaper. Nobody likes being told that a job that others used to do professionally now falls to you, an amateur. The sole comfort is that the pros no longer know the right path any better than you do—if it leads to a dead end, a least it’s your dead end. And it’s probably not a dead end anyway—if a four-time novelist knows anything, it’s that persistence counts, and audiences online have a way of rewarding persistence.