*and what they can tell us about the media landscape we’re living in.
So my book proposal that is making the rounds received its first rejection a couple weeks ago. The reason? The publisher doesn’t believe a large enough audience exists to justify their investment in the book.
I’d get depressed if I thought about that long enough… not because of the rejection itself (the whole process of conceptualizing, crafting, and pitching a book proposal is just so instructive and interesting that it actually makes rejection bearable), but because of what it might say about our society if I chose to believe the publisher’s underlying message. The book has an intellectual/academic bent to it, so what the publisher is saying, in effect, is that there simply aren’t enough travelers who are also interested in investing in a guidebook that has a scholarly patina.
The thing is, I don’t believe that.
What I was really going to work up to yesterday in my slapdash post about the Gary Vaynerchuk video was a meditation about something he says about there being a niche for everything, overlaying that observation with all sorts of articles I’ve been reading lately by authors (mostly in Poets & Writers) who are taking the most innovative approaches to creating and then promoting their work. Honestly, you can sell anything.
I didn’t build up to that, though, as I was running out the door to have lunch with Alison Wellner.
I started thinking about all this again last night, though, after reading David Page’s excellent (as always) essay about his struggle to decide whether to work on a second edition of his guidebook. Should he buck up and go to all the effort (and expense) of edition 2 without any assurance that the market for his book still exists? Should he go digital? Or should he just scrap it all because maybe travel guides aren’t relevant? David’s got all these heavy thoughts but he remains unresolved at the end of the essay. Is writing the second edition just an exercise in pushing back against print publishers who are anxious about their alleged, impending death?
My answer: No.
That’s where the used underwear comes in.
Francisco used to go to the flea market on 23rd Street every weekend. Occasionally, he’d come home with some sweet finds, but usually he’d come home with an entertaining story. Among the vendors selling genuine antiques were peddlers who’d palmed discards–tattered books they couldn’t sell at The Strand, scratched CDs, toaster ovens with short circuits, computer screens missing all their other hardware. And used underwear.
“I’m not kidding you,” he told me one Saturday afternoon. “There’s this guy I see there every week and he’s selling used underwear. He has a tremendous following. He always has a stack of bills in his hand. It’s incredible; how can you sell used underwear?”
Eventually, Francisco’s interest in the flea market waned. The “antiques” weren’t. But he continued going to 23rd Street on Saturdays, studying this guy for weeks, fascinated by what made a used underwear vendor so successful.
I won’t argue with the publisher– what’s the use of strong-arming someone who’s supposed to be your partner into unwilling submission? If they’re convinced that there’s not an audience or that printed matter is headed for the dustbin, then our relationship is doomed from the get-go.
But I do believe Vaynerchuk- there’s a niche for everything. Even used underwear. The work lies in figuring out how to leverage that niche successfully.