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Camilla Gibb leads the charge

I am writing an essay on how to get published, especially on self-publishing, for my students, and after reading a draft, Chris Cameron, one of my editors, urged me not to be so negative – not to focus on what kids now call “the big fail.” I was writing about my own experiences, both with my first book which was published by a good American university press and got almost no publicity (and which was in fact considered a huge success by them because in five years it sold almost a thousand copies and was re-issued in paperback, translating however into very little remuneration for its author), and with my next two books which were midway between being published and self-published and received even less publicity. A certain despair creeps in.

So in the rewrites, I have tried to be more positive about both self-publishing – creative control and a speedy process – and the regular publishing world. But I have to say that it would not be fair to paint too rosy a picture. It’s not rosy. For almost all of us, it’s near-starvation.

My friend Piers Hemmingsen, who’s producing a Beatles event at the Revue Cinema tomorrow night – it’s the 50th anniversary of “Help,” so he’s got a remastered copy and will speak, and I will be there –  suggested I get in touch with the owner of the wonderful Another Story bookstore nearby on Roncesvalles about carrying my Beatles book. I stopped by there a few weeks ago and left the postcards I’ve had made about both my books (marketing!), waited for her to get back from vacation, spoke to her today. Would she carry them, even on consignment? “Let me ask this: do you have a sense of who will come in to ask for them?” she said.

Yes, I do have a sense of that – no one. As I write in the essay, marketing is key – and marketing is my downfall. There has been almost none, no one knows my books exist, so the nice lady doesn’t want them. Without marketing, you can write a magnificent book, and you’re toast. And mine are nowhere near that. Double toast.

So in that vein, I hope Camilla Gibb is happy. As anyone in Canada cannot help but know, she recently brought out a memoir, “This is Happy,” about the breakup of her marriage (as we also all know, to Heather Conway, a vice-president at CBC, who walked out on her when she was a few months pregnant – I love it, the revenge of the writer!), about pregnancy and birth and family. As far as I can tell, she has been reviewed in every paper known to Canadians, and I assume this will lead to major readership and sales. I shake my head in wonder and congratulate her. She’s beautiful, she’s a very talented writer, and she has hit it out of the park with this one. Good for her. It gives us all hope.

It’s getting chilly – I’m wearing a sweatshirt. Hard to believe August is nearly over. Where did it go?

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6 Responses to “Camilla Gibb leads the charge”

  1. theresa says:

    Always a mystery, Beth — which books get the attention and which don't. I thought your All My Loving very sweet and original. Which makes it all the more puzzling that a bookstore would refuse to accept a few copies on consignment (not having to worry about returns even…). What a world. And the more the big publishers join up with the others, the more agents refuse to consider books which don't fit the current template, then the more homogenous our literary culture will become. Or at least the surface of it will be sort of the same. I hope there will always be the quirky books, the ones unlikely to find their way onto BIG LISTS (promulgated by our public broadcaster, alas), but the ones eager to improvise, to invent, to investigate form and the boundaries of language and style. And if the bookstores don't take them and promote them as eagerly as they promote the season's hits, then we will be a sadder place. A more ordinary place. And of course we need those other books too but a vibrant healthy ecosystem finds room for all kinds of life — the small and the beautiful and the rare, the ground covers and shade-lovers, as well as the species which find the sun at the higher levels.

  2. beth says:

    Oh so beautifully put, as always, Theresa! And yes, it's pretty discouraging these days – though on the other hand, twas ever thus, and more people than ever are writing and self-publishing which is also a good thing. I just feel I must warn my students that if they're hoping to write a bestseller or even make a good living as a writer, they'd be better off inventing an app. But in the meantime, those of us who need to write will write, and find other ways than book sales to put food on the table. Including growing it ourselves.

  3. Kerry says:

    I would buy your book. I DID buy your book and really enjoyed it.

    Book marketing is a mystery.

    BUT, the Camilla Gibb memoir is fantastic. It's an exercise in story-telling as much as a story itself. It's well-written and thoughtful, restrained and illuminating. I am glad of its success.

  4. beth says:

    You not only bought my memoir and read it, Kerry, you posted a wonderful review for which I'm grateful. You are indefatigable on behalf of writers and their creations. I'm glad of Camilla Gibb's memoir's success too, Kerry, absolutely, and I'll read it too. I'm just envious of how much all that press will help advance the cause of her book.

  5. theresa says:

    Kerry's review of Camilla's book is generous and makes me want to read it. It sounds like it deserves its moment in the light. And of course this isn't about her but about the way some books simply cannot find a place in the literary conversation. It's hard. But Kerry's blog and her 49th Shelf site are wonderfully eclectic and inclusive.

  6. beth says:

    I agree, Theresa, about the book and Kerry's writing site and blog. And in the end – if we've written a book we're proud of, it exists in the world forever, whether or not it finds its place in the spotlight.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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