Author Patrick deWitt had a rocky road to publishing his first novel, “Ablutions“–narrowly surviving both the merger and the restructuring of a major publisher. GalleyCat caught up with deWitt for a discussion about DIY publicity and the publishing meltdown.
He explained: “I’ve got a publicist at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who’s been working little miracles for me, but it’s true the budgets aren’t what they once were in terms of advertisement and book tours. I’ve been surprised at how much an unknown like myself can accomplish just by reaching out to people and pleading my case. Quotes for the book cover, reviews and interviews, readings and radio appearances–all this by simply moving ahead and making contact with folks I thought might enjoy the writing.
“You hear so much about the death of literature, I was half-expecting a kind of wasteland of embittered, beret-wearing assholes, but it’s the exact opposite. I think it’s important to know the field, at least somewhat–to be aware of which writers and editors might like your particular book. Once you’ve figured this out, you can either have your publicist send these people advance copies, or if you don’t have a publicist you can email and ask them–briefly and with minimal creepiness–to read it.”
He continued: “A musician named Matt Sweeney visited the bar [where I used to work] and said he’d heard good things about [my manuscript]. I sent Matt a copy in NYC, more for his opinion than anything because I’m a big fan of his music, but he read it and liked it and gave it to an agent friend of his named Peter McGuigan, who emailed with an offer to represent me.
“Peter sold it some time later, a year or so, to Tina Pohlman at Harcourt. Before we’d signed contracts, though, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt merged and Tina left and no one could tell me what this meant for “Ablutions.” Many long days passed. Tina wanted to bring me to her new publishers, but they didn’t love the book, and she decided it would be best for me to stay at HMH, where she paired me up with Jenna Johnson.
“Things went ahead, edits and copyedits, publicity stuff, the cover design. I was feeling pretty confident and sure about it all, then the whole Black Wednesday situation reared its head and my sureness and confidence dissolved. HMH put a freeze on acquisitions. There must have been a thousand articles about that, and the impression they gave was that the entire industry was imploding crazily, like something from “The Shining,” with blood pouring from the elevators.
“I was worried. I sat around the house, looking out the window, waiting for Death to come trudging up the walk. But he never did. My editor remained at HMH, and the book just came out, and it’s having a fine time in the world, with the readers.”