It Takes Guts

Elizabeth Bluemle - September 17, 2019

Happy Guts Day, everybody!

In honor of the release of Raina Telgemeier’s new honest and endearing graphic memoir about gastric distress, anxiety, and therapy, I wanted to celebrate the many kinds of courage it takes to bring books into the world and into the hands of readers—all of which involve gastric distress, anxiety, and, ideally, therapy.

    • Authors and Illustrators — Nothing happens without these brave souls, introverts for the most part, who bare their creative souls, write and avoid writing, draw and avoid drawing, revise and despair, reward themselves with questionable snacks, anticipate launch day with a strange mix of excitement and dread, steel themselves for public events, take on social media with varying degrees of trepidation and success, and no sooner have completed one project than have to start at the base of the next Everest. Kudos to you-dos, creators of courage!
  • Editors —They’re regarded as red-pen-wielding tyrants and also as saviors by authors, sometimes both on the same day by the same author. Their work is invisible when most successful, and when their ‘absence’ is noticed (i.e., a book is criticized for needing a heavier editorial hand)—usually due to circumstances outside their control—they have no public way to defend themselves. Their roles have broadened far beyond the nurturing of authors and language and literature to include impossible workloads. A toast to editors!
  • Art Directors and Jacket Illustrators — So many projects to shepherd, so little time! Skewered if their work is too similar to others in the market, lambasted internally if a unique cover treatment fails to telegraph its genre and intended audience in a single glance. Gone are the days (were they ever thus?) when there was time to read a novel cover to cover and get to know the characters and story before sketching out the perfect encapsulation of the mood and themes of a book. The fact that this happens at all, and so beautifully when it does, is a testament to hard work and creativity. A goblet of mead to the art department!
  • Sales and Marketing Department — These folks are responsible for a book’s public face. They design promotional approaches and must present each season’s darlings (and occasional duds) to all of the field and telephone sales reps who will take the new titles out to bookstore, school, library, and special accounts for pre-orders. Ahh, when a book promo campaign works, they are on top of the world! When it doesn’t, when a strong push and expensive mailings and high hopes fail to bring the readership a book deserves, then comes the need for Pepto-Bismol. Comfort and courage to the sales and marketing department!
  • Sales Reps — The patient and good-humored people who lug tote after tote, wheelie bag after wheelie bag into their cars or send box after box of book samples to their accounts, hoping to entice them to make larger orders in an ever-shrinking retail world. This involves sitting for hours with booksellers of variable preparedness, some of whom enter a meeting with spreadsheets, others of whom haven’t had a chance to look at the catalog. These intrepid souls are expected to endure title-by-title discussion of their house’s 200–1,200 titles of the season, manage in-house pressure to sell more books and bookstore pressure to dish the real scoop on a book’s quality. They listen to complaints, wish lists, and lengthy anecdotes. They are expected to admire cute dog and cat photos. And then they have to do the exact same thing again, 100 more times till all the accounts have been seen. Scream therapy and a massage for the sales reps!
  • Publicists —These people are almost always young, because you need endless amounts of energy to manage the multi-city author tours, strange requests, last-minute cancellations and travel delays, urgent phone calls, unpredictable author needs, and Burj Khalifa-high expectations (that’s the tallest building in the world, in Dubai, and yes, I did have to look it up). They are also the people who create and then have to wade through endless pages of event grids filled with bookstore requests from all over the country. They are the liaison between the publisher and bookstore or library, they protect authors with leonine ferocity (but always gently and professionally), and they absorb the disappointments when an event falters. It’s a detail-laden Hades, is publicity. Soft pillows, chocolate, and a cell-free two-week island vacation for publicists!
  • Publishers — Let’s not forget the people who take on the Goliath of this economic sinkhole we call the book industry, the ones who strive to uphold free speech, bounce between the Scylla of monopolistic threat from their largest vendor and the Charybdis of that threat’s wide reach, and have to find a way to make the company’s bottom line hover above the red. For the most part, these are people who entered the field filled with the greatest love and respect for books and ideas, and have found themselves in an ever-changing landscape. To those fierce defenders of the best publishing can be, a stiff slug of whiskey or tonic and courage to you!
  • Librarians — What book lover doesn’t have a childhood librarian who took notice of their wild love of reading and recommended formative, touchstone novels and nonfiction titles at key moments? Or if they didn’t, they deserved one. Despite the worthy but time-consuming pressures of turning libraries into media centers and community event spaces, librarians still manage to cultivate a love of books in the most democratic, inclusive, possibility-filled public spaces on the planet. I always tell children in the bookstore that libraries are magical — a place where you can read endless numbers of books for free! Libraries contain worlds, available to all. Extra love, extra reading glasses, and extra time to librarians!
  • Teachers — You can’t know a teacher without hearing horror stories of understaffing, the pullback of services for children with all kinds of special needs, the useless standardized testing nonsense, and the ridiculous demands on their time and sanity. And yet, despite these pressures, teachers manage to share the love of books with their students, reading aloud during lunch time and class time, introducing their students to the deeply beautiful, funny, moving, lively, marvelous works of imagination and substance that create lifelong readers. For teachers: dance parties, anxiety meds, and an end to the snide, ignorant “you get so much vacation” comments from outsiders!
  • Booksellers — While it might be unseemly to extol the virtues of my own tribe, I will do so (albeit briefly), because I’ve never known such a team of dedicated, passionate people, who—despite terrible pay, ridiculous retail challenges, and unbelievable numbers of tiny fires to put out on a daily basis (a few of which you can read about here)—persevere in the service of literature and information and social justice, and share a belief in the importance of bookstores as gathering places for community members, conversation, and an exchange of ideas. (We are definitely not in it for the money. It’s a terrible business, but a fantastic job.) My fellow booksellers are a rushed, hardworking, funny, smart, resourceful group of people I am so grateful to call my colleagues. To you, my pals and peers, I wish the kind of gastric relief, lift of anxiety, and business therapy that comes from bountiful sales of great books like Guts!

(Plus an extra secret 24-hour day in every week so we can pretend to have a work-life balance.)

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