Book Buzz June 2009
Author: John Morgan Wilson
June 1, 2009
Congratulations to the many LGBT writers and editors being honored by various organizations in recent weeks. Too many names to print here, but links to some of the lists of winners follow: the Lambda Literary Awards, Triangle Awards, Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Awards, Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, Popular Culture Association, Independent Publisher Book Awards; and the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards.
Nice timing: Just as West Hollywood gears up for the 39th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Day on June 14, the University of Illinois Press is publishing C. Todd White’s Pre-Gay L.A., which explores the history of the modern American gay movement, which originated in L.A. in the late 1940s. It should make a nice companion piece to Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (Basic Books, 2006), written by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, now out in trade paperback.
Five-time Lammy winner Ellen Hart has just inked with St. Martin’s Minotaur for two more mysteries in her Jane Lawless series following Sweet Poison, the latest, and The Mirror and the Mask, due out in November. Also coming in the fall, from Bella Books, are reissues of two early Jane Lawless titles.
Marking his twenty years with HIV, noted stage artist Michael Kearns has his sixth book coming out in October from Heinemann. The Drama of AIDS: My Lasting Connections with Two Plays That Survived the Plague chronicles Michael’s deeply personal relationship with Robert Chesley‘s Jerker and James Carroll Pickett‘s Dream Man as an actor, director, writer, and producer, spanning more than two decades.
With two dozen books and more than forty awards to her credit, Lynda Sandoval has placed her latest young adult novel, Father Knows Best, with Bold Strokes Books’ new YA imprint, BSB Soliloquy, for publication next year.
Another Bold Strokes author, Anne Laughlin, has been awarded a winter/spring residency at the nonprofit Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois, established in 1976 to provide uninterrupted creative time for selected artists. Anne’s mystery, Veritas, is due out later this year from BSB.
Lesléa Newman, the official poet laureate of Northampton, MA, has finished another novel, The Reluctant Daughter, which BSB will publish in September.
Lethe Press has announced the publication of Icarus, a new quarterly specializing in gay speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, science fiction). The first issue features essays and articles by Jeff Mann and Wayne Wilkening and short fiction by Tom Cardamone, Jameson Currier, and Joel Lane.
Amy Dawson Robertson has sold her first novel, Miles to Go, to Bella Books, in a two-book deal. Due out later this year, Miles to Go is a military thriller featuring a lesbian soldier serving in the Special Forces.
After three gay-themed novels set in West Hollywood, Ben Patrick Johnson goes “mainstream” with the just-published If the Rains Don’t Cleanse (Havenhurst Books), a fictionalized account of his mother’s dangerous missionary work in the Belgian Congo in the 1950s.
Author and performance artist Tim Miller garnered a rave from the Los Angeles Times for his latest performance piece, “Lay of the Land,” which LAT called “his most important work to date.”
The Covey Cover Awards has honored Paul Harris with its “Most Eye-Catching” book cover award for April for his memoir, Diary from the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina, recounting his experience trapped in the Superdome while in New Orleans for Southern Decadence.
Jack Fritscher’s cover photo from his fiction anthology, Corporal in Charge, is on display through July 31 at the Kinsey Institute’s Juried Art Show 2009 at the Indiana University School of Fine Arts Gallery.
You can read novelist Noël Alumit’s impassioned piece on gay marriage on the Huffington Post…
Finally: Special thanks to Jack Fritscher, Len Barot (AKA Radclyffe), Trebor Healey, Karin Kallmaker, and Charles Flowers (please forgive me if I’ve missed anyone) for helping keep me abreast of so many organizations and awards. If I’ve neglected any – or if you’ve got other news that fits the Book Buzz guidelines – please let me know.
And now, the Book Buzz Interview, with Michele Karlsberg:
2009 marks Michele Karlsberg’s twentieth year as a publicist for the LGBT publishing community, working with authors, organizations and film/theater professionals. As the curator of the nationwide “Outspoken: Gay and Lesbian Literary Series,” she continues to help new and established voices reach a broader audience. For Olivia Travel, Michele produced the first Olivia Book Expo on the Holland Americas Vandamn. She is also the co-editor with Karen X. Tulchinsky of two collections of lesbian fiction, To Be Continued and To Be Continued: Take Two, both from Firebrand Books.
JMW: How did you get into book publicity and come to specialize in LGBT authors?
MK: In 1989, I worked for Mavety Media Company and was the production coordinator for 120 adult sophisticate magazines. At that time, author Stan Leventhal was the editor for some of the gay male magazines and he had a lifelong dream of publishing gay men’s literature. Together with George Mavety and Joe Mauro we started Amethyst Press. We successfully published Dennis Cooper, Kevin Killian, Patrick Moore, John Gilgun, and Mark Ameen, among others. I came into this venture with absolutely no book publishing experience. Just a high school diploma. With the help of my mentors Nancy Bereano, Sasha Alyson, Barbara Grier, Richard Labonte, Carol Seajay and many other established colleagues I gained a wealth of knowledge in the book publishing industry. To this day I continue to acknowledge all of their work and I am very grateful for their guidance.
JMW: To give us an idea of the range of your clientele, who are some of your past and current authors and some forthcoming titles?
MK: A very select list would include Dorothy Allison, Anthony Bidulka, Kate Clinton, Shawn Stewart Ruff, Katherine V. Forrest, Brian McNaught, Jewelle Gomez and Jess Wells. Currently, I’m handling campaigns for I Told You So by Kate Clinton; Are You Guys Brothers? by Brian McNaught; Verge by Z Egloff; Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff; The Decade of Blind Dates by Richard Alther; and Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage by Nancy Polikoff.
JMW: What can a personal publicist accomplish that an author or publisher can’t?
MK: First, I believe an author/publisher can accomplish the same as a publicist. I also truly believe that no one can sell their book better then the author. However, writers and publishers have a hard time focusing on publicity because of the many different responsibilities they already have. It’s all about teamwork and the publicist is the captain. I work very hard to build strong relationships with the media, to establish strong media lists and keeping my marketing/publicity think tank going. I am constantly researching new leads, educating myself and keeping my finger on the pulse of marketing/publicity. I like to think “outside the box” and suggest ideas that seem feasible. I personally approach publicity/marketing as a 24/7 job.
JMW: What kind of expectations should an author have when he or she hires a publicist, and what expectations are unrealistic?
MK: Let’s start off with the unrealistic: Although Oprah might not be unrealistic, it is the first thing most authors ask for. “Can you get me on Oprah?” My reply is always: Let us first visit the areas of publicity that will help you saturate the media and markets that are right there and available to you now. Markets that you so easily forget because national mainstream media attention is your first thought. So many times people are sitting on the “jackpot” of outreach and visibility and never take advantage of it.
Realistic expectations include understanding that a publicist can’t make someone write a story/review or put you on TV/radio. What a publicist can do is position you and the book in the most interesting way, and provide everything that the reporter/interviewer needs. I have spent twenty years building very strong media relationships and they trust in what I put on their desk as possible assignments. I study the industry thoroughly enough to have realistic expectations of what is possible. I always said and continue to say: It’s all about grassroots publicity.
JMW: What can authors do on their own, even with a publicist supporting them?
MK: Make sure you have a website. I actually suggest multiple websites. One under an author’s name and one under the book title. Blogging, vlogging, podcasts, tweets, facebook, myspace, dreamwalker.com, redroom.com, authorsden.com, goodreads.com, glbtq.com, shelfari.com, blogtalkradio.com. Go to bookweb.org or booksense.com and start a list for your bookstore drive-bys. Take time to write personal, handwritten notes to independent booksellers across the country and to visit your local independent booksellers. Drop off a reader’s copy to booksellers, sign copies they have in house, and supply them a shelf marker. Meet with the staff and create a personal connection with them to encourage the hand-selling of your book. Write book reviews. Join online book clubs, writers groups and community forums. I could go on forever. The point is, an author should have continuous involvement in the literary world. With social media all the templates for success are out there to help bring forth their works. Never stop networking and attending conferences. I know we live now more and more in this virtual world but don’t forget to step away from that e-vehicle.
JMW: How can an author be sure a publicist is professional and hard-working, and not just out to get their money?
MK: Open up conversations with other writers about their experiences with the publicists they have worked with. Take a look at writers’ acknowledgement pages in their books to see which publicists they are thanking. I always fear the publicist who promises the world and says no one can do what I do. When I first speak with a writer, I am completely honest about what I won’t be able to do for them and they appreciate that honesty ten-fold.
JMW: What can an author expect to pay for your services?
MK: My services work on a sliding scale fee depending on what each publicity campaign entails. I would never charge hourly, I would feel as if I was ripping someone off. I was just recently asked how many hours a week I dedicate to each author I work with. That answer would be an infinite amount of time. I go as far as using my personal vacations as an outreach tool to those reading books, whether it be on a cruise ship or on the beach. If I can work it into a conversation while I am out and about I am never shy to plug an author’s book. My contracts break up my fee into two or three monthly payments but authors who have worked with me know that we don’t stop on that 90th day. I also spend many hours consulting with writers pro bono. I take their personal projects as if they are my own. I feel very lucky and honored to work with writers and performers. After twenty years, most of my business comes through word of mouth.
JMW: How have media and book publicity changed in recent years and what changes do you see ahead, in general and for LGBT authors in particular?
MK: Well, I call the olden days the golden days. We had the Gay Lesbian Feminist aisle at American Booksellers Association (ABA), which is now Book Expo America (BEA). We also had the Feminist Bookstore Network and the GLBT bookstore network that had over 150 specialty stores combined. We held retreats. OUTWRITE, the GLBT writers conference, attracted hundreds. We had a literary community that just wouldn’t stop. We were family. With time, things have changed. Economics, commercial giants, fierce competition, bookstores and publications closing down, publishers forced into bankruptcy. The literary landscape has changed dramatically.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a new literary community out there where some of the old still stand strong. If we keep our strength and love of books as we move forward together we can keep our literary history alive and well. I constantly flash back to the eighties and nineties when I watched a huge part of our literary community die. This gives me the motivation to keep on publicizing the voices that need to be heard. No one knows for sure what the future holds for the book industry, but I do know there is nothing like holding an actual book in your hand to read, instead of an electronic device. Hopefully, with the right support from readers, we can keep hard copies of books in print.
The bottom line is I love what I do. If I could share my knowledge with others to move onward and upward, then I am one happy gal.
JMW: I want to make it clear that we are not endorsing you or personal publicists in general. But if someone wishes to contact you, how would they do that?
MK: I’m listed in Lambda Literary’s Directory of Professional Services. My office is at 101 Lexington Ave, Staten Island, New York 10302. My office phone number is 718/351-9599. Or they can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all the Book Buzz for now. So, go read a book!