My first reading and signing for Wasted came in Detroit, Michigan, where I was surrounded by English professors —physically and mentally. I was one of three authors on a panel at the University of Detroit Mercy, called “On Telling a Story and Getting Others to Read It,” with UDM Professor Nick Rombes, and retired UDM Professor R.J. Reilly. (My brother Michael Barry, who introduced us, is also a professor, and chair of the UDM English Department. Our father was an English professor at Loyola University for more than 30 years.)
Hemmed in as I was by English professors, I began by disavowing any presumption that I was writing literature. “I’m writing entertainment,” I said. “If there’s any literary merit in my books, that’s an fortuitous accident.”
That said, I added, I did set Wasted in the gritty and malodorous world of garbage and recycling, which is rich with resonant themes of reinvention, transition, and discarding that which no longer serves us.
I also mentioned that I was in Minneapolis recently and attended a friend’s book reading. He recounted asking a bookseller what was the difference between literature and genres like mystery, suspense, or thriller. The bookseller responded that people read the genre books.
Early on, I asked for a show of hands. How many of the two dozen or so participants had thought about writing a novel?
How many have started writing one?
I think there was one person in addition to the three of us on the stage.
R.J. (Bob) Reilly is 90, and retired from UDM before my brother started there. Though he’d done plenty of academic writing while teaching, including an acclaimed essay on Henry James, he didn’t begin writing novels until he retired. With the help of his daughter, Mary McCall, who teaches technical writing at UDM, he’s published two novels and a volume of short stories. His daughter read a moving passage from The Prevalence of Love about how war dehumanizes everyone in its wake.
Nick Rombes, seated on the other side of me, is a film buff, whose novel, the The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, follows a film librarian who watches a stockpile of unknown films by acclaimed directors, burns them, and then describes them to a journalist from memory. Rombes talked about the appeal of misremembering.
I read the first chapter from Wasted — you can see the first three chapters here — and then mostly talked about the process of publishing.
What seemed to resonate most, if the questions were at all representative, was how much publishing has changed. Bob Reilly said the hardest part wasn’t the writing, but preparing the book for publication. For me, I said, it’s the marketing and finding readers that’s so challenging. (Of course, I have been an editor and designer for decades, so while I hadn’t gone through the specific steps of publishing a novel before, the publishing process was familiar.)
I talked about how self-publishers used to have to print up books in advance and ship them out from boxes in their basement. But now, the book is not even printed until it’s ordered. There’s no inventory sitting on a shelf. The online retailer, Amazon or otherwise, has the template in its database, and when you buy the book, then they print it.
The ebook is another huge change. They are easy to publish, but it’s increasingly difficult to find readers, because there are more books available than ever before.
Several students asked about formatting for the different versions. “When you publish a print book, what’s on page 23 is always on page 23,” I said, “but an ebook doesn’t have page numbers because what each page looks like is dependent on the device you read it on. Like a web page, the text flows to fill the screen as you widen or narrow your browser, so you have to strip almost all the formatting except for styles before uploading an ebook. But if you do it right, it can be published within 24 hours of your upload.”
The UDM panel was a wonderful start to my “Wasted Author Tour.” I even sold a few books. (You can buy one here.)
Thanks to my brother Michael Barry for organizing the panel and to my two panel colleagues, R.J. Reilly and Nick Rombes. (You may be interested in seeing the UDM Varsity News report on the panel.)
Here are the upcoming dates for my “Wasted Author Tour.”