And the award for the dumbest comment of the week unquestionably goes to Jonathan Littell, the Franco-American novelist. Littel, son of spy novelist Robert Littell, is the author of the acclaimed (at least in Europe) The Kindly Ones, an epic 900 page Holocaust novel which Michiko Kakutani found "odious" and "perverse". The North American rights rights for The Kindly Ones got acquired by Harper-Collins for a very tidy $1,000,000 advance and Littell was cleverly interviewed by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in today's WSJ. The problem with Littell is that, in spite of his advance, he has refused to come to America to promote The Kindly Ones. Here's the particularly dumb comment that Trachtenberg extracted out of Littell:
WSJ: Will you come to the U.S. to promote your book?
Littell: No. I don't do that kind of thing. I don't consider it my job.
I DON"T CONSIDER IT MY JOB. What garbage. The job of an author is exactly THAT KIND OF THING. It is the promote oneself and one's work (which, like it or not, are often inseparable). Littell might not care for the publicity in the US, but it's the dream of almost every other European writer to come to the US to promote their new book. Not only does Littel have a responsibility to Harper-Collins (especially given the size of their advance), but it would also be a decent gesture toward his American readers who, with the exception of Michiko, would no doubt like to hear and meet him.
For writers, the great publishing transformation over the next few years has nothing to do with the Kindle 2 or anything other supposedly miraculous technological device. No, the real revolution will be in the way we writers can take advantage of all this new digital technology -- blogs, Twitter, interactive television, Internet radio etc etc -- to better promote ourselves and our work. All writers -- from $1,000,000 lottery-winners like Littel to the tens of thousands of professional writers like myself living off much smaller advances -- need to think of self-promotion, both in physical and digital form, as intrinsic to our value.
A shy writer in the 21st century is a starving writer. Diffidence is death. Littell should set a better example. Come to America, Jonathan, and tell us more about your epic Nazi book. It's actually surprisingly nice here.