RS: You've worked as a publicist for publishers. What's it been like for you to see that side of the creative process?
OT: As a publicist you dip in and out of the creative and business sides of publishing. You get to see what goes into making that guy the hot debut novelist, and not this guy. This is not to say there is an actual proven method to making this happen, which is what makes it exciting, and also really hard. Publishing is fun because it can as brutal and competitive as the movie business, but the people aren't as good looking!
Mostly it just feels like highly creative stalking for a living. I spend a lot of my time Googling important editors and trying to match some aspect of their personal or professional interests to our books and weaving them together in a pitch. This NPR congressional reporter likes crime fiction, this Daily Beast writer spent five years in Russia—these are hot tips in the world of publicity. And this is often what it comes down to, because man, there are so many books. You wouldn't believe how many. This is a book, for example.
I often get responses back from editors like, NO MORE BOOKS ABOUT DOG SCIENTISTS, WE'VE ALREADY DONE TWO OF THOSE THIS YEAR. What sells well isn't necessarily what is interesting to book editors, and vice versa. Timing is important. You might have just written the most accomplished book about dog scientists ever published, but if people are just more interested in Japanese lifestyle gurus than dog scientists this month, or if Elizabeth Gilbert decides to publish a book about dog scientists two months before yours comes out, it might fall flat.
Sometimes you push and push and no one cares, and other times you get really lucky. But you can always go the Gary Shteyngart route and just be everywhere, at all times. He's a writer, but he also *is* Gary Shteyngart for a living. This Clickhole article by *Ariana Grande* is how I think of Gary Shteyngart.
Anyway, you should totally write that dog scientist book anyway. Someone, somewhere, will love it. I know this. Sometimes I'll be working on something thinking it hasn't a chance in the world and then I get a note from a librarian in Kansas telling me she's giving it as a present to all her grandchildren. What more can you ask for?
You're one of the only people I know who admits to enjoying Karl Ove Knausgård. What's it been like to carry that weight?
Sometimes when I know I'm having people over I'll rearrange my bookshelf (dusty floor piles) to showcase certain books that I think will impress people. And it totally works! But I actually hide my Knausgards—the sight of them just throws people into a rage for some reason. I do sometimes rearrange those FSG paperbacks (the ones with those steamy Knausgard glamor shots as covers) to be visible from my bed though. Just for me.
What can people expect from your reading?
The last time I used a microphone and spoke publicly I was 9 years old and I was reciting part of Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech in a school auditorium. I remember my hands shaking a lot. I'm a consistent sort of person, so probably that.