Two Saturdays ago, I worked the Capital BookFest. For the uninitiated, the Capital BookFest is held on the grounds of the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland, treating attendees to readings, panel discussions, children's storytelling, conversations, and talks by a wide variety of authors from different genres. The Borders Superstore was the center of the action. Inside the store, best-selling authors presented on the Mainstage. The Literary Café featured authors in a more intimate setting. Other writers were outside in the Write On! Tent. However, the most egalitarian part of the event was the book-signing table in the front of the store, where every author who presented – whether or not they were or had been on the New York Times bestseller list – had the opportunity to put their John or Jane Hancock on their books for fans.
Well, you know eventually, egos would poison the friendly atmosphere. I found myself being looked down on from the patrician nose of a Mainstage author from a major house. Just as I was wondering if this was a racial thing… it happened again! This time, a black author whom I’d met on a previous occasion pointedly ignored me when I spoke to her and walked right past me to her chair. The unspoken question seemed to be how did I and my other midlist compatriots deign to share their rarified air at the signing table?
Now you know I’m sensitive. And I’m prone to checking myself. I’m always asking, is it me, or am I overreacting? However, that day, I had my touchstone with me – my cousin, who’s possibly the most perceptive person I know. She confirmed my suspicion that there was some serious midlist author hateration going on. Naturally, it stung. Especially coming from the sistah author. On an otherwise beautiful day, the episode left a bad taste in my mouth.
But I have to laugh at the counterproductivity of midlist author hateration. Here’s why. In my Examiner.com column, I recently interviewed Les Pockell. He’s the Vice President and Associate Publisher at Hachette Book Group USA. He pretty much confirmed what I suspect we all know – that the publishing industry is in flux and that we all could conceivably be lost in transition. I liken the midlist author hateration to the high society mavens in luxury cabins looking down on the hoi polloi in steerage on the Titanic. We all know how that story ends, don’t we?
That probably wasn’t something that both authors in question were thinking about from their lofty perches at the Capital BookFest. But they should have been...