How To Get on the Front Table
Greetings from LaGuardia Terminal B, where I have spent 45 minutes hungover at their incredible water display and now feel much better. Tell you what, they really figured something out with this fountain. I cannot recall being this soothed in an airport in years.
I was mostly in town this weekend on vacation. I bought the ticket when I had Covid last month and was feeling blue and sorry for myself and missing seeing all the people I loved here so much. It was also a long, hot, slow summer. I knew my brain was going to need a little resuscitation sometime soon and NYC is home to some of the greatest thinkers and overachievers on the planet. Just bright sharp brilliant people who are making things happen — and who know how to have a good time. My soul and brain worked in tandem and clicked to buy that ticket.
Sol LeWitt at Paula Cooper Gallery
Then a few weeks ago I sold the 1000 Words book, so I ended up turning it into a little bit of a business trip as well. On Friday, I got to meet my new editor, Ronnie, in person. We decided to spend a few hours together going to bookstores and looking at other books in these new categories of mine, which straddle advice and inspiration and self-help. I have never spent a lot of time anywhere besides the fiction section, so it was all new to me.
At the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, we looked at a lot of covers. (Why are there so many self-help books with the word “fuck” in the title? I guess because it sells, but it is starting to feel less than original when you see them all on display together.) I was most attracted to the covers that looked like they could be novels, but also the ones that were really simple and minimal yet still clever and with a dash of color. I just want people’s brains to feel at home when they look at the cover, or like maybe they’re recognizing a smart friend from afar and they’re happy to run into them.
We also looked at the interior designs. Again, I am attracted to things that are less fussy, and are more spacious in their design. I would like people to read this book and consume each new piece of information as if it were a small but filling snack. We also looked at which books in the category got to live on a table in the front of the store and which books were relegated to the section on the third floor. What does it take to make a book that can cross that threshold? And what does the book that I would personally pick up in that section (and hopefully buy) actually look like?
Sometimes I think it can be overwhelming to look at all those books. You might think: “There’s so many books already, why bother?” Or: “How will anyone even know my book is out there?” I do occasionally feel this way when I look at all the novels in the world. But I have to say there was something about being in a new category that challenged me to make something that was going to stand out in the crowd. I already know we have totally distinct logo that I think would look amazing on a cover.
Are you due for a new trip to the bookstore? We look at cover images all the time on the internet but those never really feel like books after a while. They’re just images in a sea of them. Is it helpful or inspiring or even just fun to look what’s out there and imagine where your book would go in the store, on the shelf? What section are you in? I looked at that front table of non-fiction picks and thought: Well, now I’m going to write toward that. Toward seeing my book right there. Worth a shot, anyway.
Later on my editor and I went to see the Sol LeWitt show in Chelsea. I talked about how his work had always made so much sense to my brain. His work was mathy and colorful and soothing but also challenging. It was also often constructed on such a large scale that it inherently invites a sense of community when viewing it. And I have always admired how he left explicit instructions on how to make his work so that it could be recreated forever.
I felt quite humble looking at this art taking up space in multiple galleries. What does it take to make something that can take up space in the world for years and years to come, and that would continue to inspire and satisfy people? What does it take to make things that work forever? Or at least front and center for a long time.
Near the end of the day, I said quietly to my editor I wanted to make something that would be helpful to people, and my editor said that we were going to do that. And so, I believe, we shall.
So I’m digging in deep to this book now. Trying to make good work that lasts, even in this most temporary, ephemeral society of ours. My efforts may not work but it will feel good to try.
Sending lots of love to you all.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to WWOZ.