Wednesday, September 13, 2006

John Shors: A Gem of an Author


John Shors, the author of Beneath a Marble Sky, is hustling every day in an effort to break out his debut novel. He quit his day job in July and is now working full time to promote the paperback release of his tale about the building of the Taj Mahal. So far he has spoken to over 200 book clubs, and there is no end in sight. For most writers -- heck, for most marathoners -- this would be exhausting, but for Shors, who went through 56 drafts before pubishing his book, it appears to energize him.

At Tuesday night's Boulder Book Store discussion, he was eloquent, engaging and informative. He answered the questions with a freshness that belied how many times he has broached these subjects. Whether he was talking about his first-person narrative in the voice of a 17th-century Hindustan woman, the semi-precious stone work embedded in the seemingly white marble walls of the Taj Mahal, or his feelings about the cover art on his book, his comments were genuine and spontaneous.

It's a good thing that Shors has the energy and the skill to navigate through the messy world of readers. Beneath a Marble Sky, a Penguin paperback, is a fine novel with detailed historical scenes and a great love story. Shors brings us the sights, smells and sounds of an amazing time and place, and he also weaves together a powerful romance. It effortlessly melds into the true-to-life events that form his tension-filled plot. But all of that is not enough to sell the book.

There are a lot of interesting novels that fall by the wayside every year. Shors' work is one of hundreds of debut novels that made its appearance this summer. As a book buyer, it is bewildering to figure out which ones to buy for the store. I am constantly asking the sales reps, "What's going on with this book? Is there any special marketing?" All too often, the answer is either "not much" or "nothing." I'm looking for any publicity planned that might help the book in my market, or some advertising campaign by the publisher, or perhaps contacts the author has with a media outlet.

Often, if the author isn't going to make something happen, the book is going to die silently on the shelves of bookstores and in the warehouses of wholesalers. The publicity departments of major publishers seem to be under-staffed and completely overwhelmed as far as I can tell. They push the big titles and a handful of in-house favorites and hope that the rest will either get great reviews or spread by word of mouth. Reviews are tough to come by for Shors because the book was orignally published by a small house (McPherson Company) in hardback in 2004. Reviewers are notoriously reluctant to take on paperbacks. In order for Shors to get Penguin to rev up its marketing plans, he's got to get word-of-mouth interest going on this book.

Shors is the dream author for a publicity department. He is tireless, likable and willing to do whatever he needs to get some momentum going behind Beneath a Marble Sky. His efforts appear to be working. Sales are growing, and almost everyone left Tuesday night's book group determined to recommend his book to a friend or a husband. Here's hoping he sells enough to get on Penguin's radar. For now, he's just like one of the thousands of jewels embedded in the walls of his beloved Taj Mahal -- you have to get close enough to see his brilliance.

1 comment:

Joelle said...

Hi Arsen. I read about your blog in the Boulder Media Women's listserv. Remember me, Joelle?

Whenver I'm on the Pearl Street Mall I stop in the bookstore and ask for you. I moved back to CO two years ago..I live in Denver these days. Shoot me an email, I'd love to catch up. joelleklein@yahoo.com