About that imaginary book
CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge makes a hilarious speech every year at the annual Jaimie Anderson fundraiser in Wakefield, Que. (a three-year-old event that has already become my favourite politico-journo gathering.)
All of the speech is off the record and most people are happy with this arrangement, since the targets of Mansbridge's comic barbs are in the audience. He has a knack for choosing the topic on which you may be a wee bit sensitive, and exploiting it to the delight of the crowd.
Here, with his permission, is one joke Mansbridge made about me last year:
Susan has nearly finished her new book, which is nice - she's been working on it since the ancient Mayan calendar was known simply as "the calendar."
Good one. I laughed. I could afford to laugh, actually, because it was done. As we were all joking around at the Black Sheep, my book was on its way to the copy editor, trundling along on its production schedule, which would see it going to the design folks on Nov. 1.
In my pocket, I was carrying around a BlackBerry photo of the cover design, which I was displaying like a proud parent to anyone I could corner. You can still see that cover design too at the Chapters and Amazon websites, as a matter of fact, where it also says that the book will be out on Feb. 15.
Well, that's not true. It won't be out in a couple of weeks. That's why I decided I should do this blog post-update.
A mere few weeks after the Jaimie Anderson event, my publisher, Douglas and McIntyre, went into bankruptcy protection. Not bankruptcy, it should be pointed out -- officially it's known as creditor protection, and the hope is that a buyer can be found to keep this publishing enterprise afloat. In the meantime, what it means is that my manuscript is frozen among the assets, caught in a strange limbo. I can't get it out of there to sell to another publisher or publish it myself. (The two most oft-suggested bits of advice I've received.) Worse, I have no idea how long this will go on. D&M has now been granted two extensions of creditor protection, the latest stretching well into this month.
I haven't said much about this publicly, except the occasional bleat to Facebook friends, and there's no point in whining. It's beyond obvious to say that this is a sign of the beleaguered times for all publishing outfits.
But I thought it was time to do a blog post to explain, for those who haven't heard, that the book is not likely to come out this spring. Frustrating? You bet. It's a strange experience. Other authors I'm sure will sympathize. Canadians don't write books for the money, for the most part. They write them because they love the subject and want to share it with a wider audience. Book-writing doesn't make you rich, but it can make your life richer. And despite the fact that they have fleeting lives on the best-seller lists or the bookstore shelves, books demand a huge investment of your time. This is my fourth book, clearly the most demanding one I've done, and its failure to launch leaves a bafflingly large hole in my 2013 spring.
I can give you a bit of an idea what the book's about, though, in case you're interested. Regular readers of my stuff in the Star know that I've developed an interest in how politics has turned into marketing and how voters have become consumers. I've written about it for this weekend too (I'll put a link here once it's online). I've also been working away at the subject for an M.A. in Canadian Studies at Carleton University. Mansbridge was right. I have been working on it since the days of the Mayan calendar. At some points last year, I was pretty sure I'd never finish it.
But I did and "shopping for votes" is what the book is about. The title, incidentally, is borrowed from a blog the Star did during the 2011 campaign, featuring some smart people who think about politics and marketing.
I've chosen to tell the tale chronologically, starting roughly in the years after the Second World War in Canada and leading right up to today. There are three parts, organized like a sales transaction:
1. The Pitch -- From the 1950s to the 1970s, when politics was getting all caught up, somewhat innocently, in adopting the tools of the consumer marketplace: slicker advertising, market research, etc. At the same time, the Canadian public was becoming ever more of a consuming market, shopping their way into their expansive new middle-class future.
2. The Bargaining -- The 1980s and 1990s, a period of some ambivalence about whether our political institutions should be merging with the marketplace. The new tools were powerful, but what price were we willing to pay?
3. Sealing The Deal -- The arrival of the 21st century, and wide acceptance of politicians as marketers and voters as consumers. In these chapters, I look at the marketing methods of the dominant political players in Canada today, especially the Conservatives, and how consumer tools like micro-targeting and datamining are proving to be the brave new world of Canadian campaigning.
So there it is. I've had some trusted friends reading the book, offering useful suggestions, and most of the people who helped me with the research have had a chance to see what's in the book about them. It's ready to be released now, more or less, but it looks like that's not going to happen anytime soon.
I have, however, decided to make some constructive use of this limbo. (Another reason for this blog post.) Clearly I'm going to get a chance to update this book before it's published and if you're interested in the subject or just want to throw some thoughts in my direction, I'm grateful for all input. Who knows? This unanticipated pause in its publication may yield a better book. That's the optimistic way of looking at it, anyway.
In the meantime, the publication date on the Amazon and Chapters websites -- unlike objects in the car mirror -- is NOT as close as it seems.