I wanted to pass on this email from a reader…both because I enjoyed it and because it demonstrates just how books get sold. (Not primarily through ads in the New York Times, in short.)
I live in Australia – which is probably the antipodes to Charles City, VA. Three hours ago I hade never heard of Susan Wise Bauer, nor had I any intention to buy a book on medieval history, and yet here I am, three hours later, having ordered â€œThe History of the Medieval Worldâ€, and very likely to order some of your other works as well.
I thought you might be amused to discover the chain of chance circumstance that led to the sale of one of your history books in a very crowded marketplace – especially a sale to a buyer on the other side of the Earth. This event might even qualify as a manifestation of the famous theory of the â€œSix Degrees of Separationâ€, or at least something like thatâ€¦
Anyway, you can thank an author by the name of James Wood for your sale. This is the same James Wood who is described as â€œâ€¦the author of 14 best-selling books of fiction and non-fictionâ€¦former CEO of United Press International and managing editor of the Sunday Times (London)â€¦etcâ€. It is also the same James Wood who you tore into in a critical review of one of his books last year on Amazon.com, which has probably meant that you wonâ€™t be invited to a BBQ at James Woodâ€™s place any time soonâ€¦
A couple of weeks ago I purchased a CD of an MP3 audio version of Woodâ€™s book â€œHow Fiction Worksâ€ from Blackstone Audio (USA). My decision was made solely on the basis of Woodâ€™s credentials, and, because essentially I just wanted to find out from an informed sourceâ€¦wellâ€¦.â€œhow fiction worksâ€!! After all, why wouldnâ€™t I buy this book when Publishers Weekly declared that :
â€œArguably the pre-eminent critic of contemporary English letters, [Wood] accomplishes his mission of asking a critic’s questions and offer[s] a writer’s answers with panache. This book is destined to be marked up, dog-eared and cherished.â€
The audiobook had to be shipped all the way across the Pacific at extra expense to me, because Amazon-Audible wonâ€™t sell MP3 downloads into the Australian market for recently published books (yours included). This is due to quaint 19th century geographic distribution restrictions in the publishing industry – but they are quite happy to sell a physical version of the same thing!!
Woodâ€™s book turned out to be a complete waste of my time and money – so much for Publishers Weeklyâ€™s beat-up. I was so infuriated that I decided to have a belated look at what the reviewers on Amazon had to say â€“ and that is where I found you. I can see that you are a no-bull lady who calls a spade a spade, and I wish I had read your review first. I have said as much in my own just-added customer comment to your review, which you will find on Amazon.
Clearly this reader has excellent literary judgment. But I digress.
The forthrightness of your review left me a little intrigued, so I followed the trail to your website and when I read your quote from Barbara Tuchman, I realised that, in you, I had stumbled across what seems to be a rare species – an historian with integrity and a great writing style. As Clint (Eastwood) would say, this has just made my day! For many years Australia has been beset by â€œhistory warsâ€, where some of the local academic & political class have been only too happy to bend historical fact to support their pet ideologies, and that has got right up the noses of a lot of people !
Having discovered that you write history books, I then had a look at what you had up on Amazon. After reading the first page of â€œThe History of the Medieval Worldâ€ (about the Constantinian shift), I knew that this was one author whose books I just gotta haveâ€¦
Sooo, if you have ever copped any flak from the James Woods of this world about your no-nonsense book reviews, then just remember that you are probably triggering a widening circle of book sales out of themâ€¦
That made my day. Thanks, Australian Reader!