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Volume 4, Issue 55: David Freese
"He took one big swing, at the exact right time."
Pre-order The Time Has Come, my novel that comes out May 16. I’m about to try to persuade you why.
Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.
This newsletter is, and always will remain, free. In the wake of the explosion of subscription-based newsletters over the last few years (a trend my friend Joe Sheehan was nearly a decade ahead on), this can be a little confounding to some people. Substack—a platform I migrated this newsletter to back in 2019 because of (ultimately unfounded) rumors that Tinyletter was going to shut down—has become a business of its own now, with some of my favorite writers going successfully to a paid model and with some of my not-so-favorite writers doing so as well. But this newsletter—which I spend far too many of my waking hours thinking about and obsessing over—will never be a commercial project. It is too specific, too quixotic, too at the whim of whatever happens to be occupying my mind that particular week. Asking you, or anyone, to pay for it would be to put expectations on it that I, by design, do not want it to have. This is supposed to be fun. This is supposed to be why we do it.
But once every two years, I do ask the five-figures-strong subscribers of this little newsletter to make one contribution to the cause: I ask you pre-order my new book. Hopefully this is not a massive ask. Hopefully this is something you’d have some interest in doing anyway. You are here, after all.
I nevertheless feel like I must justify such a purchase. So, as we did with How Lucky two years ago, it is time for a push for pre-orders. So I should probably tell you a little bit about the book first. As we get closer to publication, we’ll do a full FAQ about the book. But for now, we will:
Give you some basic background about the book.
Explain why pre-orders are so important.
Let you know what you, you handsome devil you, get if you pre-order.
So, first off: Basic background.
I wrote my last novel How Lucky entirely on spec, without even informing my agent I was working on it until I physically handed him a manuscript, and after considerable struggles finding a publisher (including multiple editors who told me it needed more “twists,” with one telling me “have you thought about Marjani maybe being in on the abduction?”), the great Noah Eaker at Harper Books discovered it, loved it as it was and bought it. As we approached publication in May 2021, it became clear, an initial bad review aside, that the book was starting to find its audience, thanks in large part to support from Book of the Month and Amazon Books. I was so thrilled with my partnership with Noah and Harper Books that I came to them with a proposal: Let’s keep the party going. So we signed a two-book deal, a deal I hoped (and still hope) to be just the beginning: I would like to write one of these every two years until either I die or Noah does. (Probably me.)
So: What would the next one be about? As usual, I started thinking about movies that I loved, movies that inspired me, movies that had a basic core structure that I felt like I could play around with and expand upon. I also wanted, somehow, to try to chronicle what exactly it has felt like these last few years, to live as if your hair is constantly on fire, as if the world were perpetually in danger of crumbling under your feet. And I loved the idea of following multiple characters, each of whom were experiencing this unique cultural moment in their own way, just trying to put one foot in front of the other and make it through each single day, facing unfathomable peril and trying to muddle through it all while holding onto their basic humanity. Basically: I wanted to write my Short Cuts.
The book even has a Raymond Carver epigraph:
“There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had.” — Raymond Carver.
And … that’s probably all I want to say about the book at this point: We’ll get into more detail as we get closer. (You can also think Magnolia or Nashville, if you want, I won’t stop you.) I will give you the official Harper plot description, though:
The author of the Edgar nominated and ALEX Award-winning How Lucky (“an absorbing thriller with heart”—People), blends suspense, humor, and compassion in a new novel about seven strangers and one very intense evening at a small-town Georgia pharmacy.
Lindbergh’s Pharmacy is an Athens, Georgia, institution—the type of beloved mom and pop shop that once dotted every American town but has mostly disappeared. But Lindbergh’s has recently become the object of attention of a local fourth grade teacher Tina Lamm (“Ms. Lamm to my students”). Tina is certain something very, very bad is happening behind its famous black door and she intends to do something about it.
Her suspicions—and the drastic actions she plans—are the unlikely glue that will connect her to a group of six employees and customers inside the pharmacy one hot Georgia evening. They include Theo, the Lindbergh’s scion with a secret of his own; Daphne, a nurse and Army veteran struggling with her faith; Jason, a local contractor uncertain how to deal with his gifted teenage son; Karson, a young lawyer and activist wrestling with a job offer that makes him uncomfortable; David, an Athens music scene lifer whose sobriety has been sorely tested by isolation; and Dorothy, a widow just beginning to regain her bearings.
The fates of these individuals—and their fateful encounter with Tina Lamm—become intertwined in a story that is by turns funny, touching, and tense. As he did in How Lucky, Will Leitch illuminates how we live today through a story of human beings struggling to do their best.
So, that’s the basic background. I hope you are at least a little intrigued. There may be some recency bias here, but I think it’s better than How Lucky. And I really like How Lucky.
OK, so: Why are pre-orders important? I’ve learned a lot about the book industry since How Lucky came out, and one of biggest lessons has been you are kind of on your own. I have a terrific team at Harper Books working with me, and they did a fantastic job with How Lucky. But this is still an industry that is perpetually overwhelmed and always seemingly in some sort of existential crisis: I had one agent tell me once that “the only way I know how to sell a book anymore is, ‘hope Jenna Bush or Reese Witherspoon like it.’” Now, I’m not sure that’s true—though I would like to note here that both Jenna Bush and Reese Witherspoon are wonderful people who bring light to the world with their every gesture—but it speaks to the larger issue: The book world is going through a rather intense transitional period. (Though, from the outside, it kind of looks like it always is, and always has been.) The best think you can do, as an author, is marshall whatever leverage you can. It’s not the only thing that matters, but showing that you can sell books outside the traditional “be James Patterson” model is a way to get everybody on board with you: It gets the entire ship rowing in the same direction.
A terrific way to show this is through pre-orders. This was initially a challenge with How Lucky, because traditional book people—as opposed to newsletter subscribers, or people who were into sports blogs in the mid-aughts—didn’t know much about Will Leitch, writer of novels. Now that How Lucky has had some (moderate, but real) success, there are more people who associate me with fiction: Theoretically, if you liked How Lucky, then The Time Is Come is probably something you’ll want to check out. But you still need that initial push. You need to show that people are already buying the book, sight-unseen. You need pre-orders.
So I will repeat, with great urgency, what I said for How Lucky: Please pre-order. It encourages bookstores to stock the book. It encourages Amazon to push it up in search. It encourages libraries to grab copies. It encourages the publicity staff to put more muscle behind a book. They also all count toward the first week’s total when it comes to bestseller lists; every book ordered before publication gets rolled into that first week’s count, and trying to make those lists is of considerable importance. There are enough people who read this newsletter every week that if half of you pre-ordered the book, it would reach The New York Times bestseller list in its very first listing.
It is also worth noting that I have promised the children that if The Time Has Come reaches the NYT bestseller list, I will get them a dog. C’mon, don’t these children look like they need a dog?
It doesn’t matter where you pre-order: If you want convenience and immediate tallying, you can use Amazon, but if you have problems with Amazon, Bookshop is your best option, as is your own local indie bookstore, like the great Avid Bookshop here in Athens. All that matters is the pre-order.
All right, and now: What’s in it for you?
With How Lucky, everybody who pre-ordered got a personalized bookplate, which is was perfectly nice, particularly in May 2021, when no one was doing book tours yet. And we’re going to do that again: Anyone who sends me proof of pre-order at email@example.com will get a signed, personalized bookplate.
But we’re going to up the ante this time.
Every proof of pre-order is entered into a contest. There will be three-to-five winners, depending on logistics and schedules. These winners will receive … a visit from me! Congratulations, right? This can be any sort of visit. We can do a bookstore event: This is my ideal visit! (If your local bookstore wants it, anyway.) We can do a bookclub with you and your fellow readers. We can go to a sporting event together. We can go meet some of your friends for drinks or dinner. We can walk through the park. If you want, I’ll just come and watch your dog while you and your significant other get away for a couple of days. (Please remember to leave your Wi-Fi login information.) It can be whatever you want. I promise not to murder you if you promise not to murder me.
The winners will be selected by a combination of “what your activity is,” “logistical considerations” and “pick-a-number-between-1-and-100.” All you have to do is send me your proof of pre-order—which automatically gets you a bookplate anyway—and what your plan would be. If you do not want to sign up for a meet-up plan—and it is very reasonable not to want to sign up for a meet-up plan!—you can just send me your pre-order proof and wait for your bookplate.
Starting in two weeks, we will have a regular segment in this newsletter with weekly updates on the book, leading up the release on May 16. But for now, this is my bi-annual pleading to the readers of this forever-free newsletter: Please pre-order my book The Time Has Come. I think you will like it. I would like to keep making more.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Steven Soderbergh Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with Magic Mike’s Last Dance.
MLB Teams Most Likely to Improve in 2023, MLB.com. Some interesting ones on here.
Your Super Bowl Rooting Guide for the Unaffiliated Fan, New York. An annual NYMag tradition. This got me yelled at by my own publication!
Tom Hanks Performances, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with A Man Called Otto.
All State of the Union Addresses Are Boring, Medium. Well, they are.
Joe Biden’s Superpower is Sanity, Medium. Turns out that’s super important.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Knock at the Cabin,” “You People” and “Carlito’s Way.”
Seeing Red, no show this week.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
Also, I adored this interview with my old boss (and one of my favorite people in the world) Adam Moss, the former editor of New York and the guy who hired me in the first place. Forever one of my heroes.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
This is your reminder that if you write me a letter and put it in the mail, I will respond to it with a letter of my own, and send that letter right to you! It really happens! Hundreds of satisfied customers!
Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” Bruce Springsteen. After last week’s Springsteen newsletter, I spent a lot of time thinking about which Springsteen song I’d pick for this week—because I was inevitably going to pick one—and I decided not to overcomplicate it.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
I am in Phoenix right now for the Super Bowl. This will be the 10th Super Bowl I have attended in person. Getting old really sneaks up on you. Have a great weekend, all.