This is a wonderful post about a small, independent, non-profit publisher who came across a little manuscript that was rejected by many of the big boys; loved it, even though it went against the grain of the current formulaic successful-seller, and gave birth to a Pulitzer Prize winner! A true literary happening!

Marion Maneker, writing for Slate's blog The Big Money, reported on this inspiring event thusly:  

New York Times traces the back storyof Paul Harding's "Cinderella" Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tinkers. In the wake of the book's specific attention, many of those with a big investment in the literary world are jumping in with both feet. Everyone wants to claim ownership of the novel that is now in the top 10 on Amazon as a paperback and No. 64 on the list of Kindle bestsellers. (The two editions are neatly priced at the same $8.22 so nobody's getting an unfair sales advantage.) Here's how Motoko Rich characterizes the rush to get in on the prize:

      Paul Harding
Now many independent booksellers are claiming Mr. Harding’s victory as their own. “This shows how indie bookstores truly are the ones that can be movers and shakers when it comes to a book,” said Michele Filgate, the events manager at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H., who raved about the book on Bookslut, a literary blog. As it turns out, it was Ms. Filgate who first told Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, a former editor of The New York Times Book Review and chairwoman of this year’s Pulitzer fiction jury, about “Tinkers” at a book-reviewing workshop Ms. Sinkler led in Manchester, N.H., last April.

Unfortunately, this story is more of an illustration of the failure of independent bookstores and their complete loss of traction in the marketplace. The "literary" world of publishing has always operated as an informal network in which writing teachers identified promising students and passed them off to agents or editors who, in turn, excited the publishing house and sales force to get the independent booksellers talking about the next Great American Novel.

You can call this process the "Great Chain of Publishing." It depends upon the strength of each link to generate momentum and sales. In
last week's obituary of legendary publishing executive Nina Bourne, we were reminded that the industry must be patient for literary success to become popular success. In the case of Catch-22, Ms. Bourne was a key link in getting Joseph Heller's classic from its 35,000-copy hardcover sale to a million-copy paperback sale and subsequent career as an idiomatic expression.

Tinkers may come to occupy an important place in our literary culture in years to come. But after 16 months in print, it's still struggling to get going—even with a Pulitzer win.

Prior to the Pulitzer announcement, the New York Times tells us, Tinkers had sold a respectable 7,000 copies in paperback. But 7,000 copies over 16 months is not a huge victory for the "literary" literary world and independent bookstores. Instead of relying on the Great Chain of Publishing, the anecdote quoted above shows how Tinker's chain jumped several links to get to the Pulitzer.

Those Amazon numbers also tell a worrying story. Bellevue, the publisher, is not equipped to rush a huge number of copies of the book into print or get them rapidly distributed to stores. The paperback is listed as shipping in three to six weeks from Amazon's warehouses. That means they're waiting for a reprint. We can assume that bookstores were not well-stocked.

The only place one can get an immediate copy of the book is on Kindle. So why is the title so low on the bestseller list? Sure, Kindle sales—especially with all of those free titles—could simply be masking the strong numbers that Tinkers is posting. The differential could also mean that pent-up demand for the paperback is being artificially channeled to Amazon. (It's easier to wait for an order at Amazon than with your local bookstore, where you'll have to make another trip.)

Whatever the fate of Tinkers, the independents haven't succeeded in showing their marketing muscle in this Pulitzer win. That's a shame. For all the faults of the Great Chain of Publishing—namely, its closed, clubby nature—it supported a literary culture and a common context in which the novel could have a powerful social impact that seems to be utterly lacking today.

In a world beset by contradictory forces and dramatic change, novels have traditionally offered an important framework for understanding and coping with the upheaval. But can you think of or cite a single novel that someone has pointed you to in the last three years that opened his eyes about the world?