Justin Torres hit the literary jackpot with his debut novel, We The Animals, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011, a coming of age story with a shocking twist of his family’s reaction to his coming out. Torres has had his short stories featured in The New Yorker and Tin House and has won prestigious fellowships, such as the Stegner and United States Artists.
His book rolled out with a marketing plan and strategy seldom seen in a first novel. Soon attention by BEA, NPR interviews with Diane Rehm, and advance reviews catapulted the book and its young Latino author, who Salon named one of the sexiest men of 2011, to literary stardom.
A humble Torres credits his success to luck. “It was a lucky moment where the people in marketing and publicity really liked it and they spent more money than they normally would.” Having so many people behind his book makes him feel grateful. He talks about his many writer friends who have wonderful manuscripts, and no one to take that chance on them, to throw money their way, to give them the secret recommendation.
Torres is lucky to have received the big book advance, prestigious fellowships, and recommendation by O magazine and just about every other newspaper and journal. None of his literary fame would be possible without his genuine talent. Having a good agent helped him submit his story to the New Yorker, but he also submitted a story to Tin House before finding the right agent. His agent also helps him wade through the business side of being a writer, something Torres admits he would be at a loss without someone to take care of the business details of being a professional author. His publisher provided him with a book tour and marketing strategy, much of which he doesn’t have to worry about. This is a charmed book deal that most authors will not realistically see. Book advances, book tours, reviews and blurbs by best selling authors may sound unreal for authors whose books are published independently or through contests or small presses. Even larger presses often don’t have the funds to send their newly minted authors on book tours.
However, the young author has paid his dues by investing in the residences, fellowships, and graduate degrees in creative writing, and working odd jobs as a dog walker and farmhand behind learning the bookselling business, the book writing, and book making business. The result is a raw, but fictional autobiographical account.
When a literary star is discovered, p.r. and marketing are simple not as important as producing a book that people want to read and rally behind. The reviews and awards are not as important to Torres as the work.
Torres not only crafts and revises his work at the sentence level, but he reads aloud everything he writes, listening to every word he commits to paper. “I’m obsessed with rhythm,” he said. “I read everything aloud as I write. I don’t think I’ll write a 300-page novel; it’s more important to me how it sounds. “
Justin Torres’s fame takes him to London and Paris next month.
Words on a Wire. Did you miss Sunday's show with Melinda Palacio and Oscar Bermeo? Listen to Words on a Wire here.
AWP is happening in Chicago
Melinda Palacio will be signing books from 10 am to 11 am at the Palabra Table, Friday, March 2.
PALABRA / Con Tinta
Southeast Hall, Table K17Melinda Palacio's March events: