Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Publicity Terrible Tale #10: Auto Snob

From a publicist:
I had an author, “a former Oprah regular,” who wanted to “approve” the types of cars that author escorts were going to drive him around in because he didn’t want to have to get into an “old, dirty Honda.”

P.S. He ended up canceling the tour. [Quelle surprise!]

Publicity Terrible Tale #9: Yet Another Ghastly Event

From a YA novelist:

The Educators' Night from Hell

A very good local bookstore was having an educators' night; in other words, a night where they invite local educators to meet authors of books for children, teens and 'tweens, buy those books for their classrooms and hopefully book the authors into their schools for paid, in-school presentations. A good deal, right?

Wrong. I carpooled up there with three other young adult authors, and though this store is a bit of a schlep, the good company made the drive roll quickly by. We arrived at the bookstore to find that we, along with about ten other authors, had been positioned at tables scattered throughout the place, so the educators could flow through the entire store, passing other books, stuffed animals, educational toys--i.e., distractions. Luckily, I was stationed in an area with a bunch of other authors who not only had good senses of humor, but had brought snacks. Chocolate, even.

The event began, and there were maybe twenty educators there - teachers picking up free posters and book promo freebies that publishers manufacture for their BIG books. After a short time to mingle with authors, the teachers were called to a seating area where the woman running the event--a totally clueless marketing wonk--was going to give a short presentation on all the fall books these teachers might be interested in...AND NONE OF THEM WERE OURS.

In fact, none of us were invited to present our books. We were left at our outposts, gossiping, discussing the merits of blogging and, yup, eating chocolate. Not long after the presentation, the event was over. It was, after all, a school night. My fellow carpool authors and I, plus one, went to a local eatery and drowned our sorrows in pie.

And I still sent my damn thank-you notes, thank you VERY much!

Publicity Terrible Tale #8: Haunted Sleep

A touring author's worst nightmare; fortunately this really was a dream. Sent by Beverly Gray, author of the Halloween-appropriate biography ROGER CORMAN: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers.

I was on the phone doing an early morning 30-minute radio interview to promote my book. At the midpoint, the hosts put me on hold and went to a long string of very dull commercials. At some point, I nodded off to sleep (in my dream!). When I woke up they were doing the sign-off, and I realized with horror that not only had I subjected them to dead air but I had not gotten my key points across. I tried desperately to jump back into a conversation, but of course was ignored. There's a cautionary tale in there someplace!

What Terror?

From an author in Los Angeles, the bubbling cauldron of artistic expression (and appalling behavior):

Obviously, the pluggers and the hawkers don't recognize the sensitivity of the artists that they are privileged to serve. Authors are special people who need greater latitude and understanding. They simply don't play by the mundane rules of normal society. Publicists are just going to have to grow up and accommodate the special needs of their clients. They should be awed to sit at the feet of these literary giants. So stop whining and start kowtowing.

Publicity Terror Tale #7: More Stupid Author Tricks

From another NY inhouse publicist, who brags (rails?), "I got a million of 'em!!":
  1. The author who locked herself in the bookstore storage room with a bottle of Jack Daniels and wouldn't come out.
  2. The author who was so drunk on a local talk show she fell out of the chair during the interview on live tv.
  3. The author who wouldn't promote in Chicago because there was wind.

More Slicing & Dicing

Getting screwed on August 15 didn't do enough for me, despite the poetic encouragement of the Snarklings. My right middle finger has gotten more numb, and though I've regained some function in the other digits, the thumb and index finger remain weak and the ring finger partially numb. Anything requiring fine motor skills is very difficult, if not impossible: writing; using a fork, tweezers or nail clippers; turning a key; buttoning clothes; blowing (or picking) my nose...

Two orthopedists, two neurologists and a neurosurgeon finally agreed that I need additional surgery. My osteopath has been saying it for months, but MDs don't want to hear what a DO thinks--even though he's been the only doc who's been, you know, actually touching me all along and not just looking at Xrays. One neurologist even rolled his eyes when I told him the osteo's opinion during our first visit. Naturally I felt compelled to point out to each and every MD that the DO had been right all along.

So tomorrow a hand & arm specialist (orthopedist #5, for those keeping track) is going to do exploratory surgery on my right arm in order to free the median nerve from the mass of scar tissue in which it's entrapped, presumably near the site of the original break.

The outpatient (aka "drive-by") procedure will be done exactly six months after the equestrian fiasco that broke my arm and so many other parts: on All Saints' Day. Here's hoping the surgeon is the saint he seems to be. I nearly plotzed when he called me at home--unprompted!--last week to ask me whether I had any questions before the surgery.

Publicity Terror Tale #6: The Librarian's Revenge

From an author who wishes to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons:

When my first book came out, my publisher's tiny publicity department arranged a series of talks at libraries and community centers around Southern California. Most of these events went very well, and I was particularly looking forward to the final talk, which was at the library in a community where I used to live.

I showed up about a half-hour early, and discovered, to my discomfort, that the librarian responsible for the author series was someone I had dated years ago, and the relationship did not end well. She spent the half-hour showing me photos of her husband and kids, and telling me how wonderful her life was, in an effort to demonstrate that she had done much, much better than me.

The time came for us to go to the room where I was to give my talk. I stacked my books neatly on a table, I arranged my notes on the lectern, I tested the sound system, and I waited for the audience to arrive. And waited. And waited.

Eventually it became clear that not one single person was going to come for my talk. My ex-girlfriend assured me that she had publicized my talk just as she publicized the other talks in the up-to-now successful series, but I can't help wondering whether she "forgot" one or two crucial steps.

Moral: A spurned librarian never forgets.

Publicity Terror Tale #5: Stupid Author Tricks

Be afraid...be very afraid. A publicist at a large New York house writes, "I don't know if I dare share these."
  1. The author who called me late at night, at home, while she was in a hotel in the Midwest, to complain that she didn't like her pillow.
  2. The author who cursed me (and the other publicist) with major F words, out in front of an audience AND the media at a midtown B&N.
  3. The author who was arrested on an outstanding warrant during an event in Texas.
  4. The author who contacted the event host to cancel an event, but didn't tell us, citing that he was sick, but all the time he was in his hotel room, and hadn't even bothered to fly to the event city. And he double billed us, claiming that he HAD gone to the other city (when hotel bills confirmed he hadn't). He's the same one who wouldn't shake hands with anyone, and insisted that nobody make eye contact with him. [Darling Husband asks: Who is this guy--the Emperor of Bookistan?]
Happy Halloween!

Publicity Terror Tale #4: Another Ghastly Event

Children's and YA author Sally Keehn writes:
I was invited to speak and sign books at a well-known chain bookstore. It was part of a citywide, month-long literacy festival. I was told there'd be TV coverage, pamphlets handed out, middle schools contacted. Scores of kids and teachers would attend the program. Two weeks before the festival, I called and found out that I'd be one of FIVE authors who wrote middle-grade fiction who'd be presenting that day. Got there and was ushered back to the children's corner. There, two preschoolers sat in tiny chairs facing a tiny stage with four middle-grade authors hovering nearby, looking worried. Where was their age-appropriate audience?

Those middle-graders never appeared. Neither did the assistant book manager who'd roped all of us into coming; he was "off for the weekend." Neither did the students he'd told me he'd round up to be a part of my "Gnat Stokes Reader's Theatre." So I used my fellow authors, their relatives, my friends, the two little girls and their parents. We put on a loud show that drew the few people in the store over to our corner. At which point, the head of the citywide festival happened to come into the bookstore and wanted to find out what all the racket was about. When she saw us carrying on and making the most of our situation, she said, "Oh what fun! We plan to put on a festival next year. You must come again!"

Monday, October 30, 2006

Publicity Terror Tale #3

From author Marta Randall:
One of the darker and more amusing moments in my putative career came at a large book-signing where I was seated next to Stephen King. This seating arrangement is not good for a writer's ego, but King was charming and funny and did what he could to minimize the fact that perhaps 10 people, through the course of the evening, asked for my autograph, while his line stretched out the door, around the block, and into the neighboring state. After quite a while he started suggesting to the assembled fans that things would go a good deal faster if he let me sign some of his books for him. The expressions on the faces before us were pure gold, and if I ever doubted King's ability to horrify with a few well-chosen words, those doubts were put to rest forever.

Publicity Terror Tale #2

From an independent publicist, who notes, "I have too many of these stories in the past few years":

On the morning of BEA's opening day, I'm standing in the office of a producer at NPR in Washington, whom I know quite well. Also in the office is a client. He had been in Washington a couple weeks earlier and I had set up a lunch meeting with him and the producer. Although his book wasn't going to be featured on NPR, he was; he'd written an offbeat essay that worked perfectly as a weekend feature. So while he can't plug his book, per se, he still gets on the national airwaves.

So there we all are: He's all wound up and ready to tape his piece, and I'm standing there complaining that I wasn't really excited about BEA, and how I'd have to be perky and upbeat and get in there and sell myself--and I just wasn't looking forward to it.

Author pipes up and says: "Maybe you don't have the right personality for this job."

The producer and I stare at each other. I was so taken aback, I can't quite remember if I said what I was thinking: If I didn't have the right personality for the job, you wouldn't be standing here in this office, you jerk.

The producer says something about how she'd rather hear from me than most people from the houses in New York, and she walks me down the stairs to the door.

I say to her, "I can't believe he said that." She says, "Yes, his arrogance knows no bounds."

And I have never spoken to him since.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Publicity Terror Tale #1

For Halloween every year, I send around true book publicity horror stories that I collect from authors, publicists and booksellers. Here is the first, by the self-proclaimed Queen of Bad Signings. Feel free to email me your scary (scarring) story: {bella at bookpromotion101 dot com}.

My Anonymous, Harrowing Horror Story About Booksignings
Once upon a time, a long time ago, an author traveled many, many miles to read and sign books at a bookstore that had called her up and asked her to be the guest of honor at the Saturday morning story hour. When the author arrived, there was no sign announcing her appearance in the window, or on the door, or by the cash register. The author's books were not in the front window. Instead, they were stacked on a tiny table at the back of the store, behind a bookcase, adjacent to the bathroom.

After settling in, the author went to the kiddie korner, where she read to a small group of cavorting kids and caffeine-swilling parents. The author sat, waiting for someone to announce the store's super-duper special guest. But eventually, she gave up and began reading on her own. The owner, of course, wasn't there to do it, and the employees up front were busy with whatever they were busy with... Anyway, after a breathtaking performance of all the book titles on said signing table, the story-hour crowd was so enthralled they immediately went over to the media tie-in titles and stuffed animals and comic books, and bought those instead of the author's books.

Because the story hour was early in the morning, the bookstore owner had asked the author to stay longer than her standard two-hour signing time, so the author did. The next two-and-a-half hours consisted of meeting folks who were intrigued by the author's books, asking all sorts of questions about them, and paging through all the cute illustrations, and then declining to buy one because: "Oh? This is for a child up to 8 years old? My nephew is 7 already, and I can't buy a book that will be no good in just one year." Or, "My niece just LOVES books about kitties. But, she has too many. Don't want to buy her any more!"

After three hours and three books sold, it was time to call it a day. The author said her goodbyes and thank-you's, and went out the door to the parking lot where she'd been told to park her trusty van upon arrival. And...HORRORS! EEK! What was there on the windshield but...a PARKING TICKET?

The author rushed back inside, in tears, certain that the store would make things right. The employees were already loading the author's books into boxes for return to some warehouse Never-Neverland. When asked about the parking ticket, said employees didn't really seem surprised, having apparently watched the ticket being placed there earlier in the day. As they informed the author, people get tickets there all the time. It's only 90-minute parking and very strictly enforced. "No kidding!" the author exclaimed.

The author asked if they were going to reimburse her for the ticket, since the owner had instructed her to park in that very spot, while fully aware that the author would be there for three-plus hours. "No way!" they replied. A phone call to the owner seconded their opinion. In fact, she said, the author should have known better.

And that, dear reader, is how one struggling author managed to spend a tank of gas AND a hefty parking fine in order to earn royalties on three hardcover picture books one fine spring day!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Mr. Trollope Tells It Like It Was--and Still Is

More than twenty ears ago, someone sitting across from me in the subway was reading a fat paperback with "The Way We Live Now" emblazoned on the cover. I was so intrigued by the title that I went to my local bookstore, the late lamented Spring Street Books, and searched it out. And thus began my relationship with Anthony Trollope.

After The Way We Live Now, I read Trollope's six Palliser novels and got a good friend hooked too. Later, for a few years I belonged to an online Trollope reading group, but fell by the wayside because I started to be irked by Trollope's tendency to recycle character and plot elements. Still, I reread The Way We Live Now every few years. After watching the BBC adaptation recently (which is quite good, but takes some major liberties with the source), I decided the time had come again. Plus I needed some escapist fiction, and nothing fills the bill like a sprawling Victorian novel--nearly 1000 pages in my 1982 Oxford edition.

I had remembered TWWLN as centering primarily on the "bloated swindler" Melmotte (played to perfection by David Suchet) and the selfish and penniless young baronet, Felix Carbury, who courts Melmotte's daughter for her supposed fortune. What I'd forgotten is that the book also delves into the London literary scene. In fact, its opening sentence (which would never set Miss Snark's--or anyone's--hair on fire) reads:
Let the reader be introduced to Lady Carbury, upon whose character and doings much will depend of whatever interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing-table in her own room in her own house in Welbeck Street.
Lady C is a hack writer who puts as much, or more, time and effort into sucking up to newspaper editors as into her books:
...[commercial success] was to be obtained not by producing good books, but by inducing certain people to say that her books were good...She had no ambition to write a good book, but was painfully anxious to write a book that critics should say was good.
Her Criminal Queens, a fluffy and derivative popular history (contrast with Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen), is widely reviewed, and gets torn to shreds "with almost rabid malignity" in the 'Evening Pulpit,' edited by her supposedly dear friend, Mr. Alf.

Trollope makes these observations about book reviews, still true after 131 years:
There is the review intended to sell a book,--which comes out immediately after the appearance of the book, or sometimes before it; the review which gives reputation, but does not affect the sale, and which comes out a little later; the review which snuffs a book out quietly; the review which is to raise or lower the author a single peg, or two pegs, as the case may be; the review which is suddenly to make an author, and the review which is to crush him. An exuberant Jones [Alf's reviewer] has been known before now to declare aloud that he would crush a man, and a self-confident Jones has been known to declare that he has accomplished the deed. Of all reviews, the crushing review is the most popular, as being the most readable. When the rumour goes abroad that some notable man has been especially crushed--been positively driven over by an entire Juggernaut's car of criticism till his literary body be a mere amorphous mass,--then a real success has been achieved, and the Alf of the day has done a great thing; but even the crushing of a poor Lady Carbury, if it be absolute, is effective. Such a review will not make all the world call for the 'Evening Pulpit', but it will cause those who do take the paper to be satisfied with their bargain. Whenever the circulation of such a paper begins to slacken, the proprietors should, as a matter of course, admonish their Alf to add a little power to the crushing depatment.
Today's authors would do well to heed the timeless widom in the following passage--though then the "Letters" section of the NYT Book Review wouldn't be nearly so much fun.
But the poor authoress, though utterly crushed, and reduced to little more than literary pulp for an hour or two, was not destroyed. On the following morning she went to her publishers, and was closeted for half an hour with the senior partner, Mr. Leadham. "I've got it all in black and white," she said, full of the wrong which had been done her, "and can prove him wrong.... I'll write to Mr. Alf myself,--a letter to be published, you know."

"Pray don't do anything of the kind, Lady Carbury."

"I can prove that I'm right."

"And they can prove that you're wrong."

"I've got all the facts,--and the figures."

Mr. Leadham did not care for facts or figures,--had no opinion of his own whether the lady or the reviewer were right; but he knew very well that the 'Evening Pulpit' would surely get the better of any mere author in such a contention. "Never fight the newspapers, Lady Carbury. Who ever got any satisfaction out of that kind of thing?"...."It won't do us the least harm, Lady Carbury."

"It won't stop the sale?"

"Not much. A book of that sort couldn't hope to go on very long, you know. The 'Breakfast Table' gave it an excellent lift, and came at just the right time. I rather like the notice in the 'Pulpit, myself."

"Like it!" said Lady Carbury, still suffering in every fibre of her self-love from the soreness produced by those Juggernaut's car-wheels.

"Anything is better than indifference, Lady Carbury. A great many people remember simply that the book has been noticed, but carry away nothing as to the purport of the review. It's a very good advertisement."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wisdom from the Front Lines

Micah Nathan's Tour Blog, cited yesterday, includes this gem from June 9, 2005:
Strange how art—even a solitary art like writing—creates human connection. I am continuously amazed that more authors don't talk about the profundity of connecting with one's audience at these readings. Most of what I read from various authors is melancholic, bitter complaint. "Only two people showed up...when they introduced me they botched my name...nobody bought the book..."

Count yourself fortunate those two people cared enough about your art to donate their time. It's your book. You're the expert on it. Act like one and don't be ashamed to show your love.

What a refreshing counterbalance to all those articles by newbie authors whingeing about their rotten book tours, which are constantly cropping up on Slate and elsewhere. Yay, Micah!

Monday, October 23, 2006

"What If They Ask Me That Question?"

An author on one of the forums at Readerville.com worried that audiences at her readings would grill her about a particular sex scene in her novel. Katharine Weber (Triangle, The Little Women, etc.) posted the following response, which I think is pertinent to any writer, no matter what genre. The last three sentences are well worth keeping in mind during any interview or public talk.
Sometimes when we go out in the world to talk about our fiction, it is helpful and important to remember that we are not our books. We are going out to talk about the writing, not to talk about ourselves. We are not the characters in our books even if readers think we are, and even if they think our characters have written our books. It is up to us to control how we want to discuss what we have written. If the right questions aren't asked, we can still take the discussion in any direction we choose. There is no question anyone can ask that cannot be answered intelligently with something you want to say about your book or your writing.

Report from the Front Lines II

Today I sent out a call on my newsletter for more book tour tales, along the lines of Sally Nemeth's Virgin Voyage in Book Tour Land. Book Promotion 101 alum Micah Nathan, author of Gods of Aberdeen, immediately obliged with the assessment below.

Overall my tour was a blast. I had a couple very small (4 people) crowds, but even those were fun because I turned them into writing seminars. My Italian publisher flew me to Milan for a whirlwind press junket, and that rocked. The Europeans treat authors like celebs, even no-names like me. I was the David Hasselhoff of Italy...minus the chest hair, of course.

Once my book came off the shelves to make room for the next wave of hopefuls, I decided to start marketing myself to local colleges. (I live in Boston, so the choices are endless.) My approach: contact the college's creative writing club (usually they publish the college literary magazine), flash my credentials as a published author, and offer to speak for free in exchange for being allowed to hawk my books.

Thousands of books sold? Not quite, but a box at every gig, and a chance to remind myself why I got into this crazy career in the first place: connection with one's audience. I'll spend 2 hours lecturing, fielding questions, and riffing on the publishing world, and by the end I'll have sold my product without emphasizing the product itself. Because at those types of events, the author is the product. On the shelves, your book jacket is the voice. In person, it's all you.

I'm really into the public speaking thing so maybe that approach won't work for everyone. But it's so damn fun.
[Note: Micah is such an engaging and funny speaker, he could sell shoes to snakes.]

No horror stories I can think of, but at a signing in Buffalo a gentleman came to my table with a stack of about nine books and asked me to sign them. Great, except not one of the books was mine. Clancy, Grisham, etc.. I pointed this out and he said, "This is an author signing, right?" I couldn't argue with him, so I signed every one.

P.S. A more detailed account can be found at my Tour Blog.
[Ya gotta read about his interview with an Italian teen magazine. The New York Review of Books should ask such trenchant questions.]

Monday, October 09, 2006


According to Wikipedia, the German word meaning "pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune" has no direct English equivalent. Maybe not, but Clive James illustrates it perfectly in his poem, "The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered."

Willkommen, Bienvenue

So instead of reading about pre-WWI smalltown France, I'm now reading about pre-WWII urban Germany. THE BERLIN STORIES by Christopher Isherwood, to be exact. And as I discovered this evening, a marvelous accompaniment is Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill. I hardly ever read with the TV on, but this time I put on the DVD of Lemper (courtesy of Netflix) and happily immersed myself in Isherwood's world. Even the weather is Berlin-ish: chilly, overcast and damp. Maybe tomorrow I'll read to "The Threepenny Opera"-- or if I start feeling too cheerful, to Lou Reed's "Berlin."

Proust v. Stander

Marcel wins by a knockout. In fact, several of them. I tried, I really really tried. But day or night, SWANN'S WAY put me to sleep. Its torrential verbiage wore me out and left me hungry--not for a tea-soaked madeleine, but for the lean clarity of THE GREAT GATSBY or the finely wrought sensuality of Colette. The ultimate sign of my defeat is that I moved the two copies of the book (I thought I'd do better with the new translation after the Dover edition proved unreadable) from my bedside pile to an upper shelf in the living room. Onward and upward...literally.