Friday, October 31, 2008

Publicity Horrors: I Wanted the Other Kind of Press Conference!

This just in from an independent book publicist:

Few things are as scary as a client new to the book business, where there's an inverse proportion of knowledge to dreams. A sense of enthusiastic unreality, if you will.

The book? A nonfiction title discussing political movements among under-30 voters.

The company? Owned and operated by a 28-year-old.

The goals? Publicity for a book by a new author and new company.

The task? A press conference. Old style, with big-name talkers introducing the author.

When advised about the lack of worth for this type of publicity for a book -- after all, press conferences are for court cases, politicians and the Beatles -- the client insisted on forging ahead.

Hours upon hours spent on the set-up: calling dozens of media, finding the perfect room, massaging the message.

The day came and drew dark. Podium, microphone, rows of folding chairs. The moderately famous person talked. So did the author. Then a few polite questions from a modest turnout of media. Then lights out.

The next day, the fury of the book company's young 'un: "What happened? What went wrong?" the beast railed to the hapless publicist.

"Did we not just have a press conference?" she wondered.

Turns out the book company owner wanted a press conference just like in the movies, with photographers flashing bulbs and rushing the podium, and reporters shouting over one another. In other words, complete pandemonium.

So to all of you gentle book people:
Beware of the non-knowing...they will eat your brains.

The Most Horrifying Press Release EVER

Neighbors pray at a makeshift memorial outside Jennifer Hudson's family home. Photo from

As yet no one has responded to my call for publicity horror stories. I guess everything went great this year, notwithstanding the plummeting economy and layoffs at publishers and newspapers. But Darling Husband came to my rescue (as always), pointing my attention to The Bad Pitch Blog.

Y'know how you're supposed to make your book or product newsworthy by relating it to some current event? (You don't? Well, you are, and a great way to monitor news related to your topic, and journos/blogs covering it is to sign up for Google Alerts.)

Well, some enterprising ghoul decided to shill a shotgun rack (!!!) by tying it to the ghastly murders of singer Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew. Here's how the original press release (since amended in response to general outrage) blasts off:
Chicago, IL (MMD Newswire) October 28, 2008 -- Tragedy strikes in a Chicago home leaving 3 people dead and an Oscar winner forced to identify the bodies of her family.

Jennifer Hudson's mother and brother were gunned down in their home Friday. Could an invaluable device have saved their lives? It's called The BackUp and it is a bedside shotgun rack.
In addition to its complete absence of taste, the press release omits some salient facts:
  1. Chicago bans handguns (and presumably shotguns).
  2. Guns should be locked away in a home with children.
  3. Per this timeline, the murderer hit the adult victims by shooting through a door around 8-9:00 a.m., when neither was in bed.
A Chicago Tribune story contains this tone-deaf bit of spin:
A. John Peters, president of Home Back-Up Protection, said Tuesday that he didn't issue the news release to capitalize on the Chicago family's pain.

"I really feel sorry for these people," said Peters, 60. "I just don't want this to happen to someone else. Sometimes I think people need to be hit between the eyes."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bob Marley's Talking Points

Contrast and compare:


More Book Promotion Information Than You Require

Resident expert (and former literary agent) John Hodgman was on "The Daily Show" last week to tout his new book, MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE.

"Writing a book is the most important thing a human being can do," says Hodgman. "But literary immortality comes with a price: book promotion, the demeaning ritual known as 'the television appearance.' Where the solitary genius is forced to hold a conversation with the likes of...cable jester" Jon Stewart.

Watch as the self-proclaimed "brain candy" struts his stuff and offers "important tips to new authors on how best to sell your own work."

Scare Us Now!

It's that time of year again, when I seek out terrifying publicity stories to post for Halloween.

So send me your hair-raising tales of rampaging authors, power-mad publicists, berserk booksellers, ditzy event planners, wacko journalists, travel snafus and readers gone wild.

C' feels SOOO good to vent! (Anonymously, of course; confidentiality is guaranteed.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hot Client News

Barbara Carellas, author of URBAN TANTRA: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-first Century has relaunched her!) website with a new design, fabu headshot (left) and a big announcement:

"Beginning this week—16 October to be exact—my very own radio show will premiere on Hay House Radio. It’s called Sex... with Barbara Carrellas (yes, we all love that double entendre). It will air every other Thursday at 9 am Pacific time and 12 noon Eastern time. If you miss the live show, you can listen to it in the archives by joining Hay House’s Wisdom community. This show is really a dream come true for me. Not only do I have a radio show where I can have intelligent and enlightening conversations about sex, it’s also on my dear friend Louise’s radio station. I am thrilled and proud to be part of this amazing community."

Photo: Barbara Nitke

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Message to Colorado Voters: Mail it in!

The media have been reporting that voter registration is WAY up for the election next month. This will mean long lines at the polls. And the lines will be even longer here in Colorado due to the ridiculously long and cumbersome ballot.

Besides all the candidates running for election--president, senate, congress, school boards--there are many addenda and referenda, plus a list of sitting judges and a Denver school funding issue to decide on. Estimates are that it will take around 20 minutes for each person to vote at the polls. If they have to read through every single addendum and referendum proposal, I figure it'll be more like an hour.

This morning, it took me a good 30 minutes to fill out the densely printed ballot (2 pages & 4 sides). And that was with the help of a tub o' tea, the Blue Book from the CO Election Commission (which includes a handy "cheat sheet" inside the front cover) and the special section in today's Denver Post. (See Colorado Voter Guide that you can print out for your own cheat sheet. Ballotpedia has detailed analysis of ballot initiatives, searchable by state.)

So I STRONGLY urge you to get a mail-in ballot. If you haven't received an application form in the mail, or from the many volunteers blanketing the area, you can download one HERE. Then mail/fax it to your County Clerk; contact info HERE.

The mail-in ballot requires $1.17 postage. If you don't have stamps, or don't trust the USPS, you can drop off your ballot at the early voting stations listed on it, or at your neighborhood polling place on November 4.

Don't delay! Deadline for mail-in applications is October 28; in-person is Oct 31.

Here's to civic duty!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Corrected in Translation

In the September 15 issue of Publishers Weekly, THE BOOK OF LIES by Brad Meltzer is #2 on the hardcover bestsellers list. A sidebar informs us that in Meltzer's first book,
The Tenth Justice, the original opening lines are: "Ben Addison was sweating. Like a pig." In the Hebrew translation, it became: "Ben Addison was sweating. Like a horse." The author's not sure if it's a kosher thing or what.
Actually, it's a fact thing. Because PIGS DON'T SWEAT. Per the Wikipedia entry on Pig:
Pigs do not have functional sweat glands,[4] so pigs cool themselves using water or mud during hot weather.
And as anyone who's been around horses knows, they sweat like crazy. One of the more arresting sights after a hot race or cross-country event is the horses being led around with one groom at their head and another at their hind end, holding a huge icebag wedged into their crotch. You'd think the horses would kick anyone who did such a thing, but they seem to enjoy it.

My Clients Are Real Winners

On Wednesday evening, consulting client Kim Reid won the Colorado Book Award in Nonfiction for her wonderful memoir, NO PLACE SAFE. Alas, I couldn't be there, as the awards ceremony was on the eve of Yom Kippur. (Apparently the organizers weren't thinking about The People of the Book.) Hooray for Kim!

And on Sept 25, client Carleen Brice won the African American Literary Awards Show prize for Break-out Novel of the Year for her lovely debut, ORANGE MINT AND HONEY. (Her 2nd novel, CHILDREN OF THE WATERS, will be released in July; read the prologue.) Hooray for Carleen!

Hint: The books would make excellent holiday presents. And they're in thrifty trade paperback!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Have You Read Your Book Lately?

Recently I had a consultation with a new client, "Jane Doe," whose first novel came out in hardcover last year. She wanted to discuss promotion options for the upcoming trade paperback.

I looked over Jane's website and suggested that she rewrite the book description on her home page. She'd lifted it from her publisher's catalog, and the first two sentences were in--eek!--passive voice. And the protagonist, who's also the narrator, wasn't even mentioned till the second paragraph.

How to fix the copy? First, I needed to know more about the book.

"Well, how old is your main character?" I asked.


"Umm..." Jane racked her brain for a few seconds, then could only recall the nearest decade (as in 30-something).

I said, "If you want to do readings and interviews, don't you think you should know your own book? Journalists and audiences are going to ask you about it."

"Um, yes," she admitted sheepishly.

"Have you read your book lately?" I asked

"Um, no," she admitted, even more sheepishly.

I didn't blame Jane. She'd finished writing her novel more than two years ago and is hard at work at another one, in a different genre. Plus she'd recently gone through a lot of big changes in her life.

But still, I reminded her, if she's going to go on the road promoting her novel, her audience expects her to be the expert on it. So she'd damn well better know it, inside and out. And the way to do that is by rereading what she wrote. Now.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gates of Repentance

I won't be going to Yom Kippur services again this year; I still can't sit long enough. Tomorrow I plan to keep the computer off and spend the day in the garden, making the weeds atone for invading my flower beds.

I love the Kol Nidre service, performed this evening, more than any other. Here's an exquisite rendition of the prayer:

Peace and good health to all.

Monday, October 06, 2008

5 Degrees to Obama

Yesterday morning I read the New York Times article about the relationship between Barack Obama and former Weather Underground member William Ayers, Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths. Buried deep in the piece was a name that made me sit up and take notice: an armed robbery of a Brinks armored truck in Nanuet, N.Y., that involved Weather Underground members including Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, two police officers and a Brinks guard were killed....

By the time of the Brinks robbery, [Bill Ayers] and Ms. Dohrn had emerged from underground to raise their two children, then Chesa Boudin, whose parents were imprisoned for their role in the heist.

My father's attorney for his 1953 HUAC testimony was Leonard Boudin. The last name is an unusual one, and I wondered whether he was related to Kathy. Google and the NYT to the rescue! Indeed, he was her father. Per a 2003 Thomas Powers NYT review of FAMILY CIRCLE: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left, I further learned that Leonard was:
a genius of legal strategy who had long infuriated J. Edgar Hoover with his successful defenses of accused spies and the rights of dissenters.
Per Wikipedia, Leonard's clients included Paul Robeson, Daniel Ellsberg, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Julian Bond, William Sloan Coffin, and Philip Berrigan.

So I'm 5 degrees of (radical) separation from Barack Obama:
1. Dad
2. Leonard Boudin
3. Kathy Boudin
4. William Ayers
5. Barack Obama

(The Boy Wonder would probably tell me that I'm only 3 degrees from Obama, because he's met someone who's met him. But that's too easy and not as interesting--and he doesn't read my blog anyway.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Chill Out with Karen Dionne

Backspace cofounder Karen Dionne is celebrating the launch of her debut thriller, FREEZING POINT, with an online party, Oct 1-3. See the festivities, including videos from other authors and a contest, here.

I'm, read thrillers (or watch scary and/or violent movies), but Karen's launch party website is a lot of fun.