Monday, May 31, 2010

Promo Notions

Nothing original here: writing’s solitary, promoting’s the opposite. When you sign on to publish your book-- whether you’re doing-it-yourself or being published in the established way—you accept the fact that you’ll have to do some promo. Unless you’re Philip Roth, you’re probably going to have to sell yourself around a little. If you don’t, chances are that your book will end up under the bed with your unpublished ones, just a’languishing.

You build your website (and then you have to tell people to go to it), you email book clubs, you post reviews, you try to avoid saturating your buddies with stuff about what is, after all, just a little bitty novel. The thing is: you worked hard on your novel, you want to coddle it some, you know that it’s likely that its day in the sun is limited and you want it to get a nice little tan while it can.

A week ago I spent a day in NYC at a private book fair. The fair-goers fell into two groups. Group A was comprised of representatives from institutions which might like to ask you to come talk to them, ie: they were lecture scouts. Group B was comprised of a whole lot of authors. We authors had 2 minutes each (by which I mean 120 seconds and no more) to describe the books that we’d taken 2-6 years to write. We were to describe them in witty, self-deprecating, self-promoting, enthusiastic, kinda cool, unhurried, competent, well-dressed-but-not-overly-so, nerveless, intelligent-nay-brilliant sort of ways. We authors—of whom there were 50-- had written novels, dog books, political books, historical books, joke books, and books about how to get good deals when you go shopping. We authors, who were seated in alphabetical order, were unknowns (hiya), best-selling authors, Pulitzer prize-winners, actresses whose faces you know, serious scholarly authors with books from Oxford University Press, lady novelists (hiya), tall, short (hiya), etc.

I was seated next to Michael Ellsberg, the son of Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers which exposed the web of lies upon which our involvement in the Viet Nam war was based. Michael Ellsberg’s book is called The Power of Eye-Contact which supports the idea that eye contact can lead to successful dating. On the other side of Michael Ellsberg was a guy who’d written a scholarly book about Nixon and knew a lot about the Pentagon Papers. Subsequent to Michael Ellsberg’s 2 minutes, everyone who went up to the podium made some crack about looking at the “eye contact guy.” 50 authors at 2 minutes each equals an hour and a half or so. There was a lot of interesting info, some squirming, quite a bit of laughter as we each took our turns.

Afterwards there was a meet-and-greet. I’m bad at those. I’m friendly but I like small groups. I’m not good in crowds. In large groups I tend to talk about inappropriate things in monosyllables. I drank wine but it didn’t help. I talked to a scholar about eastern religion and I talked to a lady about her dog and then I made a totally lame pass around the room and then I’d had it. I figure: it’s good to know your limitations. If I’m going to become a world-changing author, it’s going to have to be my writing that does it because my personality isn’t going to sell me, for me. Or something.

So I headed out. I walked out onto Park Avenue and then up towards Fifth to hail a cab. I’m from a small town and haven’t experienced much cab-hailing. I looked around for a good spot and some nice cabbie recognized something about my body-language: he pulled over right in front of me. No hailing even necessary! I smiled, climbed in and told him my destination. As we pulled away he looked in his rear-view mirror and said, in his lovely Persian accent, “Good eye contact, hunh?”

In the end, no eye contact needed for the butt in the chair part, but when promoting your book, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Club Fun

Hobbyist-novelist like me write because they must. There’s an urge to write that’s a lot like the urge to knit or the urge to clean or the urge to run (not that I’ve ever felt that last one). The urge to write comes from some visceral need to exorcise or imagine.

This has nothing to do with the desire to be published. The desire to be published comes from the need to have people read what you wrote. You did the work: you want to show it off. This doesn’t sound very noble, I know. And neither is it. However, it’s perfectly natural and is true across the board of hobbyists and artists: dancers want to do it publicly, painters want their products hung, composers want your butt in the seat and your ears open. Even those Amish ladies who make those fantastic quilts with the required defect (because only God is perfect) want those quilts to be seen, even if it’s only by a bunch of cheesy tourists.

I admit: I recall my musings on how life would be if I were ever lucky enough to have a book published, pre Wet Nurse. I’ve always been a realist and thus I knew that my life would be pretty much as it always was: that there’d still be the laundry, the dinner to be cooked, the bookstore to be run, the kids to, um, urge on. I also know that the first book isn’t the thing: it’s the second book that’s the thing. (And then, the third, right?) But I did think about bookstore readings (about which I know a thing or two, having been in the biz for 30 years). And I thought about the reviews: how would I handle a bad one?

What I didn’t know about so much were the book clubs. My bookstore is not a book-club friendly bookstore. Parking sucks, people on campus already have their own hugely packed agendas: they go off campus for the leisure of the book club.

But the book clubs have been wonderful.

At one club meeting, held at 9:00 on a Friday morning, we drank ale and ate meat pies, (just as my Susan Rose would have done!) and talked about how nursing has changed. Another, which took place in Pennsylvania, was done over Facebook: it’s fun to make jokes not face-to-face. At a huge club, one of the members told me that while she liked my book, she was upset by the ending. (I have the power to upset someone with the words I write! Amazement, as my husband would say.) At one, I was expected to hold forth on the (fairly massive) research I had done for the book, which I loved talking about. At another, my role seemed to be to listen to the members describe what they thought was going to happen to the wet nurse at each turn of the tale—this was wonderful too. At another, we mostly laughed.

Wet Nurse is coming in paper in August. Paperbacks are the meat pies of the book group, of course, so it’s a fond wish of mine that I get to do more book clubs. Here are the readers! Here are the book lovers! It gives a hobbyist-novelist like me hope and inspiration to get to what’s really important: the next book.