I just returned from a local cable interview to plug my new novel and as usual felt like a naked carnival barker. Some history:
I was once asked to read from my (then) new novel Exit Blue at Beyond Baroque, a literary salon in Venice, CA. The organizers strongly hinted that I bring refreshments (“You know, a little wine, some munchies.”) I was so ignorant of these events that I didn’t stop to think they’d named a date over a Memorial Day weekend, when everyone is out of town. I may have had nine people in the audience, including my wife. The spread must have cost at least $50, and if I sold three books I’m lucky. I personally make about $2 a copy. It takes a year or so for the money to come in. You don’t have to be a math genius to figure out how profitable that was. People are generally shocked to learn writers must stoop to counting these nickels and dimes. But making it across the moat to publication doesn't ensure financial success.
It’s disheartening enough to stand before a lectern when there’s almost no one out there, but when it also costs you money, you feel like a double fool. I’ve never been back to Beyond Baroque, and I vowed never to be placed in such a demeaning role again. In my experience, that place is helpful to authors pretty much the same way that bombing the crap out of Iraq was good for Iraqis. Okay, I exaggerate a little, but you get the idea.
Ruth, a character in my latest novel, Isaac: A Modern Fable, does a book-signing at a Walmart and is placed at a little card table next to the radishes. Excuse me for bragging, but I found it a particularly delicious scene.
Publishers do almost no publicity for books anymore, unless you’re a J.K. Rowling. (In the case of my latest novel, Peremanent Press did in fact do some trade-journal advertising, which is increidbly expensive. But usually we're on our own.) Authors are besieged by advice-givers who urge us to call radio stations, get on the social networks, sell, sell, sell. We have quite a number of authors here at RedRoom giving that same advice, many of them telling stories about how their tenacious hustling has increased their sales. I know they are trying to be helpful, but I don’t write books in order to be a marketing mogul. I figure someone else ought to be doing that, but when you’ve actually had some good reviews but it seems no one knows about them, you feel compelled to act. At least I do sometimes. But every time I break my vow and try to put out a plug it seems to backfire in some awful way.
If I step in to a local bookstore and politely urge the owner to carry Isaac, which came out in April, (It received a starred review in BookList, for Christ’s sake, and Publisher’s Weekly was hugely positive. Kirkus not so much this time) I'm sometimes asked to send over a copy for personal inspection. A strange demand, I find. Excerpts, reviews, and summaries are all easily found on the Web, and these are Internet-savvy people. Their personal inspections, by the way, may or may not involve returning the copy. Each one costs me $14. Everyone talks about these independent bookstores as though their owners are all selfless Mother Teresas, but believe me, that's not always the case. I’m sure in some instances they sold my review copy as a new book and kept every dime. screwing me and the publisher.
Anyway, I’m appearing at the Palos Verdes Women’s Club authors luncheon Nov. 14 at the Trump golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and the local cable spot I just did was advance publicity for the event. Everyone at the shoot was quite nice to me. It’s an event that draws better than 300 people. This year ex-prosecutor Marcia Clark of O.J. fame will be speaking too, and I’m riding her coattails along with five other authors. So there’s the plug. And now another story.
Recently I went to a bookstore reading and talk in L.A. by Daniel Simpson, who was plugging his nonfiction A Rough Guide to the Dark Side. About eight people showed up. He put out three bottles of wine. Most of it got drunk. He may have signed two or three books. But he had a great attitude, spoke for a good hour, and was leaving that night for Santa Barbara, where presumably he could put on another money-losing show. I liked the store, Stories Books and Café in Echo Park. I checked the shelves. None of my books were there, so I approached the owner. He knew I was a writer before I opened my mouth. Who else walks around naked?
Causes Ivan Goldman Supports
American Heart Association
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Beit T'Shuvah Recovery Program