I am not one to complain about modern technological advances–where would I be without toaster pizza, for instance?–but I think that certain things might have been just a teeny tiny bit easier before the Internet knew everything about us and forced us to become the CEOs of our own public relations firms.
Take book publishing, for instance.
In the old days, say before 1995, if you wrote a book that someone wanted to publish, they wrote you a check for it, you said thank you and took it to the bank, and then you went home and put your feet up, had a nice celebratory dinner, and waited for the happy day when people would come up to you and say, “Oh, I saw your book in the bookstore!”
These days you take the check and, according to one of my writer friends, you’re insane if you don’t immediately launch yourself into a P.R. frenzy. Don’t trust your publisher’s publicity department, she said: YOU need to schedule readings and signings, YOU need to visit bookstores and start stalking influential librarians. You need to get serious about multiple-daily bouts of blogging, tweeting, and facebooking.
But above all, she said, you need to invest your money into little mementos which you will some day hand out to your fans-to-be, such as postcards, notepads and pens–all having your name and the name of your book emblazoned there. One of my more crazy acquaintances, who wrote a gardening mystery novel, actually hands out gardening gloves and little shovels with her book title on them. Now what, I ask you, is the point of getting paid for writing a book, if you then simply take your advance money and use it to help people forgo standing in line at the Home Depot?
This, it occurs to me, possibly comes under the heading of “Things That Do Not Benefit Anyone At All, Ever.” Least of all the author, who might have used her advance money to buy herself a nice set of pillowcases instead, or a venti skinny latte at Starbucks .
And so here I am, ten short, hot, steamy little days away from having a novel coming out into the world. It will be published on Aug. 3, which happens to be my late father’s birthday. (A person who wanted to believe in “signs” would say that my father is perhaps shepherding this book from the afterlife, only my I think my father would have disapproved of this book because it deals with marital infidelity, and so I’m just hoping he’s not out there in the afterlife sending signs to people not to read it.)
Thinking about signs is just one of the many manifestations of insanity that happens when you’re ten days out from having a book. This is the time when you’re starting to wake up in the middle of the night, hyperventilating and regretting not stalking even a single librarian, not getting past chapter 3 ofTwitter for Dummies, and not investing one cent in postcards and mementos. (Although, really now, what object would I stamp my book title on for a book about infidelity–condoms?)
So I am vowing right now to stop looking for signs, and while I’m at it, here are some other things I’ve decided to try NOT to do pre- and post-publication:
1. I will not obsessively check my amazon numbers. This is because I’ve learned the hard way that they mean nothing. They mean less than nothing. Your number can be in the low millions in the morning, 79,000 by noon, and then back to half-a-million by evening. And I think all it can possibly mean is that two people bought your book and one of them is thinking of sending it back.
2. I will not try to turn any topic to a discussion of my book. I have one writer friend who is so skillful at this that she’s driven off all potential conversational partners, except those diehard friends who are fascinated to see how she can bring ANYTHING back to this one subject. Here’s an example of how she does it. ME: “Man, it’s hot today.” HER: “Well, not as hot as the weather was on page 37 of my book. Now that was a hot day, don’t you think?” The other day I wanted to have a discussion of how the Tea Party people seem to be getting an inordinate amount of press, for such a small splinter group…and there she was with, “You know, my main character makes tea four times in my book. Oh, and speaking of splinter groups, how did you feel about the scene where she gets a splinter in her finger?”
3. I will not correct people who take away a completely different idea from my book than I intended. For instance, I was pleased, thrilled even, that More.com listed it in their list of Scandal-Filled Summer Reads coming out this summer–even though (ha ha!) I thought while I was writing it that it was perhaps a semi-literary novel examining the ups and downs of a middle-aged marriage and one woman’s difficulties accepting her life now that the kids have left home. Silly me! That’s not going to get anybody interested in plunking down real money for a book. Not during a recession! But hey–luckily More.com saw humor and scandal–and I’m all for it!
4. I will try hard to stay happy, even if People magazine and Oprah never hear of my existence. With over 200,000 books being published per year in this country, these days stores keep a book on the shelves for approximately 2 or 3 seconds, and if nobody has bought up the stock by then–bam! It’s back to the publisher with it. So what’s a writer to do, really? Go door to door with the book and beg the neighbors to buy it? Tackle people in line at the grocery store? Just be miserable?
I think I’d rather go to the beach, take deep breaths, and try to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep…and that way, when People magazine and Oprah call, I’ll be well-rested and won’t have too many bags under my eyes.
5. Oh–just one more thing–and please forgive me for this. The name of the novel is The Stuff That Never Happened. It’s either a book about a big scandal or a heartfelt, semi-literary look at marriage and love and raising children and family. But, sorry. No vampires.