She works hard for the money

imagesIt’s funny when you open your morning newspaper and there’s a big story about your particular raging anxiety right there on the front of the Style section. Although I did not know he was working on such a thing, there’s this spot-on story today by my colleague Neely Tucker about how authors have to do everything they possibly can, by themselves, to get a book noticed nowadays. Kelly Corrigan did it with her cancer memoir, The Middle Place — made her own web site, her own video, and sent herself on reading tours by scheduling it herself and sleeping on friends’ couches. Yep, yep, yep, yep. (Although I have fabulous Megan, at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who scheduled my tour, it’s basically up to me to get myself there and beg anyone I know to come, and get their friends to come.)

The story also notes that there are 560,000 titles published each year. Not sure what that number includes — awful lotta business-motivation and test-prep and cooking books out there, and lots of self-published books, so maybe that number includes the whole giant mess of American publishing. In any case, the panic comes and goes when you’ve written a book; you walk into any Barnes & Noble and are seized with the certainty that your baby is going to drown in this pool, while you watch.

Kelly Corrigan dove in and rescued her baby. Working it on her own since her book first came out a year ago, Corrigan has sold 80,000 hardcover and 260,000 paperback.

But may I just note something? Her book is a cancer memoir. It’s a cancer memoir by a young mother with “funny, active” kids and a great marriage. And then her dad gets cancer. It’s about family and love and cancer. Cancer is a nightmare, but it is also the golden subject of our era. People with cancer, or people who know people with cancer, cannot get enough stories about cancer. And I’m sure her publisher, Hyperion, probably thought, as anyone would, Hmmm. Another cancer memoir, with a cover that looks like a lot of covers, with a child gleefully jumping toward the heavens. How do we market it? Dunno.

So Corrigan went DIY. Another writer Neely interviewed, Monica Hollaway (also a memoirist, but hers is about having an autistic kid — another hot subject with mommy readers that makes the duck on the string come down from the ceiling and go quack-quack-quack!), gives the best quote about web hustle:

“It’s all Internet, Internet, Internet,” she says of the promotional process. “It’s crazy, you emerge from this place of solitude in writing and then switch into the hot glare of ‘market yourself now!’ It’s very uncomfortable, and you try to get past it with some sort of sophistication.”

That’s really it. As my book gets closer and closer, and I grapple with selling it and the long grief process of watching it be released and likely die, I’m having to ask people I know and barely know and don’t know at all if they can help me get noticed. So far, so many of them have been really nice, quite encouraging, and have promised to help. I hear my colleague in the next cubicle, Post feature writer Wil Haygood, on the phone doing the same thing I’m doing: ginning up interest for his book, Sweet Thunder, which comes out next month from Knopf.

It all goes against some basic, inner sense of politesse. I feel as though I’ve already been allotted the maximum allowance of luck by getting a book contract, finding such interesting people and a place to write about, being able to bring this story to the page and having it published by a well-known publishing house by wonderful editors, designers and a marketing department. I have the nerve to ask for more?

Yep, yep, yep. Quack-quack-quack. So if I act like a whore lately, please know, I’m doing it for my starving (or drowning) child. I worked like a dog for three years on Tinsel, and I believe in it, and I have to try. I’m doing this web site; in a few weeks I am going to become such a nag on Facebook that I’m sure all but about 10 of my friends will click “hide” on my sad little profile pic and the steady refrain of “buy my book!” status updates; and next week, the publisher is sending a camera crew to do a video about my book, so we can carpetbomb the web with it.

Will any of it work? The odds are quite clear: probably not. But worth trying.

sweet thunder jpgUPDATE, 9/24: I got into work just now and Wil is beaming. His book, Sweet Thunder, an actual finished copy, arrived by FedEx last night. What I was saying above, about a book being for the author like a child, a newborn? I think it’s pretty close. (Neither Wil nor I have experienced fatherhood.) He said he woke up in the middle of the night and got up, went to his living room, and looked at his new book again. It was 4:04 a.m. It’s like checking to see if it’s really there, to just marvel at it, and make sure it’s still breathing.


  1. Judy Coode on September 24, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    RE: that part about the book being like your child, well, I’m a fairly experienced aunt, if I may say so. Lots of potential aunts and uncles out there.

  2. blathering on September 24, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I also think the reluctance to sell yourself (or your child in this
    instance) is related to where you were raised. Good Southern
    children are just not that pushy for themselves. So it is up to us
    to be the godparents to your child.

    AND if you want to come to NOLA, I can offer better than a couch,

  3. Derba on September 25, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Remember, good friends don’t mind standing on that street corner with you!

  4. Sandra Beckwith on September 25, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Hank, you’re in good company. I teach a book publicity e-course and spend a chunk of time helping students understand that they’re not promoting themselves, they’re promoting their book, and in the process, they’re providing a public service. Most authors write books to inform, educate, or entertain, and they can’t meet their goals if people don’t know their book is available. It really is up to the author to get the word out.

    I wish you great success with yours!

    Sandra Beckwith

  5. Leanne Potts on October 1, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    What’s an introvert to do in an age where everyone is a brand — or wants to be, any way. Good luck.

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