Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Booksellers usually view the dinners as a grand gesture by the publisher, said Paul Yamazaki, the chief book buyer at City Lights.
“What they’re trying to do is make a statement about the book,” he said. “They want you to go read it, and it gives them another five minutes. But you can’t manufacture these things. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and the book has to deliver,” he said. “Ultimately it’s about the book.”

*** The New York Times "Pushing A New Writer"

Would you buy my book if I bought you dinner? Lunch? A drink? A recent article in the New York Times reveals the latest trend in publishing publicity methods, called "pre-publication tours," where a new author is carted around the country by the publisher and shown off to book buyers at fancy dinners and events. The theory is once the buyers meet the author, they will be so smitten and overcome by the attention that they'll purchase many more books than usual and then promote them to their eager-to-buy customers.

Now let's be clear. As my mother always says: "This is not a criticism. It's an observation." If the wonderful people at Harlequin want to escort me--anytime!-- on a cross-country tour to promote my new book, I'm definitely on board. Maybe after a few glasses of wine and some cherries jubilee, I'm a bestseller. Sounds nice.

But I've got to say--all the book buyers I've talked to ain't gonna be convinced by a couple glasses of Chateau Lafitte or some gingered sea bass.

On the other hand, what if the pre-pub tour really starts the buzz? (Maybe it could work. And there's no question if you meet an author, you feel some connection to them. Can't hurt. And certainly PR works. And ads. And going to bookstores. And I'll be doing all that. And I hope to meet all of you!)

Or do you think it's as the book buyer above says--it's ultimately about "the book"?
Can a flashy promo campaign make a mediocre into a moneymaker?

I once heard that in order to become a bestseller, a book has to be "best selling" in its initial few weeks. If that's true, then it's actually impossible for word-of-mouth to do the job and the only WAY a book can get there, unless you are Ross Perot, is if the publisher puts its money, right up front, into making it a bestseller. Whether the publisher does this by buying premium display space at B&N and Borders, or by pre-publicity dinners, it doesn't change the bottom line: The publisher makes it happen. I'm not sure if that view makes me cynical or a realist, but I think that's the book biz.

As my husband (a 40 yr veteran of the book business) is fond of saying - and I hate it when he does - it's both. There are plenty of mediocre books that are moneymakers, and plenty of great books that not enough people know about (will someone please make the wonderful Robert Hellenga a household name?)

No one is going to buy my book simply on the strength of a party, a drink, or a tcotchke. But, let's face it, with all due respect to those that claim they do, very few retail buyers actually have the time to read all the books they are sent. They couldn't possibly, with hundreds of books being published every day. Given that reality, I'm up for almost anything that helps someone remember me or the name of my book. And I don't expect the publisher to do it all. They're already rolling the dice on me. I'll supplement their efforts anyway I can in the runup to publication. Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but I'm a newcomer. For me, it's about surpassing expectations - not necessarily making The New York Times bestseller list. (It should only happen...)

Anyone read JA Konrath's Newbie's Guide to Publishing? http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/. Or Jackie Deval's paperback, Publicize Your Book? Great ideas, and they don't all cost a fortune.

Ro says: "It's about surpassing expectations." Here, here!
So, the question is, as an author, are you selling yourself or are you selling your book, and is there a difference? Most bookstores that have author events want us to chat, tell amusing stories, share the inside scoop on how we wrote our book, not read from it for 40 minutes straight. Snore. The assumption is if the customer likes YOU, they'll buy your book. Obviously the publishers are taking the same tack with booksellers.

And Hank, in answer to your question, if you buy me lunch or dinner YES I'll buy your book. Do I get to pick the place??

RO: Can I come too?

Okay, sounds like fun. Dinner for everyone. Hallie, sure, you can pick. Then everyone buys books. And I promise not to read out loud. (Unless there's a huge clamor to hear the really good parts.) What a great evening that'll be!

PS FROM HANK: Oh, one more thing. Boston's own Grub Street is having a fantastic seminar called "Muse and the Marketplace" May 5-6 with luminaries like Margot Livesey, Gregory Maguire and Sue Miller. www.museandthemarketplace.com Turns out, I'm on a panel about publicizing your book! So hey--we'd love to see you all there. Otherwise, I'm gonna find out all the secrets...


  1. Hank, while at the Muse, I'll introduce you to the writer who had the big-dinner-pub-push. The buzz was phenomenal, but of course the book was too.

    Jan, I've heard the same about the first few weeks of sales determines the success (or, gasp, failure) of a book. There are exceptions, however. Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent" didn't start selling in significant numbers until months after pub date and only because she pushed it out herself.

    Ro, such a smart strategy for building a career. A slow, strong build rather than a flash in the pan.

    Hallie, I've heard the same from booksellers. Having met you, I expect you'll sell a bajillion.


  2. Hey Amy,
    You sound like you know what you are talking about and I'd much rather believe you than those cynical voices in my head! Hope springs eternal.....