What Hemingway didn’t have to do
I HAVE NEVER BEEN sponsored by a bourbon before. But before my book was published, I had to learn lots of new things. Things, I must point out, that Ernest Hemingway was never asked to do.
Marketing and PR, for instance. It used to be that the publisher handled that, but now, not so much. These days, I’m expected to keep a blog, negotiate my own merchandising deal and dress up like a giant book at the state fair.
You’d think my (charming) story of a tiny Kentucky town that survived a century of (devastating) floods before the government decided to raze the place would sell itself (for $24.95, but if you act now, you can get it for $16.47 on Amazon.com). You’d be wrong.
I don’t mean to whine, and, besides, I’m a good sport. If these new duties allow me to write more books, I’ll roll with them. But this isn’t exactly how I thought I’d be spending the last nine months:
Jan. 15: Phone editor at women’s magazine to pitch book (different from writing book in that instead of having 256 pages to tell story, must summarize in single sentence, prompting use of voice italics). “It’s a no-brainer,” I say. “It’s a flood story that’s being published on the eve of the Katrina anniversary.” Editor asks: “What’s a Kentucky?”
Jan. 26: Meet author friend for coffee. Complain that publisher inexplicably seems more excited about pushing Tim Russert’s book than mine; agree with author friend that publisher is “being shortsighted.” Friend suggests hiring “hand seller,” which sounds sexy but turns out to be someone who writes to bookstores to beg them to place orders.
March 15: Take call from “publicist” (mother) to discuss plans for upcoming bookstore event in her town. Demand to see her invite list of 350. Suggest serving retro Kentucky snacks, i.e. pickled eggs. Ask her to prepare nine dozen of same in 5-gallon vats of beet juice; warn her against saying phrase “beet juice” when discussing the snack table setup with the bookstore manager.
April 30: Hand seller sends bill for $250, encloses copy of letter sent to 32 bookstores (“this book needs help”) and reports response (one store requests review copy).
June 6: Hand seller sends another invoice ($250, again), encloses lengthy description of stress-induced seizure he suffered at recent booksellers convention and wishes me luck.
June 28: Tennis doubles partner confides desire (at local bar, following playoff loss) to throw book-signing party. Thank her profusely (over second round of bourbon) and note coincidence (during third round) of drinking Kentucky’s beverage of choice while discussing Kentucky.
July 18: Party-throwing teammate (formerly high-powered PR exec) contacts the Jim Beam people to point out beverage coincidence, prompting delivery of bourbon company’s Small Batch Collection (“the very best in bourbon”) to party venue.
July 23: Acting on tip that George Clooney grew up in Kentucky (Lexington) and remains big Kentucky booster, pen note to George suggesting we have cousins in common and inviting him to book-signing party. No answer.
Aug. 16: Launch direct-mail marketing initiative: e-mail to 1,775 addresses (consisting of pen pals from last decade, including vaguely remembered yoga instructor and college roommate not seen since 1984).
Aug. 17: Read responses: “Michelle, you are a spammer.” “How did you get my name?” (from correspondent who apparently does not remember sending me chain letter about dangers of “unlicensed home liposuction”).
Close eyes and look forward to Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon (“bottled straight-from-the-barrel”). Finally, something Hemingway did too.