‘Give this writer a break’
There are lots of ways to drink in spring in NYC. I like Union Square. It’s a gathering place that wears the moment the way Lady Gaga does. Warm and sunny? Masses in dark glasses, the farmers’ market, free M&Ms, break-dancers, a thin wheezing beggar who rasps, “Help me. I’m homeless. Have osteoporosis.” Almost in counter-balance, a man with a guitar strums and screams: “America the Great.”
My book is out. My friend Jackie sent an email that she found it in a Barnes & Noble bookstore on the upper west side and bought one of the three copies they had.
Oh. This is good and bad. The big moment has arrived. Will it sell? Will the Web site and the tweets and the blogs and the coming-to-terms-with-Facebook, the video and the press releases, the readings, the book group study guide, the radio interview, the postcards and emails and friends’ word of mouth help get a buzz going? Will all this money and work even sell one book to someone who isn’t a friend?
This isn’t my usual carefree romp through Union Square. We step out of the springtime sunshine and into the flagship B&N in Union Square. It’s not dark but it’s a sobering moment.
As if in denial, I look for a book to buy and review for this week, since none of the publishers sent books I’d requested. I pick up nonfiction writer John McPhee’s new one, “Silk Parachute,” because I’m a longtime fan. I once heard him talk and the take-away for me was: When researching and interviewing, once you hear something three times, it can be counted as true.
On impulse, I grab “I Am Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells because I admire the idea and the cover. But the big moment belongs to Jim. He goes over to the service desk and asks if they have my book. Yes, he’s told, but it’s at a higher elevation, so to speak, in the sexuality section a few escalator rides up. He goes up for a look. Take a picture, I say. It’s not an overstatement to say that I’ve lived for this moment.
Sexuality? Why there? And why not down here, on floor one, where a book has a chance?
Together we go back to the service desk and I say to a man who seems to be in charge, “Please, help to give this writer a shot. Display “Free Fall” here, on the ground floor. My book belongs right here, next to “Eat, Pray, Love” and these other books that are fun and profess erotic overtones. My book has a beautiful cover, I say, and will sell on the aesthetic merits alone. I am quiet but persistent. This whole thing takes no more than 90 seconds, tops. “I’ve got readings coming up here in the city.” And I take a deep breath for the next part, which is absurd but I can’t stop myself: “I hear, time and again, that once you start, you can’t put it down.” He bows his head and smiles, bearing my shame at having to go this far with gentle compassion. He makes notes in the computer and says he’ll recommend ordering a few more copies and bringing it downstairs but he isn’t the decision-maker here.
With Jim there with me, the sales pitch wasn’t so hard. We’ll have to come back. See what happens, we say. And then we go outside for more sunshine. The sweat evaporates soon enough.
I need to gear up more. Do this everywhere. Selling your book is nothing like writing your book. Writing is easy. You sit — winter, spring, summer, fall — in a decent chair, facing a window, something liquid for hydration within easy reach, cats crowded around with inspirational purrs, and you tell stories that amuse you. You work these stories over till they are little Madonnas, all tight and muscular and adorned with just the right amount of flourishes. When everything is just so, you release the stories, pulled together as manuscript, and hope for miracles.
Next? You switch personas, step into the blinding sun, and make your presentation. I don’t have osteoporosis but my pitch is every bit as critical to my livelihood.