The Rules of the Game in Paris (and Publishing)
The name of this post is kind of a non sequitur in that it’s the name of a crisply Modernist book that I gave a friend for Christmas last year before she left for the City of Light. But I thought of it just now because like Paris, Publishing has its own coded strictures. Then again, I’ve never had an in-house gig in publishing, although I’ve worked for nearly every publisher that I admire. So if you’re already annoyed, just tell yourself I have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe I don’t! It’s possible.
I am an independent public relations representative, working most frequently with authors these days, and not too long ago I was talking with a client who could understand her publisher’s practices from a logical standpoint, but not emotionally. Why wouldn’t they give her extraordinary novel the attention and resources it rightfully deserved? If they didn’t want to accord it that measure of principled attention, why buy the damn book in the first place? And that’s when I told her about The Nail Polish Diet.
No sense Googling it; I made it up. The first book I ever publicized was a New York Times bestseller for four weeks. The co-author I worked with was young, brilliant, attractive (and my boyfriend at the time), and great on television, which he went on as much as possible using connections made through his day job as a journalist and media critic. The high point was when he killed on The Daily Show, which I got him on after his publisher dropped the ball so thoroughly in my opinion that I was afraid his career would be irreparably harmed through no fault of his own. I thought this was an isolated case, so naive was I!
Which brings us to what I learned from that experience: the ideal scenario is a book that costs little to purchase, little to publish, receives extensive media coverage in a very brief period of time and then falls off the radar, allowing everyone to move on to their next projects and to repeat all of the above with a sequel if the parts fit together successfully the first time around. You write The Nail Polish Diet. It’s catchy! You go on The Today Show. Oprah loves it! Five weeks later everyone realizes that you can’t eat nail polish, and the book disappears, but not before selling 500,000 copies. Then the next spring, when everyone is desperate for the next quick fix before beach season, you come out with The Nail Polish Diet 2. Rinse, repeat. It’s as simple as that, and it works.
And then there’s the truth about fiction. I love books, and I work mostly on fiction and I am basically a masochist. Literary publicity campaigns are absolutely the least lucrative way that I could spend my time. For one thing, I get paid for a month or two of work, which is the intensive, start-up phase, where I am pitching a book, usually as obscure as any other on day one and competing for the precious time of readers who are being sweetly courted by the six million other books published that week. And then, six to eight weeks later, when the book’s sphere of influence has ideally spread like the rings on a tree, people start asking me about it. Wanting to book events, interview the author, request a review copy because they’ve heard about it. Novels and short story collections are the slow food of publishing. And the industry, while Jurassic in many respects, is completely frenetic in its rush to flood the marketplace with limitless new product, hoping that the next Nail Polish Diet will rise to the top.
I can’t say that I’ve solved any of the core problems that confront authors anymore than anyone can fix the economy. Capitalism will have the last laugh there, and so too I hope will my impossibly bright and cultured friends who are spending their lives spreading ideas that matter and championing the kind of storytelling that lasts. I have carved out a respectable living, though, and I can pay my health insurance bill on time, and go on vacation once in a while and pick up the check when I feel like it, and that’s more or less all I’ve ever wanted from a job. And the best part of my current situation is due to the fact that when I was first starting out as a freelancer, and broke and hungry, I decided I’d rather stay broke and hungry than work on anything I didn’t love. If I’ve ever had a motto, it’s that I don’t waste my own time and I have no desire to waste anyone else’s. In Latin. Now I’m fortunate to be highly selective about my projects, probably pickier than the college that gave me my degree. I book most of my projects 6-12 months in advance, sometimes more, sometimes less, and I only take on a handful a year. And because my goals, as stated above, are fairly basic, I can keep my costs down and my standards high. The only part of my job I don’t relish is saying no. Especially when I get an email like the one I got from Jonathan Baumbach a few months ago.
Basically, his latest novel, and in his (and others’) opinion, his best, came out last January and got one review before the fledgling indie publisher went under. Was there anything that could be done? I started to write my usual reply: no. I mean, anyone knows you have ten days after the publication date to get at least some initial traction, and you need to get at least a three month lead on planning for that. And then I thought, when did I get so boring? And so I wrote instead: “I will be frank, of course: getting publicity for a book past its publication date is a little like surviving a terminal illness… everyone cheers if you pull through, but the prognosis is justifiably grim at the onset. That being said, I’m aware of your work and have long thought that you should have a higher profile. Perhaps we could meet for coffee some afternoon next week and talk further?”
And we met and hit it off instantly, and I read the book, and started, quite uncharacteristically, marking it up and bending down corners and reading passages to friends over the phone and so I said that if he was willing to take a risk, well then, so was I. Hence, “The New You Project.” The afore-mentioned review ran in The Los Angeles Times last January and YOU or The Invention of Memory promptly slid off the map. Or did it? Here’s how it works: email me (correspondence at laurencerand dot com) between now and February 14 to request a free copy of the book (limited to the first 365 requests) and I will send it to you in the mail. Free. You can read it. You can give it away. You can sell it to the Strand or Powell’s, depending on your coast. Whatever. The point is, this is a book that I believe in. I believe it belongs in the world. I believe it belongs with you.
I will be writing about the campaign, and its progress (and whatever else happens, good, bad and especially unexpected) here, and I’d like to be as interactive as possible. It can be a book club. We can talk about YOU or The Invention of Memory, and what you like (or don’t) about it. You can ask Jonathan questions and he can answer them if he wants to. You can ask me anything. It can be a forum to talk about publicity, and what works, and what doesn’t. It can be a place to discuss what might work in the future if something more sensually appealing than the Kindle suddenly appears and costs $99 and can be purchased via text message or by Bewitched-style nose wiggling. Whatever it is, whatever you want this space to be, I’m into it and I’m into you, and I believe you’ll be into YOU, too.
It’s January. This moment is fresh. We’re all young. The world is new. It’s a do-over on every level. Been promising yourself your next read would be really ambitious? Swearing you’ll read 52 brilliant books this year? How about just one? Instead of going to the gym, how about getting lost in a masterful story? ‘Cause seriously, fuck the gym. And fuck The Nail Polish Diet.
– LAUREN CERAND
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