After the publication of her first novel, Golden Country, Jennifer Gilmore left her long time post as Publicity Director at Harcourt to pursue writing full time. She toured for the hardcover release of her book, and began working on her second novel, which Scribner recently bought. Now, Golden Country is out in paper, published by her old employer, and Gilmore is on the road again. She talked to PW about being strong enough to survive the "slow series of humiliations" that is a book tour.
You’re no longer working as Publicity Director for Harcourt. What’s it like to suddenly be on the other side of the publishing business?
I couldn’t really experience being an author when I was still working in publishing—I was trying to negotiate being both. Sometimes the knowledge doesn’t translate between the two roles. All the information I knew as a publicity director I had to forget in order to write a book because you become so jaded by publishing. Publishing in a way doesn’t have a lot to do with writing, and writing doesn’t have a lot to do with publishing. At the same time, all that I knew about what can happen with a new book and how depressing it can be didn’t transfer either. It’s not that I was sitting there asking my publicist “when am I going to be on Oprah?” I did know that much, but I also know that sometimes exciting things can happen, and if publicity is done wrong, they can’t.
How is it different touring for the paperback from the hardcover?
This is different because the book’s been out for a while. Though there are still humbling moments. In San Francisco, where I don’t know anyone really, the events were really, really small. I did something at Booksmith—it’s this lovely bookstore, and the event was listed in the San Francisco Examiner and the Chronicle, and there were four people there. I didn’t have big expectations at all, but it is hard to read for 20 minutes to four people. As a publicist, you tell authors that this is going resonate and that you’re building an audience, but I’m glad I didn’t talk to you after San Francisco.
What kind of response have you been getting?
An older generation responds to my book because there are these characters who were alive in the 20s and the 30s. I did an event in Atlantic City for the JCC Book Network right before leaving for California, and that was interesting. I was with Shira Nayman, and we got picked up in a stretch limo and driven 3 and 1/2 hours to Margate, New Jersey. There were maybe 70 people there, maybe 50 were awake. Afterwards there was a huge line, and people were saying, “My granddaughter’s a writer,” and they were all saying, “I’m going to get it at the library.” Literally, I think I sold two books there...You try not to think about sales, and I feel really lucky to be out there, but how can you only sell two books when 70 people show up? That’s a little distressing. The other thing that’s distressing is going into book stores in all these towns and your book’s not available. I feel sometimes like a book tour is a slow series of humiliations and that if you’re strong you’ll come out of it OK.
Do you feel like over time you’ll be able to overcome the anxiety of knowing too much about how the business works?
All authors should know more than they do about the life of a book. But I think even though publishing is a very slow business—it takes so long for a book to come out, and the marketing is hardly as cutting edge as movies or advertising—it is changing a lot. In a year I won’t really know what’s going on.