When I was a book publicist, “What about Oprah?” was the most sigh-inducing, eye-rolling question an author could ask. The subtext was, “I know that if we can catch Oprah, strap her to a chair, and force-read her my book, she’d anoint it as her next book club pick. I just know it!”
In nearly two decades promoting authors of every stripe—novelists, movie stars, celebrities, authors who thought they were celebrities, self-helpers, journalists, politicians, scientists, and historians—I’ve been asked a bevy of needy questions. Like a child who thinks, “If I ever grow up and become a parent, I’m never going to act like that,” I made a vow that if I ever became an author, I’d never ask my publicist these questions:
“What can we do with this good review?” Subtext: can we show it to competing publications in order to cajole them into reviewing the book?
“How about a book party?” Great idea! I love parties. Who’s throwing it?
“Can you call hotel housekeeping and have them send up a shower cap?” This call was placed from an author’s hotel room in Dallas to his publicist in New York.
“Will you tell the Today show to send the interview questions in advance?” Uh, no.
“Why is James Patterson’s book at the front of Barnes & Noble and not mine?” Because you’re not James Patterson.
“I got myself booked on three radio shows. What have you booked?” An author’s passive-aggressive way of telling his publicist that he thinks his publicist isn’t doing anything for him.
Well, I grew up and became an author, and like the child who becomes a parent, I realize it’s not so easy. But now I get it, because for any writer, everything is at stake.
I realize that those needy questions stem less from vanity and more from the desperate need to make a book work. For an author, a book is both a business and an artistic baby. I was always in awe of authors. I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever have the talent and stamina to write a book. That looks like hard work that takes years, I thought.
I was right. It was hard work, and it took me four years to write Dangerous When Wet, a darkly comic memoir about booze, sex, and my mother, Mama Jean. It’s been a huge investment, both emotional and financial. When I was laid off from my last publishing job, I was in the middle of writing the then-unsold book.
Rather than run to another corporate job, I risked my security and savings and went into business for myself, so that I could make my own hours and finish the book. And I want to do everything possible to make sure it finds an audience and sells enough copies so that I can write the next book, and the next.
Now I’m close to giving birth to my artistic baby, and, like authors past, I’m looking to my publicist as the midwife. So I’m taking the advice that I gave my authors: focus on the things your publisher is doing for you; don’t compare and despair over what other authors are “getting” (like shower caps in their hotel rooms); remember that the publisher paid actual money for your book and that it’s going to be published—anything after that is gravy; thank your publicist and send her flowers, or at least macaroons; graciously call in all your favors and hit up your contacts, and then pay it forward; be a partner with your publicist, not an adversary.
Take this column, for instance. My talented publicist, Jessica Lawrence, did her job and successfully pitched the idea for it. I had to do my part and write it.
But no matter how many times I tell myself to focus on what’s important and what’s realistic, I can’t help but asking (Jessica, cover your ears): “How about a book party? And seriously, what about Oprah?”
Jamie Brickhouse is the author of the memoir Dangerous When Wet, due out April 28 from St. Martin’s. He is also the founder of RedBrick Agency, a speakers’ bureau for authors.