Competing with Midgets: A Tall Order

After a book I wrote was accepted for publication, I received an eight-page questionnaire from the company’s publicist. She wanted more information about me than my doctor asks for. Who was the book’s primary audience? Who did I know in the media who might be interested in reviewing the book? Have I ever appeared on TV or radio?  Have I ever done book signings, and if so, where? Give the name and addresses of people who might be willing to make a comment, or who might order a dozen copies for their class, or who might pass it on to Oprah Winfrey or Don Imus or Larry King. On and on and on.

I looked at the form and decided: no. Not for me. Not this time. I’ve been through this seven times already and it’s just too depressing.  None of this stuff really matters, because no matter who I know or who someone else knows, my experience is always the same: the books won’t be in the bookstore. They never are. Well, I shouldn’t use the plural. A book will be in a number of bookstores. One book. It won’t be stacked high like the Harry Potter or Stephen King books. It will be on the third floor on some hidden shelf where no one ever goes.

I’m not being overly cynical. I’m just being realistic. In the time it would take me to fill out the form, I could be well on my way into the writing of my next book. Which will bring me another questionnaire that I will refuse to fill out. And, upon publication, will depress me again for a few weeks.

It used to be that when your book got published you’d be proud of the achievement. I remember when my first book came out and I flew to New York to appear on some TV shows. I wore a sport jacket and a cap. I strutted as I walked, looking sideways at myself reflected in store windows. I was an author. I had written a book. I had joined the ranks of James Joyce and Herman Melville and Dante and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was on my way.

But that feeling doesn’t last long. It comes back when the next book gets published. And the next. But after that, instead of looking forward to publication one begins to want to ignore what will happen. If the book comes out and it gets reviewed in a few dozen newspapers and magazines and the talk shows ask you to come on, you’ve got a chance. But that doesn’t happen too often, except in one’s fantasies.  After seven books however, the fantasy stops occurring.  You know what to expect.

When my first book on Truman Capote came out I saw it in the window of a bookstore on Madison Avenue in New York. I went in and asked if they’d like me to sign it. “Then we can’t return it if it doesn’t sell,” the clerk told me. Upon my return to California, I went to a Barnes & Noble in the San Fernando Valley where one seventy-year-old lady asked me why I would write about such a meshugenah instead of someone like Jacqueline Suzanne?

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