I’ve been doing research on how to sell my books. They’re selling, but not in the kinds of numbers I would like. Let me put it this way: John Grisham and Dean Koontz are still safe at the top of the best seller list, but since I would like to join them there (maybe have a beer with them at the Algonquin, quote some Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott, trash some living novelists, lament the passing of deceased legends, laugh at the buffoons in congress, that sort of thing) I’ve been combing the internet for advice. So far I’ve learned two things.
One is that I need to tell people they don’t have to own a Kindle to download my books; they can be downloaded onto your PC or Apple or Notebook or iPad or iPod or smart phone or whatever. Having told you that, I have now exhausted my store of knowledge on the topic because other than an antediluvian desktop computer, I don’t own any of those things and don’t have a clue how to do any of that stuff. Turning the television on frequently exceeds my technological know-how, but assuming you’re more computer savvy than I—a safe assumption, unless you’re on life support in an assisted living facility—it is apparently easy to do.
The other thing is a little more problematic. All the sites I visited made it clear that it is vital, it is imperative, I sing my own praises and tell you how brilliant my writing is. I have to sell myself, in other words.
That could be a problem. For one thing, I was raised in a family where, if you won the Nobel or the Pulitzer or an Olympic gold medal, you were supposed to say, “Aw, shucks, I don’t really deserve it,” and then hide the medal away in a drawer to be discovered, after your death, by stunned and mystified grandchildren.
For another thing, selling anything is not precisely my forte.
When I was first trying to make my living as an actor in New York, I reached a stage where I began to despair of ever having a career other than waiting on tables or catching shoplifters, neither of which paid very well or suited my particular talents, and I began to think about alternate ways of earning a living. My sister—bless her—tried to help. In college, she had dated a young man named Stefan Jovanovich whose father was the Jovanovich in the publishing company then known as Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Mr. Jovanovich, the father, was very fond of my sister and at her urging offered me a job.
Always the practical and down-to-earth realist, I think I had visions of myself as another Maxwell Perkins, making indecent pots of money reading and encouraging brilliant writers as I shaped the future of American literature from a tasteful brownstone on the Upper East Side, smiling quietly to myself in elegant restaurants as I overheard people say, “Of course, you know that novel wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it hadn’t been for Jameson Parker.”
Well, not exactly. I was offered a position in their magazine division. Their trade magazine division. Specifically, a trade periodical that catered to manufacturers of women’s underwear, surely a niche market if there ever was one. And worst of all, there was no copy editing or rewriting or anything even remotely creative. My job was to sell advertising space. I spent my days wandering around the garment district, looking for dreary buildings, going into dreary offices, where dreary and irritable men manufactured titillating items like the little metal clips that fasten brassieres. My sales technique was masterful. I would tentatively open the door and with great diffidence poke my head in. The same man was always sitting at every desk in every office in every building. He was always overweight, he was always balding, he always smoked, he always had a grayish cast to his skin. He was never glad to see me.
“Hi. Um, say, excuse me, uh, you wouldn’t like to maybe buy some advertising space, would you?”
He always agreed with me. He wouldn’t. Sometimes he even helped me cut right to the chase before I could finish the question: “Beat it, kid.”
At the end of six weeks I had not managed to sell one inch of advertising space, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Trade Publications Division, decided they could stagger on without me. I was fired.
So now I’m supposed to do the old razzle-dazzle and convince you that your life will be a hollow and meaningless wasteland if you don’t buy all my books, possibly even multiple copies, and then recommend them to everyone you have ever met in your entire life.
Um, say, excuse me, uh, did you happen to catch any of the Olympics?