Anyone Can Escape
So … book publicity. People ask about it all the time — how do you publicize a book? Will you go on a book tour? How many cities? What is it like?
What would you do to promote your book?
The last question reminds me of what my friend Buck O’Neil used to say when asked how fast the great Negro Leagues player Cool Papa Bell was. He would say: “Faster than that!”
What would an author do to promote her/his book?
More than that!
The first book I ever publicized wasn’t actually my book. It was a book The Kansas City Star published when baseball star George Brett was elected into The Baseball Hall of Fame, and it had a few dozen of the newspapers stories written about George through the years, including some of my own. The Star folks then asked me to write the introduction essay, which I happily did. For this they put my name on the book.
And so, when the book came out, I was asked to do my very first book signing. What excitement! It was at a small bookstore in the mall — this was when they had small bookstores in malls. I was given a small card table with a couple of book on it, and I sat outside the store for two hours and just watched people walk by. Nobody stopped. Nobody looked my way. I sold exactly zero books.
Well, wait, I said nobody stopped — that’s not true. Three people did. One wanted to know where the bathroom was.
The other two wanted to be sure I knew that I was not George Brett.
Things admittedly have gotten better since then but one thing that doesn’t change: Book publicity takes some bulldozing. Some hustle. Some hype, some blitz, some selling and, yes, some willingness to be embarrassed. These are not necessarily strong suits of mine; I’d prefer to stand back in the corner and watch the world go by.
But I got some advice from my book agent and dear friend Sloan Harris a few years ago that went something like this: People will help but NOBODY will ever care as much about your book as you do. That sounds negative but it isn’t — there are amazing people who are out there right now promoting The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. One of them is Avid Reader’s indescribably awesome deputy publicity director Jordan Rodman*. Our whole family is hopelessly in love with her; she LOVES magic and cares deeply about this book, and we couldn’t feel luckier to be working with Jordan.
*Yes, she really was named after the Bulls basketball duo and her father seriously considered making her middle name “Pippen.”
But, still, it’s my book, it’s two-plus years of my life, it’s hundreds of my sleepless nights and anxious days and countless hours of staring at a blank screen wondering if any of this is going to work. So, no, if I’m not willing to be out there risking a little embarrassment to tell people how wonderful this book is, how much fun it is and how I think maybe it tells us a little something about wonder and the time we’re in now, well, nobody will.
You have probably watched the video on top. I’ll get to that in a second.
First, let me tell you about the Houdini book tour — I’ve done tours for each of my first four books, and they were all great fun. But I will tell you: The tour for The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini will be unlike anything I’ve ever done. I’m shaking with excitement about it. Jordan and company are still working out the cities so I don’t have any details just yet; hopefully I’ll be at a city near you (and you can talk to your local bookstore if you would like).
But let me just tell you that we are lining up an amazing collection of guest stars to appear with me at these events. I’m serious: It’s AMAZING the people who have agreed to join me on this tour. You will absolutely love it. And I cannot wait.
I’ll give you more details on that when things begin to clear up.
For now, let me tell you about the video. It’s a family affair. My wife Margo shot it. Our younger daughter, Katie, stars in it and did the editing. Our older daughter Elizabeth hid in her room and is now telling people she doesn’t know me.
And that is me, yes, willing to look impossibly dumb (and succeeding!) but actually escaping from a straitjacket. What would I be willing to do to get word out about this book that I love so much? Right. More than that.