Picture of Vera Jane Cook

Vera Jane Cook

The Maddening Maze of Book Marketing

Naivety has always been my downfall. I believed in Santa Claus, poltergeists and the good tooth fairy. I accepted at face value that all people are created equal, even the ones who kick over your sand castles and promise to love you forever. I trusted the stock broker that took my money, the job that offered security and the political party that promised not to raise my taxes. For me, Rhett Butler returned to his feisty and beloved Scarlet, Heathcliff spent eternity in Catherine’s arms, and in heaven, Vincent Van Gogh found a palette of paints and an angel who soothed his troubled soul. In my perfectly naïve world, men don’t cheat, friends don’t leave and the good do not die young.

Phooey on me, right? I deserve the truth. How can anyone be dumb enough to believe its easy. Well, I did … because some things are. Look, I can always find a deal at Felines, adopt a puppy with sad eyes and zip. I can take a walk through Central Park and get all dreamy poetic over falling leaves. I can tune in to Chris Botti on my ipod and rise above it all, float away on notes. Easy living at dusk.

Life is good even when it isn’t. The words of a cock-eyed optimist. I come home to good food, fine wine and snuggly pillows. Who could ask for more? I also come home to a snuggly partner who keeps me abreast of life’s gossip. No complaints. And in my future there will always be another bend in the road to follow, another book to read, another like-minded soul to know.

So why complicate it all by writing a book of my own? Passion is the only thing I can come up with. Punishment for believing in poltergeists and tooth fairies, I guess. The long genetic line of Irish writers who keep kicking my ass with lyricism, and blarney.

Writing the book was easy ─ a reaction to Corporate America, a life line in a sea of underwater aliens. But now what? Why complicate life by having to walk the maze of book marketing? It’s not bad enough that agents never come out of the woodwork to acknowledge my smiling face and my wordy little novel. Why should they? They’re too busy pigeon holing good writers into niches that don’t fit them to take your calls, answer your queries or throw you a crumb of their morning toast. And another thing! Publishers run with your book for years before publishing it. I’ve been waiting forever to hear the good word from two of them. At this point I’ll have a heart attack either way, yeah or nay, get her off the floor and dust her off, it was only time. Time is cheap, like talk ─ until it isn’t there anymore, then it’s priceless.

I mean life was really good before I wrote a book and then realized I wasn’t writing for the closet. Now I have to deal with PR firms that take your money and produce about one eighth of what you’d hoped for. Internet gurus that come out of the dark and promise millions of hits to your website. Everyone says: if only you wrote nonfiction, if only you were more well known, if only the tooth fairy wasn’t such a sham and could grant all your wishes, well then, their promises would all come true. I was even told by one PR firm that O Magazine wanted to mention my book but I had to let this PR firm republish my book for so many dollars, just to get it in the right year for a line or two in O. Little miss goody two shoes almost let them get away with it. Then I came to my senses: don’t trust the misbegotten.

One thing is clear, you are your own PR firm. Be prepared to control your choices, not the other way around. Speak to their present clients, demand results before you shell out the next installment of what they say you owe them. Did they earn it? There’s nothing wrong with spending money to promote yourself, the only wrong is in believing they are miracle workers. They are not. Whatever your budget is, control the people you hire to work for you or they really will take your money and run. The business end of writing is very difficult, but your success is in believing that your future is in your own hands.

Look, if you can’t afford Grisham’s managing firm, pass out bookmarks promoting your book, understand how to utilize the internet (this may take a few years) and promote yourself through reviews, readings, signings and library calls. Do tradeshows, book shows and conferences. Get the most bang for your buck. If you can afford it, hire a skywriter for goodness sakes. Bug Oprah, bug Hollywood, bug your Aunt Millie Tillie to tell all her friends.

I will be promoting my second book this January. What, am I nuts? Well, like I said, passion and the Irish ghosts still quoting Oscar Wilde and Dylan in my ear. The writing is easy, the reality of the maze you walk afterwards, now there’s the rub ─ your little book under your arm, hope in your little literary heart ─ dreams of sitting on Oprah’s couch talking Tina Turner and what it’s like to be an older woman on the threshold of a blockbuster success ─ this is the fuel in your over zealous imagination that drives your fantasy.

Come down to earth, Ms. Writer. Anyway, my next book, due out in January: Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough is based on tales my mother told me, and she was the blarney Queen, so you get the picture. The book has a sequel due out this spring, three generations of women and about as autobiographical in fiction that I will ever get … I think.

I hope you will all read it and pass on a good word. The best promotion of all are the people who think you have something to say and like the way you say it.

By the way, I still believe in poltergeists, tooth fairies are responsible for a good deal of my laughter, and all my sandcastles are still standing.

Best to you all.