Thursday, October 16, 2008

Advertising: It is Not for the Weak

Skipping ahead quite a bit here ... bringing you up to about the last three weeks. Essentially, as you will learn later, once I start backtracking once again, I was on my own as far as marketing and promoting my book was concerned. I spent exactly one year as a Promotions Associate with a publisher. I knew what I was doing. (Unfortunately, that was almost 20 years ago and the world has changed only slightly since then).

I had a reading scheduled for Oct. 29. So I had some posters and postcards printed up to promote the thing. This ran me somewhere north of $200. Well. So I start tacking up posters, mostly around my neighborhood. If you have never hung posters before, I can assure you that it is a very time-consuming labor intensive process. The first time, I used packing tape and hung about 20 posters, mostly at the bases of lampposts and small utility hubs. They came down within 24 hours.

I upgraded to a homemade glue -- Elmers and water -- a sort of wash that would adhere the posters in the back and I could slap some in front for extra adhesion. I worked my way uptown to where the reading was actually being held. As I squatted and proceeded to pour some of my concoction on the back of a poster, I noticed a cop helping people cross Connecticut Ave., which can be very busy at rush hour. I watched him very carefully and when I thought he was out of sight, carried on with my business.

It was one of those scenes -- almost cliché -- right out of a movie. As I proceeded to stick up my last poster at the base of yet another street lamp, I happened to gaze up and catch sight of Johnnie Law. About three feet from me. Watching me. First his feet, then, as I raised my head ever so slowly, I espied his furrowed brow and petulant eyes. He might as well have been slapping his nightstick into his beefy palm to make the cliché complete.

"What are we hanging?" he said.

I stumbled but finally managed to utter: "Um. I wrote this book. And, I'm, uh, having a reading ... uh .. in there ... uh ... in a couple weeks." I pointed to the library not 20 feet away.

"Uh-huh," he said. He glanced quickly at the poster and said, "Well, I'm not gonna bust your balls over that."

Then, as a sort of afterthought, he said, "What's your book about?"

This is a very tricky question--one I've been struggling with since before its publication. It's not a book you can sum up in a sentence or two. "Well," I said. "It's about a guy ... whose father dies." The cop narrowed his eyes.

"And," I said, "his wife leaves him."

The cop started to cross the street and looked over his shoulder. "Sounds like Life 101," he said.

I swallowed hard and got out of there as quickly as possible.