[Note: I wrote this almost two years ago, but I still think this is relevant and heartfelt and hopefully helpful to those who read it. And shit.]
So I guess I am still in the middle of promoting my latest book, and I would like to pass along some tips or reminders in the form of Don’ts for y’all out there if your book is coming out soon. Don’ts are as good, if not better, than Do’s for this writer; perhaps it’s the whole I-went-to-Catholic-school-for-the-full-12-years thing, or I just like to be bossed around; in any case, for some of you, these items are understood, for others it may be useful. In no particular order, here we go.
1. Don’t worry about the niche until the niche finds you. And it’s all about niches. I wrote prose pieces for years until I figured out that there was some realization that what I was writing would be classified and filed as Humor in a bookstore. To work backwards from this—looking at the Humor shelf in a bookstore, then write a book—would be murder for me. And for you. But don’t take this niche-riffing from me; see Bob Lefsetz, who says there is no mainstream, just a bunch of niches.
2. Go ahead have a gimmicky title, but don’t take it too seriously. And don’t take seriously people who do. People title things to grab people’s attention, but that’s it. Rarely is it more than that (exceptions: The Bible, Dictionary, Thesaurus). The people who take titles too seriously, by and large, are reviewers—professional or amateur—who riff on the title in their reviews. How to Be Inappropriate is just that—a title. It’s neither how-to nor instructional manual. I am guilty of this myself as a reviewer (see the lede of my review of Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography here), but I like to think I use such riffs only for same purpose as authors’ entitling—an attention-grabber.
3. Don’t rely on yourself as a proofreader. Hire a proofreader, barter with one, massage one, bribe one. Your publisher will proof your work after you turn in the manuscript, but no matter how clean your copy is, they won’t catch it all.
4. Don’t proofread your own galleys. You know that proofreader from Don’t #3? Get someone like that person again. So your book looks perfect because it’s all in a different font and there are pages numbers, right? Wrong. Also: If you’re sick of your book by then, it’s probably not a good book.
5. Don’t ask famous strangers for blurbs. Ask people who tell you beforehand that they like what you do. And ask them personally. Don’t rely on your publisher to do that; most are nice about it and want to ask people on your behalf, but my experience–as well as others I have known over the years—is that it’s best to keep this inorganic experience of asking jacket-mentioners as organic as possible.
6. Don’t read from your book at readings, by which I mean physical copy of the book. Reading directly from a book is death to most of us with any kind of eye condition.People do this all the time, and so do I. But, if you’re as near-sighted as I am, or use any kind of corrective vision, most likely reading from a book while standing up with lights on you is not the way to do it. So: Print out your pieces in 14-point writing with ample margins.
7. Don’t read from another book at readings, by which I mean physical or otherwise. You know how writers, who are on tour in support of their new book, don’t read from their new book? How they say, “you know, I am going to read from something new tonight”? Don’t fucking do that. People came to hear you read from your new book. Read the new stuff when you’re not the main attraction, out loud to your partner in bed, or put it up on YouTube. See that stack of copies of your new book on the table the bookstore person put there? Read from that.
8. Don’t take reviews too seriously, good or bad. This especially applies to all the depressed or neurotic people out there; which, if you’re a writer, you most likely are. I have had more than my share of bad reviews over the years, and also more than my share of great reviews. The trouble I have experienced is that I have no capacity for storing up the boost I get from the good ones to counter-act the bad ones when they arrive; nor have I, thankfully, developed the capacity to retain the dread entirely from bad reviews to rain on the good reviews’ parade. I just ride the wave of whatever review is out at that moment. For a writer to think he or she is as good or bad as their last review or blog comment is just madness. Don’t do that shit I do.
9. Don’t give away your books. Sell them. When my first two books, God Save My Queen and God Save My Queen II, came out, I was more than happy to give them away or sell them at cost. I think I was just happy to have a book. I ran around like Rip Taylor with a bucket of confetti and gave out copies to anyone who looked at me. Don’t do that. People will buy your books, trust me.
9a. Do give out free stuff. Give people posters, balloons, condoms, bottle openers. Fold-up dolls of yourself (see above). Just not your books.
10. Don’t feel guilty not having your event at the local indie bookstore. Some indie bookstores are great, but here’s the thing: a good number of them suck. Or they don’t cater to the kind of readers you are looking for. Or they don’t promote their events. Or people don’t go to events there. So: do it at a bar, church, expository writing class, or living room (Stephen Elliott‘s story is the go-to for some of this).
11. Don’t, for fuck’s sake, forget to time your readings. I used to do this, and wish I did it more. Sometimes it really counts. I recently took part in a Literary Death Match, which requires readers to not read more than seven (7) minutes. If you go over, you are penalized. I went over. Why? I didn’t practice and time my reading. Even if you are not taking part in a competitive Death Match, you should know how long it takes to read whatever it is you are reading. That being said,
11. Don’t read more than 15 minutes. Any longer than that is a hostage situation.
12. Don’t drink more than one drink before your reading, by which I mean booze. There’s plenty of time afterward to get blasted.
13. Don’t forget that all this is supposed to be fun and joyful. Use gimmicks. Hug people. Remember the times you were writing the book and had rushes of joy from putting words and sentences together. Have a friend play guitar and sing a song that has to do with your book before you read. Wear a silly outfit. Readings and events and books are fun, remember? I’ll try if you do.