Question of the Week: Worst Promotional Experience
This week's question for PBBC authors has to do with the promotion of their books, either at a reading or while being interviewed. Something they gritted your teeth through and laughed about later.
My “terrible” experience wasn’t so much terrible as it was terrifying. Before my book was even out and we weren’t yet working from home, I was sitting at my desk at FOX Sports. As 5 p.m. rolled around, I got ready to go take a call on what I assumed was a New York radio show.
I had been connected to the show’s producer via my publisher, and had been preparing all day to be on such a big show. With my promotional appearances starting to ramp up, however, I overlooked the fact that MSG 150 was, in fact, a TV channel.
When I dialed in and was connected to a producer by video on my phone, I saw a control room in her background and quickly realized my mistake. Luckily, I was not notably underdressed, being at work, but still had only a few minutes to compose myself and prepare for an interview on live television in New York.
In the end, it was a great opportunity. I stumbled a bit out of the gate due to my surprise, but am able to laugh about it afterwards.
My worst experience was releasing my book in the middle of a pandemic. Totally unique, too.
When I was promoting my Dick Allen book (God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen), I was a guest on a Cincinnati morning-drive radio program. The host and I spoke for about a minute before we went live — he was as nice as could be and very complimentary. When the show returned from commercial, however, he became the biggest asshole I'd ever met. He attacked Allen for almost a minute before allowing me to speak. When I finally did get a word in, he cut me off, essentially questioning my sanity for even thinking that Allen was a worthy subject to write about. This went on and on. Fun times.
During a phone interview to promote The New Baseball Bible, the radio station suffered a series of technical snafus that prompted the host to keep interrupting the interview by asking his producer why he couldn't hear, and asking me whether I could hear. To compound the technological felony, the interviewer seemed totally unprepared, admitted he didn't know anything about baseball, and asked me several times to repeat my name and the name of my book. Then he gave me his cell number and invited me back during 2021 spring training. Fool me once, okay. Fool me twice, maybe. But three times? I think not.
There was the TV host who strolled into the studio for our segment literally 15 seconds before the on-air light flashed, gave me a quick nod, grabbed the book from my hands, offered a perfunctory introduction in which he misread the book’s title, then asked me five minutes’ worth of lame questions that he made up in real time by scanning the copy on the back jacket.
There was the radio host who, having clearly not read the book, ran down chapter titles one at a time, saying, “Tell me about that,” over and over.
But my worst experience was also the most enlightening. It was literally the first radio interview I did for the first book I wrote, and the host asked me a pointed question that made no sense, detailing a story from the book that simply didn’t exist. I’d never heard the story. The character involved didn’t even appear in my book. I had no idea what he was talking about, which I politely informed him. I could feel his face redden over the telephone line and he cut the interview off right there.
When I asked my publicist about this later, she gave me an answer that continues to be useful. “If you don’t have an answer to a question,” she said, “just answer a different question that you do have the answer to. It doesn’t really matter what you’ve been asked.”
I’ve used this crutch numerous times over the years, and it works. Ultimately, Radio Guy wants as much compelling content as he can get; whether or not he prompted it is strictly ancillary.
My major book signing at the legendary Foley's bar in NYC was cancelled due to COVID, and when you are self-publishing, those events are real difference-makers. To add insult to injury, COVID soon after forced the closure of Foley's.
D. B. Firstman
In October 2011, exactly zero people showed up for a would-be book-signing and chat in downtown San Francisco. Man, did I feel worthless.
My mood improved when my girlfriend Julie arrived to cheer me up. We repaired to Tosca, a formerly great bar near North Beach, where I guzzled double Scotches and she downed chocolate martinis. We ultimately ended up at Gino & Carlo’s in North Beach, where Carol Doda happened to be hanging out. Carol is as much of a San Francisco institution as the Golden Gate Bridge (some might say Twin Peaks, but I don’t want to lapse into inappropriate territory).
The subject of my book, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, is also the inspiration behind Penny Marshall's iconic 1992 film, A League of Their Own. The movie is responsible for making the world aware of the league, and for that it is priceless. But I wanted to dive deeper and share the real history and stories beyond Marshall's somewhat fictionalized telling.
Shortly after my book came out, I was invited onto a sports radio talk show to promote it. The appearance happened to be on my 40th birthday, something the producer of the show thought noteworthy enough to pass along to the two male hosts — who, when announcing me as the guest, said it was my birthday, then jokingly speculated about my age ... and my weight.
When my segment started, one of the hosts announced that in preparation for our interview he’d watched A League of Their Own. The movie has been the universal point of reference on the subject for more than 25 years, so some comparisons are understandable, but it became immediately clear that neither host had so much as glanced at my book; every question was about the movie. It took just about everything I had to restrain myself from saying, "You know that I didn't make the movie right? I'm here because I wrote a book."
I wouldn't call it a terrible experience, but certainly annoying and embarrassing ... for them.
My phone battery died during a radio interview. I had to wait until it charged and call the producer back. They were able to record the ending, but that moment was frustrating and embarrassing.
One of the sad realities of being a non-famous book author in 2020 is that 98 percent of the time spent on a book is not actually spent writing the book. You essentially become the CEO/CFO/CMO/middle manager/intern of a company of one, which means you have to do almost all of your own promotion. I generally enjoy talking about my book, but it is hard, often tedious work trying to get eyeballs on your baby.
One day I had a series of about 12 radio interviews lined up, many of them back-to-back. These are quick, one-segment conversations in which the morning DJ is usually named after some animal (Bernie The Bear! The Jackal!) and hasn't read your book. You get the same set of questions over and over: What's your book about? Did you chew the gum?
In the middle of one of these marathon days, I had a spot with a wizened DJ who clearly didn't give three shits about my book. He didn't just mail it in, he sent it media mail. The interview literally consisted of him opening my book and reading the title of each chapter from the table of contents and then saying, "Tell me about that." I should have just had fun with it and talked about the 1981 Dodgers or something the whole time. Or something nobody cares about, like the origin story of Dodger Stadium. (Just checking to see if Jason and Eric read these.)[Ed note: Jason not only reads these, but wrote about that selfsame host in his segment.]