In the Martin Scorsese-produced documentary “The Last Waltz” – which features the last concert by The Band – Scorsese at one point interviews bassist Rick Danko, who is giving a tour of the group’s recording studio, “Shangri-La.”
He tells Scorsese, as the two are followed by the operator of a hand-held camera, that the place used to be a “bordello,” and that he’s heard some funny stories. Ostensibly, the converted studio was now being used for something more noble, namely, music.
Somehow –I know, don’t ask me exactly why – I was reminded of this scene last week when I had dinner with an old friend, now retired from the publicity business. I could always count on my friend for some funny stories of our time in the Christian publishing business, which at various times one could think of as a bordello, or at least the money changers in the temple.
Perhaps too often, I lament the state of the industry and “go negative,” as one reader accuses me, so this week I’ll just say that we’ll have some fun with it and I’ll relate a few of these stories from the file of a recovering publicist.
Over an exotic meal (which I won’t identify so that there is no possibility I could reveal the identity of my buddy, who lives in a very exotic corner of America), I heard some hilarious stuff. Over the years, when we would see each other at conventions and what-not, I’d beg my friend for some new material. He had seen and heard it all over a long career of representing authors, many of them “big-time.”
I’ll start with one fairly tame tale – I don’t think it’s uncommon in the publishing industry, really. Let me preface it by saying that the irony of “authors” not being able to adequately market their own books because they haven’t read them is mind-altering. At least that’s what I think.
And notice, I said, “haven’t read them.” You see, the irony and decadence of our publishing Shangri-La is that it’s a given that many famous people do not write their own books. It’s a fine line between legitimate ghostwriting and unethical, but there it is. The toothy fellow grinning maniacally at you from the slick cover of a hot new release probably doesn’t have to write his own name, ever – they have “people” for that – but the idea that said personality actually pecks out a manuscript on an old Royal (or MacBook Air) is ludicrous and itself material for a stand-up routine.
My friend told me numerous stories of authors being interviewed, live-on-the-air, and not having the foggiest how to answer hosts’ questions. Why? Again, there’s the tiny matter of knowing your own material. Presumably, one would know enough basic facts about one’s own life to comment semi-intelligently on that, but when those pesky radio hosts ask penetrating questions like, “Why did you write this book?” that’s when the train often runs off the tracks.
My friend related a story of a famous personality who was actually doing an in-studio interview with two very well-known DJs. They told my publicist friend later that the personality would respond to their specific questions about his latest blockbuster book (I think it had something to do with improving relationships, always an uncommon topic; alert: tongue-in-cheek) and he would respond by looking out the window, mumbling and running his hand up and down the drapes.
The whole thing was a disaster, and at the very least, an opportunity was lost to promote the book. You see, the personality obviously had not written the book, but he didn’t even have the good sense to skim it and prep for interviews.
Another one: My friend had worked for some time to book a huge radio interview with an up-and-coming author. When I say “up-and-coming,” you understand that I mean, he had the potential to really launch a fine career.
Publicists, you should know, rarely sleep or take vacations, because the old Blackberry is always working: interview booked, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Vampires fear the sunlight, publicists fear missed interviews. There are phone numbers and backup phone numbers, etc.
The day of the big interview came … and went. Author was a no-show! Popping antacid tablets, my friend pleaded for forgiveness from an irate radio host, whose audience numbered in the millions.
Finally, my friend reached the author’s assistant, who seemed oblivious to the damage he’d caused. Oh, his reason for missing the interview? Emergency haircut.
Here is the exact quote: “X is ‘sorry,’ [quote marks added] but he had to get an emergency haircut.”
My friend bellowed, “What is an emergency haircut?”
It really doesn’t matter what it is, does it? The whole sad story is pretty hilarious, really. It reveals, though, a shallowness that afflicts many “authors,” who in reality exist to make money for themselves and publishers. It isn’t that they have anything really important to say, but they all continue to fool the buying public, many of whom truly lead lives of quiet desperation and only hope for wisdom and relief from Personality X.
Another time, my friend ran into a similar fiasco – missed interview – and when he finally reached Famous Author on her cell … she responded to the tirade by explaining that she had been “reflecting in the park.”
Reflecting in the park?
It’s a perfectly legitimate pursuit, even a fine hobby, but to “reflect in the park” while you should be on a major radio show is shortsighted at best.
There are other stories, but I’ll save them for later. For now, I hope you will learn the lesson that if you are fortunate enough to land a publishing contract, you will endeavor to hold up your end of the bargain. If you are unpublished, but hope to be someday, start your career now by resolving to be responsible and disciplined in all aspects of your writing career, including publicity.
Reflect on that.