The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs: An expletive-laced mention in Library Journal

Library Journal - the journal for librarians everywhere - mention my upcoming novel with some surprisingly explicit language. 

But in a good way. 

I'm thrilled, of course. After my wife and children and the New England Patriots and the person who makes my Egg McMuffin every day, librarians are my favorite people. 

This author found a way to sell books with sticks and leaves and a little bit of twine.

Last weekend I took my children to Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut, to a Fairy House Tour. I had never heard of such a thing and had no idea what to expect.

I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. But it was brilliant.

Based upon author Tracy Kane’s Fairy Houses series, local organizations were invited to construct elaborate fairy houses from natural materials that were then placed throughout the woods for the children to find and examine. There must’ve been three or four dozen houses in all, each one more elaborate than the next.

The kids adored it.


At the end of the trail, the kids were given the opportunity to build their own fairy houses using materials provided by the camp.

The event culminated with a reading at the entrance to the trail and a book signing. A brilliant bit of marketing by the author, who sold many books.

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It led me to wonder what I might do to similarly market my books.

Invite people to recreate life-sized versions of their imaginary friends and bring them to a Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend cocktail party?

Create a Something Missing book club game wherein each guest is sent into a room and tasked with stealing an item that would go unnoticed?

Design an Unexpectedly, Milo online game wherein players watch video diaries in order to determine the biography of the person speaking?

None are nearly as good as a Fairy House tour, I’m afraid.

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I’m launching an email newsletter. What should be included?

The publishing Gods (Jane Friedman and many others) have declared that the most important tool that an author has for building a platform and marketing a book is a strong mailing list and a regular newsletter. 


Having used a mailing list as the sole means of promoting Speak Up, our Hartford-based storytelling organization, I have come to understand the power of this seemingly old fashioned form of marketing. We have sold out every one of our shows simply through the power of an email.

I’ve been collecting email addresses for more than five years. There’s a place on my website and blog to enter your email for my mailing list, and this somewhat annoying field disappears once you have signed up. After five years, I have a surprisingly large mailing list.

The question is what to include in a newsletter.

Here are my ideas so far:

  • Links to the top 3 blog posts from the previous week, with commentary about reactions to the post when appropriate
  • Updates on upcoming storytelling and speaking appearances
  • Links to any recent videos of me performing for The Moth, TED and similar organizations
  • An update on the progress of my books and any behind-the-scenes peeks into the publishing world that I could provide.

Do you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see included in a newsletter from someone like me? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Since I write a blog and post regularly, I’m looking for content that does not appear already on the blog. Something different and special that will make people open the newsletter when it arrives in their inbox.

The experts say I should be sending a newsletter to my readers at least once a month, and preferably one a week. I ‘m considering splitting the difference and sending one every other week.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well.

Making a defeat look like a win

MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND did not win the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award. Being nominated was an honor, of course, and making it to the finals was thrilling, but the book finished ninth behind such bestselling authors as JK Rowling, Junot Diaz and Emily Giffin.

However, it  also beat books by bestselling authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon and Peter Heller.

Overall, this is what is known as a defeat.

However, Little Brown UK has made my defeat look more like a victory with this sticker that they have placed on the British e-book.

If someone could make yesterday’s unsightly New England Patriots loss look equally appealing to me, it would be greatly appreciated.  


Gender equality doesn’t always make good business sense

I’ve recently been debating a friend over the new Carter’s children’s clothing commercials that feature the tagline, “When a child is born, so is a mom.”

She argues on her blog:

I’m more than just a little bit curious. When a child is born, only a mom is born? Only a mom? I turned to my husband and said, “I thought when a child was born, that’s when you became a dad.” He nodded in approval mostly to appease me because he knows tag lines that deprecate fathers (and parents of all kinds) annoy me.  This sort of emotional pandering by just about every company out there exhausts and infuriates me. I’m just getting over the P&G Summer Olympics campaign that basically credited only moms with the success of Olympic athletes.  What about the fathers?  Better yet, why not credit parents in general and not just mothers?

As a father, I recognize the fact that when my daughter was born, I also became a father, but the Carter’s commercial is merely an attempt by a corporation to maximize their ad revenue.

As I explained to my friend, more than 95% of Carter’s purchases are made by women, so their new ad campaign targets mothers for good reason. They are appealing to their primary consumer. If I were a stockholder in Carter’s, I would be pleased with this targeting of ad revenue.

My friend has argued that perhaps Carter’s should also be interested in expanding its customer base, but here is where I disagree with her completely. If Carter’s somehow managed to create an ad that convinced fathers that they should play a larger role in the purchasing of children’s clothing, revenues for the company would not increase. Only the face of the customer would change. It’s not as if parents would suddenly require more children’s clothing, nor would they be willing to expand their clothing budgets to accommodate Dad’s newfound love for purchasing rompers. Fathers would simply begin spending a larger portion of the clothing budget, yielding no additional sales for Carter’s.

In fact, one might argue that forcing this shift from female dominated purchasing to a more equitable model might decrease sales, as I know many fathers who would be willing to put their infant in a simple onesie and call it a day. While I don’t have any data to support this assertion, I’m fairly certain that if given the choice, Carter’s would prefer that mothers do the majority of the shopping, as they are more likely to spend more on their children's clothing.

Not to mention the impact that a shift in purchasing would have on mothers. While many mothers might assert that they would be perfectly willing to trust the clothing shopping to their husbands, I do not believe this for a second. Women enjoy shopping for their children’s clothing. It’s a right of passage for mothers. As children, women spent years dressing dolls in an endless array of outfits, preparing for the day when this fantasy might become a reality. For the vast majority of mothers in the world, the idea that their husband might take over the purchasing of their children’s clothing, and especially their infant and toddler’s clothing, would horrify them.

Carter’s commercials make sense. They seek to maximize profit, which is what every stockholder wants from its company. Carter’s has no obligation to ensure that fathers feel good about their roles as parents and is not required to portray fathers in an equally glowing light. Their job is to sell clothing by driving customers into their stores, so they created ads that would appeal to the vast majority of their potential consumers. Increasing the number of male consumers in their stores would not yield increased revenue. Instead, they must find ways to bring women into their store who might otherwise shop at Target, Walmart and the like. 

The exclusion of fathers from these commercials may hurt our feelings, but this would only be the case if we cared about such things.

Most of us don’t.

And since fathers rarely purchase children’s clothing, most of us don’t even notice these commercials when they air.

The only people watching Carter’s commercials are the people who Carter’s wants watching them: Moms.

My unglamorous self

The Hartford Courant ran a piece about me today. I have yet to purchase a newspaper, but my friend was kind enough to send me a photo of the story as it appears in the paper.


My favorite part of the piece is the photo of me writing at the table in all my unglamorous glory: sleeping baby at my feet, Big Gulp by my side, a table scattered with papers and toys and mail awaiting my attention. 

The next time someone tells me that they can only write in a coffee shop with their beverage of choice on a MacBook Air between the hours of 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM, I’m going to suggest that they be a little less precious about the time and location and method of writing and a little more precious about getting actual words on the page.

I am not a Starbucks zombie.

I recently read in the Harvard Business Review that Starbucks seeks to train its customers at nearly the same level as its employees. This is why a Starbucks cashier will convert my request for a medium coffee into a grande when passing the order onto the barista.

It’s not for the barista’s benefit (since everyone knows what a medium is). It’s to teach the customer to use the word grande next time. Starbucks hopes that engraining its culture into customers will increase brand loyalty. Use of the special Starbucks language is just one of the ways of doing this.


According to Starbucks, this type of training works on 95% of its customers. Only the most oppositional 5% of customers will reject this training entirely.

I am only a Starbucks customer in that I frequently purchase coffee for my wife and an occasional blueberry cake for myself.

But I am most assuredly in the oppositional 5%.

I can’t help it. I’m just jerky that way.

Cat Stevens taught me that authors should not act like jerks.

I have a more-than-slight tendency to act like a jerk. I can be biting, sarcastic, oppositional, confrontational, aggravating, nonconforming, and disagreeable. My mother referred to me as The Instigator.

I like to think that over the years, this tendency has become less pronounced, This is because I have learned to restrain myself. I have chosen to become more civil. I try desperately to be more polite. I have made the conscious decision to not express every thought and idea that comes to mind.

This is not to say that I am the model of civility. I am probably still more outspoken, opinionated and potentially offensive than most people would prefer. I still consistently express controversial and nonconformist ideas. In many ways, these ideas are the fuel that fire many  of the things that I write.

But I am a much more civil and reasoned person than I was ten years ago. I measure my words much more carefully today.

Part of this has been a natural, albeit exceedingly slow, maturing process.

Part of this has been a conscious decision on my part to choose my battles more wisely.

Part of it has been the positive influence of my wife, who is universally acknowledged to be the kindest, sweetest person on the planet (unless you cut her in line or attempt to cheat at Scrabble).

But part of it has also been my recognition that a reader’s perception of me as a person will likely impact his or her opinion of my books.

If a reader does not like the author as a person, the likelihood that he or she will not like the author’s books increases considerably, regardless of the quality of the story or the writing itself.

While this may not seem fair, it is undeniably true.

Cat Stevens taught me this.

I discovered Cat Stevens’ music more than a decade after he had recorded his final song, and I fell in love with it immediately. The folksy guitar sound and award-winning lyrics hooked me at once.

I think Oh Very Young and Peace Train are utterly perfect songs in a small, under-populated pantheon of perfect songs.

For a time, my personal theme song was Stevens’ Cant Keep It In (an homage to my inability to refrain from speaking my mind). Later, I changed my theme song to Stevens’ slightly less aggressive If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.

In the height of this personal adoration of his music, I learned about Stevens’ remarks supporting the fatwa against Salman Rushdie following Stevens' conversion to Islam.

These remarks, which Stevens later denied and then retracted, cast his music in a new and unfortunate light for me. A pall descended over something that I had once seen as beautiful and perfect, and though the actual songs had not changed, it seemed as if they had.

It makes no sense. If I love the music, why should the opinions of the artist make a difference to me? Great music is great music. I loved it without reservation yesterday. Why should today be any different?

But it was.

For many, and perhaps most people, their opinion of the artist will unavoidably impact their opinion of the work.

As an author, this is an important lesson to remember. We are in the business of expressing our opinions and ideas. Opinions and ideas are the capital by which we earn our living.

In my short time working in the publishing industry, I have met many authors.  The great majority have been incredibly kind, surprisingly humble, and endlessly generous people.

A few have not.

And whether I intended it to happen or not, my opinion of their work changed upon learning that they were not as nice as I had once hoped.

This is not to say that authors and other public figures should be disingenuous. I believe that honesty is the most important quality in any public figure, and authors, when expressing themselves, should keep this in the forefront of their minds.

Sometimes my absolute adherence to honesty still gets me in trouble.

But tied for a close second behind honesty should be qualities like thoughtfulness, nuance, politeness, civility, and respect.

These are qualities that I was lacking a decade ago.

Though I may sometimes come close to line in terms of being potentially rude and offensive in the ideas I express, I rarely step over the line today. I may operate close to or even on the line, but there there was a time in my life when I only existed on the other side of the line.

I have since learned that Cat Stevens has been recognized by organizations around the world as a philanthropist and humanitarian. His departure from music industry led him to a lifetime of good work on behalf of children and the poor around the world. This has pleased me immensely.

Recently Stevens returned to making music under his Muslim name, Yusuf Islam. His first album was released in 2009. I purchased it immediately.

It’s okay, but not close to the greatness of his earlier work.

Is this because I cannot help but allow his comments about Salman Rushdie to taint my opinion, even after Stevens retracted them?

I’m not sure.

And therein lies the problem of acting like a jerk. It’s impossible to know if your artistry is being harmed by your jerkiness.

So don’t be a jerk.

Be honest. Be forthright. Be opinionated. Be controversial.

But be respectful and polite, too. At least a little.

Does knowing the author make the book better?

I once wrote:

A book talk places the author in the position of salesperson. He can sell the product or sell himself. I believe the latter to be always preferable.

I have always believed that if I can offer an audience some insight about my life and a few laughs along the way, they will be more likely to read my book and like my book than if I had spent my time touting the book itself.

As a result, my book talks and speaking engagements tend to be storytelling sessions that do not focus so much on my books as they do on my life.

But I’ve often wondered if this is the best way to sell a book. While my choice of strategy is hardly new, I have noted over the years that some of the more prolific and best selling authors spend a great deal of time reading from their books while revealing little about themselves.

As a reader and audience member, I’ve wondered:

Am I the only person who wants to know more about the author than the book he or she is hocking?

NPR reported on a story that seems to support my position.

In an effort to get more attention for their band, record label Luaka Bop asked writer Chuck Klosterman to write a bio for the band Delicate Steve sight unseen.

Delicate-Steve The label’s President, Yale Evelev, wanted something different that would grab the music industries attention and get people to actually read it.

"I thought, since I'm really tired of bios for bands, wouldn't it be great just to tell Chuck to write whatever the hell he wanted as a bio for the band? So I wrote him an email and I said, 'Chuck, would you do a bio for Delicate Steve? You don't have to talk to the band and you don't even have to hear the record.' He wrote me back: 'I don't do bios.' And then, two minutes later, he wrote back again: 'Wait a minute. Do you mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's AWESOME! OK, I'll do it!'"

It worked.  NPR reporter Franne Kelley received the press release, noted the unusual bio of the band, and decided to check out the band.

The result was this story, which garnered Delicate Steve a great deal of free publicity.

Kelley writes:

“One of the reasons Klosterman was able to pull this off in the first place is that we NEED stories about music, and those stories really do change how we hear the music.”

The research backs up her claim.

Michael Beckerman, chair of the music department at NYU, has done research on this very subject.

From the NPR story:

Five years ago, he invited a group of people to listen to a piece of music in a church in Germany. He gave program notes to half of the audience that told them the piece they were about to hear was written in a concentration camp, by a composer who was sent to Auschwitz only days later, where he died. He told the other half nothing other than the composer's name.

"Afterwards," Beckerman says, "we interviewed everybody. And the people who didn't get program notes thought it was sort of a sweet, lovely, folksy, Eastern European piece. And the people who got program notes almost uniformly tended to understand it at as one of the great tragic statements of the century."

It would seem that knowledge of a piece of music changes the listeners opinion of it.

I would argue that the same holds true for books. Knowing the author changes the way that a reader views a story.

Liking the author as a person will go a long way in helping a reader enjoy a book.

While participating in an online discussion about my first book, Something Missing, a book rep for a major publisher said that while she initially liked it a great deal when it was published in 2009, she admitted that knowing me personally has changed the way she views my work.

Bookmark Blog_Something Missing I assume it changed for the better, but I was afraid to ask.

But the same has held true for me. Since publishing Something Missing, I have met a great many authors and gotten to know a few very well. In each instance, I have found that the way that I read their work has changed as I have gotten to know them on a more personal level. When I know an author, his or her books tend to take on more subtlety and nuance, and I am better able to detect those connections that the novels make to the real world.

And in every instance, I find myself liking the book more.

But I still wonder if I am in the minority. When I am delivering a book talk, should I be pitching product or person?

If a reader knows me and likes me and becomes interested in my life story, how could he or she not want to read my books?


Feminine hygiene products meet SOMETHING MISSING

Ever think that your feminine hygiene product could use a little more pizazz?

Kotex did, and that’s why they are sponsoring a design contest that allows you to “Make your Mark on the Future of Feminine Protection.”

I opted to design a pad, though I could have restyled “a period stash” or created an “inspiration board” as well. 

Unsure what either of these things are, I went with the pad. 

And while I was at it, I thought I’d throw in a little bit self promotion as well.

I think my publicist would be proud. 

Can you imagine if Kotex contest judge and “fashion visionary”  Patricia Field chose my pad design out of the millions she will surely receive?

Has there ever been a more captive audience?


Is it time for product placement in fiction?

A month after my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING, hit the store shelves, I began receiving the occasional but persistent email from readers asking and oftentimes accusing me of having made product placement deals during the writing of my book. It would seem that my frequent use of specific brand names in the book had struck a nerve and caused them to wonder why an author would choose to be so specific. Clearly, they had not read anything by Stieg Larsson.

I answered those emails with the assurance that my attention to detail and use of brand names was only an attempt to paint the clearest picture possible in my reader’s mind. But I also told readers that if Subaru had wanted to pay me for my mention of my protagonist’s Outback, I would not have complained.

A year later, at my first author talk for UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, a reader asked if I had ever considered contacting Smucker’s and working out an endorsement deal with them. The protagonist of that book, Milo, is saddled with the compulsive need to open jars of Smucker’s grape jelly, and so this particular brand of jelly is featured prominently in the book.

Again, I told the reader that the use of the brand name was not intended to garner any corporate attention or an advertising windfall, though I also admitted that it would have been a great idea had I thought of it soon enough.

The Wall Street Journal created quite a kerfuffle with a piece suggesting that it won’t be long before ads find their way into e-books.

With e-reader prices dropping like a stone and major tech players jumping into the book retail business, what room is left for publishers’ profits? The surprising answer: ads. They’re coming soon to a book near you.

I'm still reading books the old fashioned way, so I can't say for sure how I feel about the possibility of ads on an e-reader, but I can assure you that I would hate to see them on the pages of a pulp-and-ink book.

However, product placement might be a different story.

While I can’t imagine striking deals with companies before or during the writing of a book, I find myself wondering what would be wrong with my agent contacting companies like Subaru or Smuckers after the fact and attempting to make a deal?

If UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO is made into a film (it's currently optioned for film at this time), the producers will undoubtedly attempt to do the same, and even change the brand of jelly if necessary in order to make a profit.

Why shouldn’t authors also cash in when they can?

As I think about this idea, I find myself wondering if deals could also be struck during the writing of a book as well?

Consider this:

I am writing UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. I decide that one of Milo’s compulsions will be the need to open jars of jelly in order to release the pressurized seals on the lid. I grew up eating Smucker's grape jelly, so this is the brand that I am inclined to use, but I contact my agent and inform her that jelly will be playing an important role in my next book, appearing multiple times and always in a favorable light. “I’m inclined to use Smuckers,” I tell her, “but the actual brand name is unimportant, so if you can make a product placement deal with a jelly company, go for it.”

Is there a problem with this?

Naturally, there would be a concern that an author might write a book with the sole purpose of product placement, or that the proliferation of product placement might somehow erode the creative process and bastardize stories, but wouldn’t those books stick out like sore thumbs?

Wouldn’t these authors be spurned as sell-outs?

Wouldn’t these stories ultimately be ignored?

Companies investing in literary product placement would want these books to garner favorable reviews and sell well, and as such, the use of product placement would need to be subtle and appear as a natural part of the story anyway. Over-the-top, ham-handed product placement would do these companies no good.

A brand of jelly was predestined to appear in UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, and if choice of brand name is arbitrary, why not make some money in the process?

I’m not entirely sold on the idea yet, but as a writer who frequently mentions brand names as a means of being specific, the idea of product placement and the profits that it might garner has a certain appeal to me.

Stieg Larsson’s books could have brought in a fortune on product placement deals.

Another fortune, that is.


My book tour continues this week with appearances at The Book Cellar in Brattleboro, Vermont on Thursday night at 7:00 and at Water Street Books in Essex, New Hampshire on Saturday night at 7:00.

I’ve been guest blogging about book tours on Water Street’s blog, which you can read about here.  My final post in the three-part series goes up this week.

The following week I will be in New York City, appearing at Posman Books in Chelsea Market on Tuesday, August 24 at 7:00 and Wednesday, August 25 at WORD in Brooklyn at 7:30.

Information on my WORD appearance ran in New York Magazine and in Time Out New York this week, both of which gave me a minor thrill.

Also, the first line of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO was chosen by The Financial Post as their Opening Line of the Week.  It reads:

The moment that Milo Slade had attempted to avoid for nearly his entire life finally arrived under the sodium glow of a parking lot fluorescent at a Burger King just south of Washington, D.C., along Interstate 95.

Following today’s New York Times book Review write-up, all of this has made for an exciting week.

An idiot with a difficult name

A surprisingly large piece about me and the book appeared in the New London Day on Sunday. There was a photo of my book on the front page of the paper and a reference to the story, which was a full page spread on the front page of the Daybreak section. Reading an article about yourself is a little surreal. You speak to someone for an hour or two and then wait to see what the person found interesting.  It also provides some insight into your own character, as seen through the eyes of another, significantly less biased individual.

For example, in this particular article, I refer to myself as stupid and an idiot.

I’m an excellent self-promoter. Don’t you think?

I’d like to think that these self-referential put-downs signal a lack of pretension and a willingness to be self-deprecating and honest, but perhaps it just means that I was correct in my assessment of my mental faculties.

I’m probably just an idiot.

The writer is kind enough to assert that I have a “self-critical” disposition.  This is probably true, but it doesn’t mean that I am any less of an idiot at times.

Oh, it’s also interesting to note that the S was left off my name once in the article, a depressingly common occurrence in my life.

Does this happen to everyone whose name ends with S?

Or perhaps only those in which the S appears to make a word plural?

Probably only when Dicks can become Dick. Right?

Like my name wasn’t tough enough to start.

Daily Candy and The Wall Street Journal!

This has been a good day. 

UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO hit bookstore shelves yesterday, and today it was reviewed by Daily Candy and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

Daily Candy, an enormously popular website that everyone seemed to know about prior to the review with the exception of me, ran their review on their front page and made it the subject of their Daily Candy email blast, which goes to seemingly half the people I know (unbeknownst to me).

Daily Candy said:

“We all know if you spot a mysterious bag underneath a bench, you should probably move away quickly and call the authorities.

Unless it’s full of old videotapes. In which case, you should go home and watch every last one. At least, that’s what Milo Slade, protagonist in Matthew Dicks’s new novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, does.

The earnest voyeur discovers a video diary belonging to a young woman (whom he dubs Freckles) and quickly becomes fixated on her best friend, Tess, who ran away when the two were just teenagers and was never heard from again. Slade decides Tess is alive and embarks on a cross-country road trip to find her — all the while battling a demon or two (or twenty) of his own, including the recent dissolution of his marriage and a severe case of OCD.

Sound depressing? It’s not. Dicks manages to make us laugh out loud with crazed characters, like Linda, the pancake saleswoman, and Macy, a busty Southern waitress. The end result: an adventure of a summer read you’ll never put down.”

The Wall Street Journal said:

“The contemporary Connecticut of Matthew Dicks's amusing and engaging second novel, "Unexpectedly, Milo," is a much more whimsical place than Mr. Yoshida's Japan, yet it is a slightly disturbing place, too.

Mr. Dicks's peculiar protagonist—Milo Slade, a 33-year-old home health-care aide—suffers from habitual, unignorable impulses to do any number of odd, "pressure-releasing" actions, from twisting open the vacuum-sealed tops of jelly jars (he keeps a supply on hand in his car trunk) to inducing others to speak aloud in spontaneous conversation a random word ("loquacious," for instance) that has popped into Milo's head.

Milo's odd urges have plagued him his whole life: "He couldn't help but attribute them to some other force, one he often imagined as a German U-boat captain on duty somewhere in his brain, gray uniform adorned with gold epaulets, standing ramrod straight, eyes pressed into a periscope, capable of watching Milo's every move, just waiting to twist the valves and raise the levers that would increase the pressure of the demand at the appropriate moment."

By chance, Milo finds a stash of confessional videocam tapes made by a woman he doesn't know who feels seems to feel responsible for the disappearance and possible death of a former high-school classmate of hers. The obsessive, empathetic Milo determines to find the missing woman and relieve the camcorder-confessor of her long-time guilt: "He couldn't begin to imagine the joy and the sense of relief that she would feel on realizing that she was free from her burden."

Whether Milo himself will ever achieve a comparable equilibrium and happiness is part of the cosmic mystery surrounding this unexpectedly endearing hero, whose self-chosen motto is: "I'm not crazy, I'm just colorful."

My wife said:

Things are a little surreal up in here...

She’s right. 

The demise of the book tour and the rise of its replacement

The Los Angeles Times published a piece on how book tours have transformed over the years, and especially now in this economy. 

Author Carolyn Kellogg writes:

“As the business of publishing changes, book tours increasingly look like bad risks. ‘In 99.9% of cases," says Peter Miller, director of publicity at Bloomsbury USA, "you can't justify the costs through regular book sales.

Book tours used to be about local media. "You would go to these places to get reviews, interviews, TV and radio," Miller explains, but with print outlets closing down and cutting coverage and new technologies enabling long-distance video interviews, "it is becoming less important to do that kind of tour."

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by at least two novelists who told me that they didn’t think their national book tours did much in terms of generating sales.  Instead, it would seem that well-placed, positive reviews, an adept use of digital media and some good old fashioned luck play more important roles in the success of a book.

Of course, writing a great book helps, too.

While a whirlwind national book tour sounds fun for someone like me who enjoys speaking to large groups of people, my obsession with my daughter and my desire to spend more time with her and my wife has me somewhat pleased that the book tours of the past have been scaled back.  As my publicist and I begin planning appearances for the release of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO this summer, we’re limiting them to New England and New York.  While there are bookstores around the country who have inquired about my availability, the cost of such a book tour, in combination with my desire to remain close to home, have forced us to politely decline these requests. 

But in place of the old-fashioned book tour is the Internet.  This blog, in combination with my Twitter account, my Facebook page, my Flickr feed, and even the Android app that I designed to compile my online content have all helped me reach more readers in a week than your average book appearance.

This week alone (and eight months after the release of SOMETHING MISSING), I was contacted by seven different readers, three booksellers, three librarians requesting appearances, and two bloggers, one of whom I am sending a galley of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO to so she can review the book and conduct an author interview. She loved SOMETHING MISSING and has been kind enough to say (more than once) that the book did not receive enough attention from the blogosphere upon its release.  She wants to change that for my next book (provided she likes it, of course) and I’m thrilled to help her in any way possible.  

I also picked up half a dozen Twitter followers this week (including two booksellers) became friends with three new readers on Facebook, and was invited to attend two different book club meetings about my book.    

All of this in one week, and this week was not unusual. 

Compared to the book tours that have been described to me, this week was much more successful in terms of reaching out to readers and building a brand. 

Sure, it would have been nice to appear on The Today Show or Oprah (are you listening, Ms. Winfrey?), and yes, I would love to travel the country someday, meeting with scores of readers and talking about my book and the process of writing.  But at the same time, I also love coming home each afternoon to my wife, my daughter, my pets, and the all-too-short evenings that I spend writing.

For now, a local book tour and a strong online presence is just find by me.

Getting the word out

It’s been a good week in terms of getting my name out.  An article that was written about me by Janet Cyr, a college student, has now run in three different Connecticut papers, including the Journal Inquirer and the West Hartford News, a hometown paper of sorts for me.

She’s really making the most of her assignment, both for her and for me.    

Sadly, neither paper provides links to the article.

Yesterday the blog Coffee with a Canine, written by Marshal Zeringue, featured a post about me and my dog, Kaleigh

Marshal was kind enough to offer me the opportunity even though I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life.  Coffee cake, he told me, would suffice.

Many hands make light work

My wife came home this afternoon and said, “I did some community relations for you today. You’re going to be speaking at the Barnes and Noble in Blue Back Square.”



“Um… do you want to tell me how that happened?”  She had begun to make dinner, seeming to bring this line of questioning to an end. 

“I went into the store,” she said. “And I spoke to someone at the information desk. He was excited about having you speak. He said that sales have been very strong.”

“That’s great, honey. Should I call him to set something up?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll take care of it. I’ll set it up.”

“Um… okay.  Should I do anything?”


It’s kind of nice having a professional publicist and an amateur publicist working in tandem for me.

Appearing at the Wilton Library

Tomorrow night I will be sitting on a panel of new authors at the Wilton Library in Wilton, CT. 

If you’d like to attend, you can find details here

Though we will be discussing our books, the focus of the night will be on our journey to being published.  There will be writers in the audience in need of convincing that our success can be duplicated  with the right about of persistence, hard work and tenacity.     

AJ O’Connell’s article about the upcoming event and the authors (including me) was published in The Hour today. 

Instant communication

USA Today did a piece on authors using Twitter to communicate with their readers, something I have been doing for quite some time, and while the 140-character limit can be frustrating for someone who normally tells a story in about 100,000 words, Twitter has clearly done an effective job of bringing me into contact with readers and booksellers. 

I dare say that I have even made friends through Twitter. 

This got me thinking about what a different world it must be for someone like me, who is just getting started on his writing career, and a more established author like Richard Russo.  Based upon Russo’s comments at a reading I recently attended, I am certain that he does not use Twitter, nor does he read  or write a blog.  He probably receives letters from readers and fans through the mail, and perhaps there is an email address for him somewhere, though my search for one proved to be fruitless, but otherwise he has no immediate or direct pipeline to his readers, except through his appearances. 

In contrast, I receive about two emails a day from readers who have accessed my blog and found my email address and am often contacted through Twitter or Facebook by readers who have questions about me or the book.  Thanks to my participation on the internet, readers can contact me immediately and directly, and they often do.

Yesterday, for example, I received three emails from readers who I have never met, an email from a magazine looking to do an interview, and two messages via Twitter (one from a reader and one from a bookseller).  All had questions about the novel and words of congratulation for me in relation to the book and its review in the Times, and all were hoping for relatively immediate responses. 

And as I was responding to these readers, answering their questions and thanking them for their kind words, I wondered what an author like Russo might think of all this.  How much email or tweets might someone as popular and well known as he receive if he had a stronger presence on the internet?  Would he enjoy the immediate feedback that the internet can provide, or would he lament the days when he could focus solely on his books, absent the online chatter, while occasionally sorting through a stack of fan mail?

Would he consider all this proliferation  of author-reader communication a waste of his time, or would he see it as a means of reaching out to the people who allow him to make a living by writing stories?

I often wonder about this myself.

Would my time be better served working on my book, or is the hour or so a day that I spend communicating with readers worth it?  Does it make a difference in terms of book sales?  Do readers really appreciate the time spent writing back to them?  Am I establishing a precedent that I might someday regret? 

I’m not sure.  But I’m no Richard Russo, either, so I think I’ll keep answering my readers questions, tweeting my thoughts and blogging my opinions on topics like this.  It takes some time to do so, but it’s not like it’s not fun.