Cathy and I went to Home Depot twice this weekend, hoping to get some answers to questions we had about a riding lawnmower we were interested in buying—simple questions, really, like, “How do you change the oil?” On our first attempt, we asked for assistance that never came, so we gave up and left. Today, we actually found someone who knew nothing about the mowers but was persistent in finding someone who might. A very nice man named Ron was the riding lawnmower “expert,” but he didn’t know anything about how the mowers worked or how to maintain them. “They won’t give me any of that information,” he said. “They just say be here to help the customers.” Wait a minute. Help the customers by not knowing anything they want to know? At stores like Home Depot, you’re often on your own.
Arranging publicity for an upcoming book can often seem like this, like you don’t quite know what you’re doing and are flying by the seat of your pants. I’m about two weeks away from the publication date of my new memoir, Gone the Hard Road, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my self-arranged virtual book tour. I’m grateful for the independent bookstores and the one history center who have agreed to host an event. Here’s the slate so far, with maybe a couple of additions to come.
May 18, 7pm, Eastern time: Hub City Books in Spartanburg, South Carolina (in conversation with Jessica Handler)
June 1, 7pm, Eastern time: Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia (in conversation with Jessica Handler)
June 10, 7pm, Eastern time: Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio (in conversation with Dinty W. Moore)
July 12, 7pm, Eastern time: Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan (in conversation with Sue William Silverman
The conversation route seems to be the “in” thing these days. Pairing yourself with someone who has some regional appeal for an individual bookstore can be a good thing, and if that other writer has some national appeal, all the better. I got lucky when Jessica, Dinty, and Sue agreed to help me out as they each have a broad audience base across the country. As for me, I doubt I would have ever gotten anyone to respond to my email requests on my own. Each event I’ve scheduled is happening in a place where I’ve done events before or in places where my conversation partner has connections. No matter how much we may dislike the truth that such connections are sometimes the only means we have to make our way forward, it’s undeniable. That’s why networking is so important. Moving forward in a writing career is often a matter of identifying the people who might be able to help you, knowing, of course, that you’ll gladly repay the favor if the opportunity presents itself.
I’m lucky to have been around long enough to know a few people who have some sway, but I still feel there are writers who are much better at networking than I. Out here in the Midwest, it’s easy to sometimes feel removed from the heart of the publishing industry and the sorts of networks that can more easily lead to a writer’s success. As the man who works at my local Home Depot proved today, out here in the Midwest, we sometimes don’t know anything about the products we’re trying to sell.
We writers should be kind to one another, particularly to those who are just starting out. Surely, we can remember when we were one of their number. Surely, we sometimes feel as if we still are. I keep saying a writing career is a lifelong apprenticeship, not only the craft but the marketing as well. It’s all part of the writing life these days. We learn as we go. We reach out for help. If we’re lucky, as I’ve been with this virtual tour, good people answer.