My third book will be published later this year, and I have been thinking a great deal about a strange situation that has developed. Ever since I published my first book back in 2001, it seems that some of my friends just do not want to buy a copy. I’ve been wondering what has caused this and if there is something I can do differently with the third book coming out.
When I published my first novel, I designed a postcard as an announcement and sent it out to everyone I knew. Many of the people were acquaintances, colleagues from work, fellow writers whom I’ve supported, and relatives. One of the most definite parts of this equation is the family. Aunts, uncles, and cousins all gleefully ordered the book as did my immediate family.
At work I would run into someone who would point to my book poking out of his briefcase or her bag, and it was a friendly way of telling me they were part of my readership. When a few students showed me a copy of the book I remembered that a colleague said this was done usually for “brownie points,” yet I knew these students well enough to think that was not the case. They would ask me to sign the book, and after coming up with nothing profound to say in the pressure of the moment, I’d invariably sign my name and write the date.
Despite all this positive reaction, when it came to a certain group of friends there was more than a hesitancy to discuss the book. These were guys I thought I knew very well, my college buddies; we went through four years at Queens College in Flushing, NY, together and then parted ways as we went off to grad school, careers, and marriage. We still saw each other a few times a year, and it was at one of these occasions that one of my friends said something about my being an author. He said it rather earnestly, and everyone in the group looked at each other until another friend said, “Oh yeah, author of what?”
There was such a negative tone to his voice that I just laughed, and then the others laughed and the topic was dropped. Still, I felt a perceptible discomfort with the matter and thought about the postcard. I sent it to each one of them, so they definitely knew about my book, but it seemed to mean nothing. Perhaps it was because it was a novel, and in the fiction there was nothing about the lives we once lived, but I wasn’t sure about it.
I ran into another old friend (someone who was not at the party, but would have received a postcard) in Penn Station about a year later, and we talked about jobs and kids for a few minutes as we waited for our respective trains. Finally, he stared at me and asked, “Do you have a copy of that book?”
I looked at him and perceived he was being totally serious. “You mean my book?”
“Yeah, do you have a copy?”
Since he was an accountant, I figured he might not realize that the author gets copies of a book from the publisher. I played along and replied, “Sure, I’ve got a copy.”
“You think I could read it when you’re done with it?” he asked, still as seriously as possible.
Now I started to get annoyed. If he wanted to read it, why didn’t he order a copy? He got the damn postcard. So I took a deep breath and sighed before I said, “I loaned it to my cousin Gary.”
Undeterred, my friend leaned toward me and winked. “Maybe I could get it when he’s done with it.”
By the time my second novel came out in 2003, I thought I had learned a lesson from the first book. This time I would send out letters in envelopes with no return address. Envelopes must be opened, while postcards can be tossed out accidentally. I came up with a couple of short paragraphs that I thought gave enticing details about the story, and I sent it off hoping for good results.
At work I was almost immediately embraced by my colleagues. “Congratulations!” some said. A few gushed, “You’ve got a new book! How wonderful.” Once again some of my students ordered copies, and my family came through reliably as I expected. Still, I did not hear from my friends. I figured that this could be because their wives opened the letters or even threw them out unopened, but then I started thinking that maybe the idea of an old friend writing a book just didn’t appeal to them.
A few of these friends were at a party I attended a month after the second book came out, and one of them took me aside and said, “You know, so-and-so got your book.”
This seemed promising and I felt myself smiling. “Well, that’s great.”
My friend squeezed my arm and said gleefully, “When he’s done, he’s going to pass it around so we can all read it.”
Flash forward to this moment in August 2005, and I am wondering what to do about this new book. Part of me thinks it might be a good idea not to send anything out to my old friends. Still, I wonder if things will change or maybe, if I can come up with an even better idea than a postcard or letter, that it just might work.
Whatever I end up doing, I think I am going to still feel a bit depressed about the whole thing. If one of my old friends wrote a book, or put out a CD, or got a role in a movie, I would be the first on line to make a purchase. I am not really sure about their reticence, but I have come to a place where I am not surprised about it anymore. I think I can even handle it.
Copyright © Victor Lana 2005