• 现代作家的自我推销
  • 2014/6/7 11:15:14
  • 作家本该是用文字与读者见面的,然而,现在却不得不经常在市场上露露脸,签签名,美其名曰“与读者交流和沟通”,归根结底不过是推销和谋生。在普通人的眼中,这样的“露脸”对作家而言或许是一件值得骄傲的事,但个中的苦涩与尴尬又岂是外人所能知晓和体会的?来看看本文作者的小说推销历程,或许从中我们能够更加透彻地理解作家售书的别样滋味。

    “You’ve got to drink plenty of water,” Clyde said, and pulled a bottle of Evian from his bag to make the point. He had decided that the reason his last book tour had been so hard was that he had gotten dehydrated along the way. Of the three of us, only Allan was sanguine. “The only thing worse than going on book tour,” he said, “is not going on book tour.”
    I have so assiduously followed Clyde’s advice and chanted Allan’s words like a mantra in my head because these are pretty much the only guidelines I’ve been offered on what is a very important subject in my life. Even the ever-professional Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I was a student in the middle 1980s, doesn’t have a seminar on book-tour techniques, though the thought of them having one is more chilling by far. Sometimes in life you’re better off not knowing what’s coming.
    When I published my first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, in 1992, I was told I wouldn’t have much of a budget for publicity. Of course, I was free to stretch that budget, to drive rather than fly, go cheap on motels and therefore get to more stores. As green as a soldier first reporting for duty, I practically leaped to my feet. “Oh, yes!” said I. This was my book, after all, the rock-solid embodiment of all my dreams. I wanted to do anything I could to help it make its way in the world. I covered about 25 cities and kept my expenses under $3,000. I would drive to the scheduled city, go to the bookstore, and present myself to the person behind the counter. That has always been the hardest part for me, approaching the stranger at the cash register to say that I am the seven o’clock show. We would look at each other without a shred of hope and both understand that no one was coming. Sometimes two or three or five people were there, but very often I was just on my own. I did freelance writing for Bridal Guide in those days, and more often than not there was a girl working at the store who was engaged. We would sit and talk about her bridesmaids’ dresses until my time was up; then she would ask me to sign five copies of stock. My publicist told me that the success of book tour wasn’t measured in how many books you sold that night. What mattered was being friendly, so that the girl at the cash register, and maybe even the store manager, would like you, and in liking you would read your book once you had gone, and in reading your book would see how good it was and then work to hand-sell it to people for months or even years to come. And I believed this because if I didn’t, I had no idea what the hell I was doing out there.
    Signing books in a store is one thing, but book tour in its more advanced form is credited to Jane Friedman, the CEO of HarperCollins (my present publisher). She had started out as a 22-year-old publicist at Knopf, where she was assigned to work with Julia Child for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. Friedman contacted all the public-television stations in the major markets. After that, she scheduled appearances at the big department stores. “I said, ‘I’ll bring Julia to your town, we’ll work with the local public-television stations, we’ll get newspaper coverage, and then she’ll do an autographing in the department store.’” What followed was a perfect storm of media and retail. They sold 500 books that day.
    “Today you’re competing with six other authors on the Today show,” Friedman says, and suddenly she is speaking as the publisher of my books. The CEO who still has a publicist’s soul is shoring me up for my own next show. “What hasn’t changed is the connection between the author and the reader. The people who come out to your signings are real Ann Patchett fans. I’m glad I wrought that. It was always my intention.”
    And yet I struggle with my own intentions. I can never get very far from the niggling belief that something about book tour is inherently wrongheaded, that the basic premise of authors selling their books is a flawed one. We’re a country obsessed with celebrity, and trying to make authors into small-scale Lindsay Lohans does nothing but encourage what is already a bad cultural habit. Reading is a private act, private even from the person who wrote the book. Once the novel is out there, the author is beside the point. The reader and the book have their own relationship now, and should be left alone to work things out for themselves. Once the book is written, its value is for the reader to decide, not for the author to explain.
    And although you appear to be promoting your new novel; you never really tour for the book you’ve just written. You tour for the book before that, the one people have read and want to talk about. Unless, of course, you’re on tour for your first book, which no one wants to talk about. A few of the people who did eventually read my first novel came to hear me when I went out with my second novel, Taft. Then Taft readers came when I was in town with my third book, The Magician’s Assistant. Magician’s Assistant people came to see me when I toured for Bel Canto. No one wanted to talk about Roxane Coss, a famous soprano held captive in a nameless South American country. They wanted to talk about her six years later when I went out with Run.
    Perhaps I should go door to door through some neighborhood with my novels. The door-to-door sales perfected by Fuller Brush and various encyclopedia companies seem to operate on a more reliable formula than the schemes of publishing houses. Even as my audiences got a little bigger, most hovering in the 15-to-25 range by the Magician’s Assistant days, I could still fly halfway across the country to a room full of empty chairs. I never minded reading to three people. I had plenty of experience. The key is that all of you must sit very close together.
    All this raises the question: Why don’t I just stay home? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that many times. Partly because touring is in my contract. Selling is part of the job. But more important, I really do believe Allan. Watching a book wither on the shelf would be worse than never having the chance to fight for its success.


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