Sep. 25, 2022

Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce and the Art of Bookselling

It's September. Tomorrow is another book show, and I'm both excited and terrified. It's the same feeling I used to get in high school in the fall right around Homecoming Dance time, because it meant trying to get a date. And when you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between trying to get a Homecoming date and trying to sell your books.

I should preface these remarks by explaining that I'm referring to getting a date back when I was in high school many decades ago when we imagined we were all as bad as that ol' Bad, Bad Leroy Brown that Jim Croce was singing to us about, and we were all more than willing to follow Marvin Gaye's advice of Let's Get It On, even though most of our voices had not changed and we would only get laughed at if we actually spoke those words aloud in our very non-Marvin Gaye way. Plus, half us us were still trying to figure out what getting it on meant.

´╗┐TODAY, getting a Homecoming date is a major production requiring the services of Steven Spielberg (or similar). A typical Homecoming Date Proposal might, for instance, involve Dylan, a teenaged boy, parachuting from a plane with multicolored smoke jets attached to his ankles that he uses to sky write WOULD YOU BE MY HOMECOMING DATE WILHELMINA KOWALSKI-ARMSTR

Unfortunately, Dylan hits the ground before finishing ARMSTRONG?, and Wilhelmina goes to Homecoming with Trey, who has the entire varsity football team line up on her lawn and sing Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing. What we have learned, through the years, is that ANY guy can be cool if the production values are high enough.

But that's not how it was in my day. You see, when I was in high school, there were like 10 guys in our class of 200 who were considered "cool" and had steady girlfriends. I don't think they even had to ask about Homecoming. It was just understood that they were going. The rest of us poor, pathetic, dating-skills-challenged still-boys-not-men went up to a girl in the hallway, uttered an apologetic 'Do you wanna go to Homecoming?' as if we were removing a sliver, and if she said 'okay' we then ran away to the bathroom to hyperventilate and possibly throw up.

And THAT is how it is trying to sell the books you've written. There are a few Stephen Kings and Jodi Picoult's who are the "cool" kids and have steady readerships, and it's just understood that people are going to buy their books. And then there's the rest of us, who smile at the people who glance in the direction of our novels at book fairs, and who apologetically attempt to explain why they should "get it on" with our books, although in a very non-Marvin Gaye way. Then we run to the bathroom to hyperventilate and possibly throw up.

But sometimes, we get a date for Homecoming. And by this I mean sell a book. For a little while, it makes us feel like one of the cool kids. And back in the day, we mortals used to celebrate such rare victories by rolling down the windows of our cars (manually), cranking up the radio, and singing great classic songs at the top of our lungs.

And so you'll have to excuse me now. It's time for me to finish preparing for tomorrow's book show by memorizing the words to Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. Because my voice still sounds nothing like Marvin Gaye.