Every now and then, I see again how it's the little things that can make the most lasting impressions. This month, media has focused on the 30th anniversary of Elvis' passing. As they've played and replayed comments about him, rarely does anyone mention his singing or any talent that made him as famous as he was. Rather it's random acts of kindness, or a smile, a word, a touch. Communication that sidesteps the spotlight and makes a momentary connection between one person and another.
I remember when I first discovered The Thin Man movies and how I loved Nick and Nora Charles. But one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of them is Asta. Riggs (Mel Gibson) eating dog biscuits as a means to overcome a smoking habit had nothing to do with the plot of Lethal Weapon, but made him seem a little more human in a bizarre sort of way. And remember Kojak's lollipops?
Fictional characters in books can be enhanced the same way. Stephanie Plum seems just a little more real when she pauses in her chaotic life to make sure Rex the hamster has a grape or a piece of popcorn. And while I love Elvis Cole's wisecracking, larger-than-life action, he rarely seems more alive than alone at home cooking for or discussing life with his scar-faced, often obnoxious cat.
Of course, where book/author promotion is concerned, I don't call up a TV producer and pitch endearing qualities of my clients, because that's not what nabs an interview. Yet after the fact, when I talk with a host or interviewer, more often than not those are exactly the things they say they liked best about the interview. Just recently I've heard how one host liked Deb LeBlanc's laugh, and another appreciated NJ Lindquist's knowledge of baseball. More than one CRM or equivalent has mentioned how polite and charming Harry Hunsicker is. While they all occasionally mention loving the author's book, it is hardly ever the first thing that comes up in conversation. And truthfully, only about half of them ever read the books. So it stands to reason if these are the people we need to enlist to help us sell more books, probably it's not the content of the book that will win them over. Interesting, isn't it?
Most of the time, if I like the author, I'll like his or her book. Probably that's because the book comes from the author and there is always a part of that author in the book. Sometimes it's more obvious than others, but it's bound to be there. If not in blatant character traits, in more subtle mannerisms and opinions. Little glimpses at the person behind the persona. Rereading Deadly Appraisal after the pleasure of spending some time with Jane Cleland at Criminal Pursuits in Hot Springs earlier this year, I see subtle resemblances between her and Josie Prescott. And I know there's a similar similarity in my own writing from time to time.
Just as quirky but nice things can leave a positive impression, others may leave a more negative memory. I've had post-event reports that weren't so pleasant and distinctly prevented the author from having a return engagement. Again, none had anything to do with the books. Rather the comments were that the authors in question chewed gum during a phone interview, alternately ignored or spoke sarcastically to the store personnel, persistently interrupted the interviewer or pointedly ignored questions that weren't directly related to the book. Was it Solomon who said, "little foxes spoil the vine"?
So, while we spend mega dollars and time on the large part of book promotion, it would be good to remember some of the little things:
Don't chew gum, or if you must, don't make noise with it.
When making an "author" appearance, be nice no matter what you feel like.
While you're being nice, don't say anything you wouldn't want to see written in the newspaper or on a billboard.
You don't have to say everything you know.
Sending thank you cards is rapidly becoming a lost art.
If you think it's strange advice coming from a publicist, remember it's a relatively strange business we're in.
Till next time!