Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The best book event, like... ever!

Mr. Murray Hill poses for the camera

You know, I really hate to pat myself on the back (okay, I love to pat myself on the back), but recently Vintage Books held a book party for WHORES ON THE HILL and I have to say that it was the most fun I've had at any book event I've been to in the past 6 years.

The author and her hard-working publicist

Once again, I have to congratulate on of my colleagues for doing a brilliant job organizing the event. First of all, the event was held at the Slipper Room on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (a very cool venue that recently held the Lit Blog Co-Op's BEA party). The evening's entertainments included dramatic readings of WHORES ON THE HILL performed by three young actresses who dressed the part of Astrid, Thisbe, and Juli (the characters of the book). In addition to the dramatic readings, there were burlesque performances by the World Famous Pontani Sisters, who are some of the coolest, most punk-rock, bad-ass ladies I've ever seen perform burlesque (they give the Suicide Girls traveling burlesque show a run for their money). The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was none other than "Mr. Ton of Fun" Murray Hill, who is quite possibly the funniest performer I've ever seen. Seriously, Murray Hill is going to be very famous in the not too distant future - mark my words.

Murray Hill & the Pontani Sisters

Everyone in attendance was given a free copy of the book along with a goody bag that included a small bottle of Jagermeister, some candy, and Whores on the Hill stickers. There was a $5 cover to get in which paid for the talents of Murray Hill and the Pontani Sisters, but given the entertainment and the gift bag, it was certainly worth the price of admission.

Ultimately the event cost Vintage nothing. The venue was booked as a show, which meant that the bar made it's money from drink sales. The talent was paid for by the $5 cover. The Jagermeister was promotional donation from the distributor. And the guests were given lots of free stuff and a fun night. I think we paid for the candy and the brown paper bags, which was maybe $60.

And did I mention it was awesome? Did I mention how funny Murray Hill was? Did I mention how many people came up to me and said this was the coolest book event they'd ever attended? Not to say that any of this was easy to arrange, but it wasn't exactly rocket science either - just a little creative thought.

One of the assistants in the publicity department did an amazing job recruiting some of his friends that were actresses and fit the part. He took three chapters of the book and turned them into a script, which was a fantastic and highly original way to experience the book in a live setting. The performance was one of a kind.

The Whores on the Hill dramatic readers

Meanwhile, the author had it easy. Colleen sat at a table where she signed books and was able to simply enjoy the evening without any pressure to perform. Everyone there had ample opportunity to talk to her and socialize, which is far different than the typical book reading and signing.

Author Colleen Curran at her book party with friends

Lisa Selin Davis, author of Belly, was in attendance and here is her review of the party:

Au Curran, by Lisa Selin Davis

Colleen Curran’s Whores on the Hill may take place in Milwaukee, but the celebration of its release last night at the Lower East Side’s Slipper Room was a resolutely New York affair. The emcee for the evening — a drag comedian named Murray Hill (which is also the
name of an unhip east side of Manhattan neighborhood, which sits just below the U.N.) — kept posing for the camera, espousing hope that s/he’d find her/himself in the New York Post’s celebrity-ridden Page 6 the next day, but it wasn’t that kind of event. Instead, it was a very sweet tribute to a book about very naughty Catholic school girls — if it weren’t for the slight tinge of morality tale, the book might please Playboy readers as much as adolescent girls. Young girls in
plaid skirts and ripped fishnet stockings were recruited to read excerpts from the book, and the Pontani sisters (another New York institution —one of the sisters happened to be the author’s roommate in college) performed their delightful burlesque numbers.
With Carmen Miranda fruit hats towering above their heads, the three sisters forced strange smiles on their faces while they
shimmied and shook their hips. All the while, the author sat diffidently at her table, a smile sneaking from her lips. When Murray Hill offered her the chance to take over the microphone, she politely declined. Murray prodded her — 35,000 copies, he kept saying. They printed 35,000 copies, come on up here. But she continued to smile
and shake her head. The rest of the first novelists in the room -— none of them yet worthy of Page 6 coverage either — who had until
that point felt part of the joyous celebration, began to murmur among themselves. Thirty-five thousand copies? they asked, quietly comparing contracts by the bar. Luckily, the entertainment portion of the evening was over. Folks could speak loudly to one another, and, more importantly, speak loudly to the bartender, asking this time for a double.

This bit about the 35,000 copies of the book being published has me thinking about issues that have come up recently in my job here at Vintage (a topic for future posts). One of the issues at hand is choosing a publisher, assuming you are in a position to do so. Finding the right publisher is much like finding the right mate. I think a lot of writers are distracted by money and an uncontrollable urgency to publish.

The money part is probably due largely to their agents who want to find the highest advance so that they can reap the best return on their effort. The publisher who offers the most money is not always the best publisher for that particular book. Is the richest man you can find the best one to marry? I guess that depends on who you ask, but for the wise, the answer is no. Authors should ask their agents lots of questions about the different offers and not assume that the largest financially is the best.

The urgency-to-publish problem is equally dangerous and disturbing. Authors (especially those who haven't been published before) are so happy to finally have "a deal" that they don't pause to ask themselves whether it's a good deal, whether the publisher shares their goals and ideals, whether the publisher has a staff that's talented and knowledgeable in a way that's going to be effective in promoting and selling their book. These things are far more important to an author's success than the amount of money they get on their advance.

There are these myths out there that the size of the advance dictates a publisher's willingness to get behind and promote a book. This is not always true, and not even often true, especially if you're talking about a publisher that actually cares about and believes in the books they publish. The fact that money (as I've demonstrated above) doesn't even directly correspond to the effective promotion of a book, renders this myth utterly useless.

Creativity, hard work, enthusiasm, a willingness to experiment and take risks on new ideas - these are the traits of a publisher that knows how to publish and promote a book - and these authors lamenting that their books aren't printing 35,000 copies should ask themselves how much thought and research they put into selecting a publisher. Did their agents pursue the kinds of publishing houses that would do a great job or just the ones who paid the highest advances? Did they take the time to ask questions and meet the people who would be doing all the work to promote their book? Did they even ask how the publisher envisioned promoting the book, how many copies they thought they might print, whether or not there would be a tour, or whether that was even the best way to promote sales?

It's funny to hear authors complaining about their publishers, especially when they make it seem as though they are all the same. They're not. As the saying goes, you got to dance with them that brung you. On Thursday night, we danced with the Pontani Sisters and had a great time. Colleen Curran could not be happier with the effort Vintage has put into her book, and it's doing very well. Sales for WHORES ON THE HILL are among the best for any paperback original we've published.

Beatrice was there, and he seemed to have fun:

Last night, after birthday dim sum in Chinatown, Mrs. Beatrice and I walked to the Slipper Room where Vintage was throwing a book party for Colleen Curran's Whores on the Hill. I was glad to meet Colleen in person, since she'll be part of next week's Author2Author feature. And let me tell you, this was a party, emceed by Murray Hill with burlesque routines starring the Pontani Sisters. Plus three girls in tank tops and Catholic schoolgirl plaid skirts reading passages
from Whores that would no doubt send Colleen's Amazon hate squad--you should see some of those reviews--into a tizzy.

The Pontani Sisters in Action!


Anonymous the Happy Booker said...

Thanks for running my Friends of the Happy Booker (FotHB) Report. From Selin-Davis and Beatrice, i am kicking myself for missing it. THB

9:58 PM  
Anonymous J Harpold said...

Is being a name-dropping scenester any more effective, or noble, than dressing up as a giant weenie?

9:45 AM  
Blogger sepulculture said...

I love nothing more than a smartass, but the key to being funny is to (at the very least) be on target with your subject. A name-dropping scenester? That's just absurd. First of all, the people I mentioned in my piece are hardly NAMES of any great notoriety, and they all played an integral part in the event, either by being a performer OR by writing about the event afterward. That's not name-dropping - it's journalism. Now had I said things like Koren Zailckas, the author of SMASHED, was there, which has nothing to do with the planning, execution, or feedback from the event, then that would be name-dropping. Scenester? That's laughable. Is there a lit scene? Not one that I know of. And all of that said, even if what I described made me a name-dropping scenester, then the answer to the question is a big fat fucking YES - it's a hell of a lot more effective and noble (and I might add PROFESSIONAL) than dressing up as a giant weenie. Thanks for the insightful comment.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Amie Stuart said...

I stumbled in from....somewhere(bookangst?), and I'm glad I did. For some reason this reminds me of The Bitch Posse (but maybe not quite so dark?) I'm definitely adding it to my To Buy list.

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