From Pajama Parties to Fight Clubs: What Authors Do to Get Noticed
Marianne Mancusi, Liz Maverick and Sherrilyn Kenyon took one on the chin post RWA for wearing costumes at the RWA literacy signing. The purpose of the costumes was to draw attention to their books and, of course, to themselves in some manner. These authors are not alone in their attempts to stand out amongst the crowded fiction shelves.
After reading about Craig Davidson’s boxing match/promo event, I was compelled to read his book and then contact him about the reasoning behind putting his body on the line for his books. Another reader mentioned to me the annual pajama party that Beverly Jenkins held. Both Davidson and Jenkins shared some interesting thoughts about books, promotions, pajamas, and Fiona Apple.
No, I am the Craig Davidson who has written a few books. Books about boxing and dog fights and zombies and werewolves and lunatic prison inmates and repo men and more boxing and vampires and sex addicts and grisly dismemberment via crazed killer whale attack. Not all in the same book, mind you. So. If that is the Craig Davidson you’re looking for, you’ve found him.
In the summer, he was the subject of many a blog due to his promotional efforts for The Fighter. Hey, it worked to some extent. I bought the book.
a) This was your first novel and the literature fiction field is crowded and some say, dying. What were your promotional plans before the boxing matches began?
Davidson: I mean, typical: my publisher sent me to festivals, sent me to bookstores. That works for established writers, but me, I was driving 6 hours to get to, say, Milwalkee for a reading and nobody was there; just me, the bookseller, and 30 empty chairs. Very uncomfortable for all involved. If your book’s got a lot of “heat” or you yourself are a known commodity as a writer, well, I imagine you don’t go through that. But most writers I know have some horror story like that—only problem being, not every writer ever is able to look back semi-fondly and say, “Yes, there were days when nobody showed to my readings, and now I get 100s.” For some writers, sadly, it’s just an ongoing procession of that, and for me, as a new writer, I don’t know how I’m going to fall: whether it becomes de rigeur or if I can look back and have a laugh at those days, having surmounted them. Hence, I get in fistfights.
b) Some novelists have release parties which include food and liquor. Your release was celebrated by a soft reenactment of the subject of your book: unsanctioned boxing matches. How was it that you decided that boxing matches would be an effective promotional tool?
Davidson: Well, there was food and liquor at my first boxing match/book launch; a bit of an interesting mix, all that booze and testosterone in the venue of a boxing club. It wasn’t totally my idea; in fact, not really at all. My publicist at Penguin Canada, Stephen Myers, called me up and asked would I be willing. For the reasons cited above, I said yes. Stephen was a great sport and actually he fought himself, on the undercard, as Stephen “Ghost Dog” Myers. Then Soho, my US publisher, asked how about I do it again; I had some reservations but they found Jonathan Ames, a great writer and a good sport, and I couldn’t say no. So, I brawled again.
Davidson: I don’t know. People ask that, sort of like: Is it worth getting your face bashed in for the slim chance it might sell some books? And I’ve always said I’m not the type of writer, the type of person, really, who’s able to swan around a cocktail party-style book launch firing off bon mots and having everyone saying, “My Heavens, what a sharp pencil he is! Sooooo profound!”
What I have is energy, obsession for what I’m trying to do that at times probably borders on quasi-insane, determination and a hard head. So, whatever I can do to help my publishers, myself, in that ways that I can, I do. If that means eating a couple punches, so be it. I got a good constitution. I heal quick. And in some ways I feel like I’m fighting, doing all this, not for this book or even the next; I had success relatively young, first book sold at 28, and in some ways I feel like my best writing is well ahead of me—like everyone at every job, I have to learn. But in order to get myself to that point where my best work will have a decent showcase, I have to prove something now—and my books have to get some attention, something, at this point to ensure I get more chances down the road. So, in a lot of ways, I’m fighting for a career, not just THE FIGHTER, the current book.
d) Who would be your ideal opponent? Any fear of them biting off your ear or does the headgear effectively prevent that type of boxing injury from occurring?
Davidson: My ideal opponent? An asthmatic, maybe. Run him around the ring, get him puffing, then tip him over with a feather. No, truly, the two opponents I had were perfect—and I say that having lost both fights. But they took it seriously, trained hard, we didn’t flake out in the ring and flounce around peppering each other with noodle-armed whiffles, we really fought, we always finished on our feet and the crowd got a good show in both cases. I ended up with a few lumps, sure, but nothing six or seven beers didn’t cure right up.
e) It seemed that once Ames showed up with Fiona Apple, any effective beating you could put on him was a lost cause. Do you have any plans to attach yourself to a semi famous singer and have her be ringside at future matches?
Davidson: Well, as I said, even if Ames had’ve lost, he’d still effectively won. Fiona Apple, nice to see her there. I was going to try to get a famous singer to attach myself to, but no, nothing’s in the offing. I thought I saw Amy Winehouse rooting through my bushes the other day, but it was in fact just a raccoon—I’m sorry, that’s meanspirited and I don’t mean it; only Amy’s eyelashes, that big mascara’d swoop she puts on them, really does remind me of a raccoon. Anyway, who should I, a big gallumphing red-headed dingbat, be telling anyone how to present themselves?
f) What can you possibly do to top the boxing matches? A tour of boxing matches? Ultimate Fighting? Will you be recreating any more of your stories for promotional purposes?
Davidson: I think I’ve had it with boxing. But I seem to like controversy and friction in my life, and the stuff I write frequently invites harsh words or anger, and the book I’ve recently finished I would like to hope will raise some hackles … so who knows? I may get in more fistfights promoting this next book, should it ever find a publisher, than my last one! I may even win one, though that’s asking a lot from myself.
g) How do you feel about being one part artist and one part marketer/salesman? Did you realize when you sold your book that marketing was going to be a huge part of being a writer?
Davidson: You know, I did. A lot of people don’t know this, and my publishers don’t really trumpet the fact, but my first book (THE FIGHTER is my 3rd published) was horror. And because with a lot of horror books and authors there is no such thing as promotional budgets or publicists or any of that, they had to sell their books themselves—SELL themselves. And they had no problem with it, whereas some of the people I hung out with while in grad school, their idea was always, “Oh, my work will sell itself and I’d never deign to do anything so crass as market myself.” To which, at a certain point, I more or less said, “Well, I hope you are a very, very good writer then, and get a LOT of luck, because otherwise you’d better get used to teaching at some community college.” Me, I got no problem promoting myself, doing everything I can for my books; hey, this is my job, my life, anyone who’s been around awhile knows there’s a huge amount of luck involved with this business and sometimes it’s something tiny—like doing this interview, even—that puts you on someone’s radar screen and, in a roundabout way, makes your career.
And yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envision a day where I didn’t have to get my face bashed in to get some attention for my book, but everyone’s got dues to pay and why should I be above that?
h) And finally, what’s next for you, the writer?
Davidson: Next novel is done. Fingers crossed someone wants to publish it. From there, fingers crossed it sells. From there, fingers crossed someone takes the next one. A lot of finger crossing at this point.
All best, Craig.
Next week, you’ll get to read Beverly Jenkin’s take on her Pajama Party.