Known as The Book Babes, Ellen Heltzel, a book critic who lives in Portland, and Margo Hammond, a book critic based in St. Petersburg, Fla., are the authors of "Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures (Da Capo Press). Their radio program appears monthly on WMNF-FM in Tampa. Check them out at www.thebookbabes.com
With our first book ("Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures") coming out this month, I felt a tingle up my leg when I heard the news that Joe the Plumber also was coming out with his first tome - to be published with record speed by PearlGate Publishing on Dec. 1. We first-time authors have a lot in common.
First, there is the endless need for shameless promotion (like the paragraph I just wrote above). In 1990, the number of books published each year in the U.S. was about 55,000. Now the stack totters beyond 200,000. I totally relate to Joe's desire to stay in the public's eye for more than his 15 minutes of fame.
Of course, unlike most of us first-time authors, Joe the Plumber already has the advantage of name recognition - or at least moniker recognition (his real name being the far less memorable Samuel Wurzelbacher). But that doesn't always do the trick, as Simon & Schuster found out when Ronald Reagan's memoirs failed to fly off the shelves in 1990. And Reagan was a POPULAR president. This time around, publishers actually are urging the White House's Present Occupant NOT to churn out his version of "My Life" (Clinton's is the one Presidential memoir that did cash in). Apparently, the only Bush whose name is sure to sell books these days is Laura.
But back to Joe. He says he turned down more lucrative offers from bigger publishers and went with a smaller publisher because he wanted to spread the wealth around, a curious reversal on his part, but, hey, we all have room to grow. Now some in the blogosphere are saying PearlGate Publishing is a vanity publisher. But don't forget: One man's vanity is another's mission. Besides, who better than a plumber to launch a vanity?
At any rate, small publishers don't always mean small returns: Look at Health Communications, a tiny publishing house based in Florida that took a chance on something called "Chicken Soup for the Soul" which launched a series that has sold a gabillion copies. Talk about spreading wealth around.
Bloggers also are calling Joe's red, white and blue flag-draped cover "cheesy," which I think is totally unfair. As we know, authors have very little to say about their covers. That and so much else gets altered in the process of putting a book together. If Joe had gone to a big, pointy-headed publishing house, who knows what his title might have morphed into: "Samuel Wurzelbacher: Plumbing the Depths"?
And how wise he was to bypass the whole agent thing, the bane of most first author's existence. It must have been a relief to him not to have to spread that 15 percent of wealth around. Oops, maybe he hasn't grown that much.
But you gotta give him credit. He's been willing to take several pages from his famous Presidential interlocutor's playbook, particularly his clever use of the Internet to drum up support. "Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream" is available not only at the publisher's url but at Joe's own red, white and blue website (hey, maybe he actually likes his cover), where Wurzelbacher is launching a grassroots movement (does that make him a community organizer?) called SecureOurDream.com. I predict he sells a boatload of books. Yes, he can.
Margo my friend,
Speaking of shameless promotions: First Joe the Plumber (a.k.a. Sam Wurzelbacher) capitalizes on his YouTube moment with a certain President-elect. (What's amazing about that clip is not Joe's question, but Obama's deliberate and thorough answer: After only ten days on our recent promotion trail, I was getting cranky. Anyone who can maintain such poise after two years of campaigning must have a secret weapon. Nicorettes? But I digress.)
Next, Thomas Tabback piggybacks on Joe the Plumber's fame. Tabback's novel, "Things Forgotten," is the only other title on the PearlGate list, and from all appearances author and publishing house are the same. Tabback seems to have created PearlGate in order to self-publish his first work of fiction last summer and is now using Joe's celebrity to bring more attention to not only his imprint but also his own book. Clever ploy, that.
And nothing wrong with it, nor with the subject matter of Tabback's novel, which comes right out of the Old Testament, a.k.a. Hebrew Bible: A modern-day character goes back in time to when the Israelites bested the Canaanites to take control of their "Promised Land" -- a story that echoes down through the millennia and underlies the founding of the state of Israel.
Timeless theme, perhaps. But checking out the current bestseller list of the Christian Booksellers Association, I see that fiction is scarcer than meat at a church social, and this puts Tabback in a tight spot that Joe the Plumber may help him crawl out of. True believers, like their less religious counterparts, seem to be trading novels for advice books such as "Fireproof Your Marriage." But this you will love: #50 in the line-up is a book we chose for our list in "Between the Covers" of 10 to Help You Think More like a Guy: "Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life," by football coach Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker.
Notice how artfully the Babes have segued from Joe to Thomas to Tony (and back to shamelessly promoting our book). Pay it forward!