Last month, 76 book clubs read my debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, and I visited all of them. I was attempting to set the Official World Record for the Most Book Clubs Visited by An Author in One Month, which is another way of saying I was attempting to get whatever attention I could for a book I spent seven years writing. Book clubs are in high demand by publishers; they're just about the only group of people left who reliably buy books. I knew I'd have to do something ridiculous to get their attention. Like speaking to 2.48 clubs a day for 31 days straight.
On one blissful occasion, five book clubs gathered at an indie bookstore to meet me in person. But most nights, while my husband frolicked with his friends, I was home staring at my computer. My readers were ages 14 to 85 and lived in 26 states. They were overwhelmingly female (not counting the husbands who were called in to "fix Skype"). Many were total MILFs. Others sported their mom jeans with pride. And in talking to them, I learned some valuable lessons about this all-important demographic of book buyers. Authors: heed this advice before you enter the book-clubbing stratosphere. And readers: if you want to know what the author on the screen is really thinking, here's the inside scoop.
Rule #1: Do not attempt to drink at the pace of the book clubs. That's especially true if you are 5'7", weigh roughly 120 pounds, and are a total lightweight. Book clubs are boozy; they do Jell-O shots at brunch. By the third or fourth club of the evening, you'll be slumped over your keyboard, slurring your words and drooling. Keep a bucket nearby just in case.
Rule #2: Be generous to the people who hated your book. If you're lucky, there won't be many, but they'll sure stand out. To be fair, they didn't know they'd hate your book when they signed up to meet with you. Anyway, if you're not sure how to tell the lovers from the haters, here's a quick guide:
Loved it: "I thought your book was hilarious."
Hated it: "I thought some of the language you used was very inappropriate. I did not like that you used the word 'pussy.'"
When faced with the latter comment, the best thing to do is apologize. You don't owe anyone an apology, but in all honesty, you don't much care for the word "pussy" either.
Rule #3: Go ahead, stop talking about your book. No matter how many clubs you visit, every single one will start by asking, "What inspired you to write this book?" Do not be annoyed. These people aren't journalists; this is the most obvious question they have. You can answer this question every few times, but to maintain your sanity, find ways to steer the conversation quickly away from your book altogether.
You may worry that this undermines the point of the book club. Not so. The point of the book club is for multiple readers to purchase your book--I mean, let's be honest--and they have. Now they'd like an experience with the author, but the only thing they know about you is this book you've produced. So ask them about themselves. They will turn out to be ultraliberal homeschooling moms, or experts on psychotropic drugs. You are just one of the gang. Gab! Drink! (Just not too much: See Rule #1.)
Rule #4. Do not trust the Internet. This isn't about the Internet being scary, it's about the Internet refusing to work. Somehow astrophysicists can have a decent video chat between Houston and space but you cannot count on Skype for 30 minutes of uninterrupted communication between both banks of the East River. Make sure the book club has your phone number. Otherwise, you'll spend the majority of the club's time trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare not unlike that insufferable Verizon commercial. But nobody can hear you now.
Rule #5: Take a photo of every club. Just ask them all to hold up your book, then hit Command-Shift-3. Voilà, you have a Skype screengrab. Now post it on Facebook, especially that author page you created on Facebook because someone told you that social media sell books. This will give everyone on Facebook the impression that hundreds of people read and loved your book, as well as trick other authors into thinking that your sales are better than they actually are.
Rule #6: Take advantage of your husband. He comes home drunk. He had fun. You sat at home, and he feels bad, and he asks if you need anything. Fortunately, you have an answer for this. Yes, you want a back massage. And you want it nightly.
Rule #7: Expect post-book-club withdrawal. It is normal to feel a deep psychological void when all the book clubs are over. You spent the past month talking about yourself nonstop and suddenly your highly attentive audience disappeared with the touch of a button--bloop says Skype. You may feel compelled to try to speak to even more book clubs. You might want to set some kind of bigger record, like 365 book clubs in one year. But that's crazy talk. Seriously. You need to get a grip. Step away from the computer and let your husband take you to the bar--the one he's been to all those weeks without you. At least for some nights, the book clubs of the world can read another book. They'll get to yours next.