Kit Fennessy takes us on his October book tour to New York, where he finds one of the best receptions he gets is from a ghost writer while out at lunch...“I’m going on a literary tour of New York to promote my new novel. Any advice on who I should meet?”
I recently, believe it or not, guilelessly asked that question, just days before leaving for the Big Apple, my new title ‘the Hidden People’ just back from the printers and a plane ticket in hand.
This question left rather a lot of people “in the know” stumped, many of which replied back with “sorry we can’t tell you”. The Melbourne City of Literature Office, however, were more helpful:
Hi Kit, Bookshops! Introduce yourself to as many as possible. Gotham Writers are very interesting and the New York Public Library does a lot of author talks so you may like to introduce yourself to them. In Brooklyn there is the Super hero training school, like our 100 Story Building. There is so much we could link you to but none which will make it easier to promote yourself. Be prepared to find yourself a very small fish in a very big pool and surprising disinterest in anything non-American. Good luck!
If you’re like me, a writer of fiction, you probably have an active imagination. An imagination that helps you come up with vivid stories, sure, but one that also causes you to think that you might like to be a famous author and write books for a living.
Publishing books and selling them to your friends and sending them to you heroes doesn’t have to involve waiting for approval from a publisher, in Australia or New York. Not in my case, anyway. I make my books and sell them myself, and send these to publishers.
One of the things I’ve come to glean over the years is that if you want to have success with a book, you essentially need to crack the US market, and best of all sell the movie rights. Et pourquoi? It’s economics.
If you write a best selling novel here in Australia you might expect to sell two hundred thousand copies. Make it on the New York Times Top 10, and you’re looking at selling millions in a go.
I’d pursued this line of thinking and ended up writing an American adventure book; and it’s not half bad, even if I do say so myself. The lead character is from New York, as is most of the cast, they head off on an adventure to Iceland, and the spelling and nomenclature are all thoroughly American. I’d also arranged an excellent agent; my well-connected and highly successful sister-in-law in New York.
So I was going, whether America liked it or not.
Day One, and the first stop on my tour while on the hustings in New York was a visit to the NYC Library. It’s an impressive old building, with lions out on the front steps, huge vaulted ceilings, exhibitions, a reading room – not entirely dissimilar to the State Library in Melbourne, in fact.
As I approached its hallowed portals, there was a mad looking man outside, sitting at a card table with his books and a sign that read “Meet the Author” (Of what, one may ask). I gave him a nod, knowing we were colleagues.
At an information counter inside, I was met by a kindly old man with a scraggly beard. I asked if they had a book deposit.
‘Oh yes, it’s downstairs. I can take it for you if you’d like,’ he said.
‘Great, I’ve addressed it to one of your senior librarians, who deals with foreign authors.’ Not entirely true – she does the blog for public speakers, but the most identifiable person to “heads up” from their site.
‘Well, if her name’s on it, she’ll get it.’
‘Would you mind if I took a selfie of us?’ I asked.
‘Just stoop down a little lower…’
‘Thanks. Right, well perhaps after this I’ll take a look at the Rose Reading Room.’
‘You can’t. It’s opening on Wednesday. It’s been shut for five years, from water damage to the ceiling…’
‘Oh good, I’ll be one of the first to see it,’ I replied.
After such staggering success, I turned my feet toward the Algonquin Hotel for a well-earned lunch.
I’ve long been a fan of Dorothy Parker’s, and have enjoyed the idea of going out with other of the Algonquin Round Table’s celebrities; a group of literary critics, authors and actors (including, notably, Harpo Marx and the founders of the New Yorker) who would gather for long lunches next door to the offices of Vanity Fair and talk theatre, literature, life, philosophy and love.
On entering, I confessed all to the startled waiting staff:
‘Hello! I’m here on my literary tour of New York, and I’ve come to have lunch. I have a booking for two with Dorothy Parker… Actually, it’s just lunch for one.’
They must get it all the time, and I was placed at a side table next to the “hallowed turf” – a round table and in front of a painting with all the luminaries featured, including the hotel’s cat.
I ordered a gin martini to start; they had a cocktail called the Dorothy Parker, but she’d never have had one, since it was invented after her death. Next the house cured salmon, which came with a tomato relish, sprigs of greenery, a burnt lemon, crispbread, and a small pile of dressed lettuce leaves.
As I enjoyed my drink and smoked salmon I had one of those moments, where you are entirely grateful to the universe, and feel a hand on your shoulder pouring the love in, as though you should be sitting up in New York at a temple to literature paying ridiculous prices, because you’re worth it.
Well, it’s either the universe or the martini… and I like to believe in a higher power.
It was at this stage I felt the ghost of Dot join me at the table, much in the way I occasionally channel William Shakespeare (well, I told you I have a rather active imagination). It wasn’t much of a chat, me having to use ESP silently, but she was pretty funny and frightfully flirtatious, including offering to visit me for a rendezvous in Connecticut, where I was staying.
She was not, I’m afraid, true to her word.
Nor, I was to discover, a particularly attentive or loyal listener. A loud couple arrived, a guy with dreadlocks from a band and his promoter chick, and Dot’s ghost left me in a rush to eves-drop on them, returning later when she found them a drag, full of apologies.
But of course, by then the damage was done.
Look, I won’t bore you with the details, but this was just the start of day one of my tour, which took me to publishers, bookstores, and out of New York to Washington DC where my titles are now ensconced at the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Museum (my new title the Hidden People is loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I’ll skip to the end, and the moral of the story.
The publishing industry moves at a glacial pace, and its temples are essentially large edifices containing people who want guaranteed results, are frightened of making a mistake, and under a near constant deluge of aspiring authors pleading for attention.
So don’t expect a particularly warm welcome.
But keep writing if it’s what you like to do. And go on a literary tour of New York with your novel, you have my permission. Just be prepared for the best reception you’ll get to be from someone who’s been dead for some decades.
She’s frightfully nice, likes gin, and might let you call her Dot (just don’t, whatever you do, call her Dotty). You’ll find her at the Algonquin Hotel.
Tell her I sent you.