Now that the book is almost released, I'm going to start doing some fun--OK, "fun" to book nerds--type stuff about the making of "How to Fail." Stuff it seems other writers are uninterested (or, sometimes, "unallowed" by their publishers) to do.
First, I wanted to look at the making of the actual cover, and all the rejected designs that lay in the past.
I had two simple requests of my designer, Thoroughly Curly:
1. Simplistic (I hate covers loaded up with all sorts of shit)
2. Include my chapters titles somewhere (too good of selling point to not put in the forefront)
I even offered a few drunken sketches of questionable quality (designers hate when you cripple their creativity like that):
Which lead to this first batch of designs coming in:
Eventually, we decided that black, white, and red all over might work for a children's joke, but it wasn't working for our cover. We switched the focus to black, white, gray, and yellow, rendering these:
Better, but still not quite right. We decided to switch "How to Fail" to a vertical position:
BETTER! Need more color...
Need more definition...
Not quite, but close...AND...
Or did we? Any one like any "failed" designs better????
Just because I don't yet have any books available for purchase didn't mean I was going to turn down an invitation to the Collingswood Book Festival a few weekends ago. And, armed with simply my charisma (and a giant sign of my black & white visage) I was still determined to make a little moolah.
A bit grumpy at having to miss a whole Saturday afternoon of college football and day drinking, grumpier at having to awaken at 6 A.M., I nevertheless joined my manager Craig as we trekked down to lovely Collingswood, New Jersey.
"So what's this thing going to be like?" Craig wondered en route.
"I'm thinking it's going to be like one of those crappy Manhattan street festivals except with books instead of funnel cakes."
The first thing we saw when we arrived was a funnel cake stand. Indeed the Collingswood Book Festival was somewhat like a street festival, though not as gross and shitty as the ones that overtake Manhattan avenues in the warmer months. True, the standard junky street food was available in great supply--pizza, polish sausage and kielbasa, root beer floats, crepes, etc--but Collingwood, New Jersey's main street--I can't recall whether it was actually called "Main Street"--was quite cute and quaint. Tree-lined, scads of darling little local eateries and tchotchke shoppes, and plenty 'a pleasant locals. And books! Tons of 'em.
We quickly found my booth. It was the one with a 2X life-size photo of me looking down on a 20X life-size cover shot of "How to Fail" all on a massive poster stand. How gauche. The stand stood in front of my publisher's table which was underneath a massive party tent. Now, being underneath a tent isn't the only reasons I hate camping and outdoors weddings, but it's the key ingredient for sure. Thus, I was determined to not sit at my "appropriate" spot for any time during the festival. There was a small stack of promotional materials for "How to Fail" and I grabbed them, halved them with Craig, and decided to take a walk to study my surroundings.
We embarked on a full lap of the event, all taking place on a mile or so long stretch of street. Surprisingly enough, THE street was pretty crowded. Though not with the kind of folks I suspected would be interested in my book at all. The street was dominated by several types:
- youngish, mid-thirties to mid-forties suburbanites pushing strollers.
- youngish, mid-thirties to mid-forties suburbanites walking dogs.
- people in costumes: Clifford the Big Red Dog (who we saw trip on a crack, twist his ankle, and go to the ground), one of the wild things from "Where the Wild Things Are" (standing a mere 4 feet tall), Elmo (with ratty New Balance sneakers peeking out the bottom of his frayed costume), and the like.
- mental patients.
- the kind of dorky teenagers young enough to still be REALLY into books, old enough to get themselves to an event without adult supervision, uncool enough to think it a fun time to spend a weekend with book festival types:
And most of the booths of book festival types were heavy on the kinda kid-friendly to YA fare that "How to Fail" is decidedly not.
Vendors that weren't selling children's fare were focused on very, very niche genres. There were tons of African-American-centric publishers in Collingswood which was odd, considering the town seemed white enough to qualify for acceptance into Wisconsin. Lots of goth-type books too. Shit on vampires and werewolves and other things kids that shop at Hot Topic read. A lot of very shittily made self-published works too. And, for some odd reason, former Phillies reliever cum awarder of the 7th most famous home run of all time* cum memoirist Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams. Still mulletted, and drawing a crowd of a half dozen phat Philly phanatics hanging on his every word.
I had to say, I actually had one of the most "professional" looking booths at the entire event and it wasn't going to be that hard to convince festival strollers (pushing strollers) that I was a mega celebrity. Even if I didn't have books to hawk. I mean, I had a giant fucking sign with my face on it! And it was truly garnering me lots of attention. People were coming up to me, talking to me, nervous even as they asked for my autograph. All I was thinking is, you just need $200 and a nearby Kinko's and you too could probably have a giant sign of yourself.
There wasn't much to do, so I decided to have some fun and start fucking around with people:
*"Oh hey, look. I'm that guy." (pointing at my giant sign)
Wow, he IS, nodded most people, quite impressed.
*"Ever met a massive celebrity before?" I asked one lady. She stared back at me with vacant, unapproving eyes. I recouped: "Yeah, neither have I."
Turns out she was the festival coordinator, dressed like a 1980s stewardess--back when the term "stewardess" wasn't akin to the "n-word"--and with an over-adorned name tag.
*Too fabulous gay guys walked by and pointed at my sign and then me:
"Now that is one author that actually looks like his picture."
"Oh, most don't?" I responded, truly curious.
"Nope. Like that guy." They pointed at a nearly comatose older author snoozing in his booth nearby. Seeing a chance to capitalize on a new gay following I jumped back in.
"Yeah, well I really hate that picture they chose of me. My forehead is so shiny."
"You look terrific, darling!"
*One burly, tough-looking dude eyeballed the promo materials for my book before brusquely noting:
"I don't need to know how to masturbate at work." (referring to Footchapter 4-B: "How to Masturbate at Work")
"Oh yeah, well where do you work?" I wondered.
"I'm a truck driver."
"Oh, so it's easy for you."
He stared at me for a long second.
"Or QUITE dangerous."
I quickly figured out the kinds of people that might dig my book.
- Guys with facial scruff.
- Girls that tuck their ass-labeled sweatpants into their Uggs.
- Tattooed folks.
Unfortunately, that troika was in short supply at this festival. I would have to convert the non-believers. Like two fifty-something woman who I turned from "We're repulsed by your tawdry novel" to "We secretly think we dig your tawdry novel" within a ten minute conversation. Once won over, one asked for my autograph on a pamphlet before secretly confiding in me:
"Goddamn it's hot out, but I can't take off my jacket"--a jean jacket, natch--"You see, I'm not wearing a bra. I forgot to put one on this morning."
I had no response.
"You look like the kind of guy I can tell anything to," she knowingly added.
"Is there any place to get a drink around here?!" I quickly inquired.
"'fraid not. This whole town is dry. Though you can BYOB."
"Please tell me you have some B?" I shouted.
Though that helped me figure out another short-tail demo that would surely like my book: people that B their own B to public events.
I saw one such fella, brown-bagging a tallboy and half in the bag already. He was loving my promotional materials and my book pitch. So I politely told him to go home, drink a few more beers, order my book on Amazon, then wake up the next day not realizing what happened, receive a book in a month and go, "When the fuck did I order this????"
That's how I'm gonna sell a lotta fucking books I realized. Eureka! I, of course, hadn't sold a damn book or made a damn dime at Collingswood, but I now knew I would one day sell a ton.
Then, just this morning I got an envelope in the mail from the Collingswood Book Festival with a check for $100 inside. Seems I'd won some "guess the book cover" contest set up at the festival's main booth which I'd visited during a respite from all the mental patients wandering the grounds.
I typically like checks awarded to me in novelty size, but I suppose this will have to do.
Based on what I saw, no other author earned $100 at Collingswood and most all earned far less. Being a famous novelist was already paying off BIG TIME. It felt good to be rich.
1. Bobby Thompson's "Shot Heard Round the World"
2. Bill Mazeroski 1960 World Series
3. Hank Aaron's 715th
4. Kirk Gibson 1988 World Series
5. Carlton Fisk 1975 World Series
6. Reggie Jackson third HR 1977 World Series
7. Joe Carter walk-off 1993 World Series
8. Roger Maris 61st
9. Mark McGwire 62nd
10. Babe Ruth's called shot