Standing on a fashion show catwalk, Wendy Shanker is warming up a crowd that has come for an in-store glimpse of Macy's latest outfits for spring. At 5 feet 7 and 220 pounds, Shanker is not the sort of woman you typically associate with models or glamour or capri pants. She doesn't sound like one either.
"A lot of people don't like the word 'fat,' " she says into a microphone, on a makeshift runway set up in the women's department. "I'm fat. It doesn't describe who I am. I'm the same as everybody else. I just wear bigger pants."
"We're doing like a five- or six-city tour," says Wendy Shanker, author of "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life," of the dual book tour-Macy's plus-size fashion show, which arrives at Arlington at 2 p.m. today.
(Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
This gets a chuckle from the audience, many of whom are just as big, or bigger. This is a plus-size fashion show, with models from size 14 on up. But this event is about more than just clothing in very generous proportions. It's also, weirdly enough, a book party, and Shanker is an author, doing what a woman has to do today to get her book sold.
A new book is printed in the United States just about every 20 seconds, according to a company called R.R. Bowker, which compiles the Books in Print database. With profits in the publishing world pretty flat in recent years, big publicity budgets are largely limited to the heavyweights in the writing world, the proven novelists (such as Stephen King) or famous memoirist (such as Bill Clinton). Everyone else gets about $5,000 to $10,000 to promote their title, if they're lucky. Many get nothing at all.
"Publishers can't afford to support every title they release, and unless you're an author they've invested a lot in, you're on your own," says Jim Milliot, executive editor of Publishers Weekly. "Nearly everyone who publishes a book quickly realizes that if they want to publicize their work, they better take matters into their own hands."
That is why Shanker is at Macy's. Her book is "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life," which was published last year and released in paperback edition last week. Executives at Macy's saw Shanker on "The View," the weekday chat show, and they soon proposed a marriage made in synergy heaven. The company wanted an emcee with a sense of humor -- and some heft -- to introduce a newly rechristened line of plus-size clothing, and Shanker wanted to raise the profile of her book.
"We're doing like a five-or six-city tour," says Shanker, who brings this traveling show to the Macy's at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City at 2 p.m. today. "It helps Macy's get creative. And there are so many books out there now that you really do need to find a way to break out of the pack."
The days when it was enough for an author to launch a Web site and give away some tote bags are over. An unknown writer today has to be an imaginative entrepreneur, with strong marketing skills -- not just a wordsmith. Like Kathryn Caskie, author of the romance novel "Lady in Waiting." It's the story of a maid who mixes and sells a facial cream designed to make the skin tingle. The cream catches on and begins a whole series of plot twists when society ladies start rubbing it on less public parts of their bodies and decide it's an aphrodisiac.
Before the book hit stores, Caskie hired a company to whip up 100 pots of "Lady Eros Tingle Cream," as it's called in the novel, which she sent to key buyers for chain bookstores, such as Borders. It came in a silver bag, along with a tin of Altoids with the cover of her book glued to the top.
"It was about getting my name out there," says Caskie, who lives in Waterford, Va. As it happens, Caskie knew something about that particular art, thanks to her previous career at America Online. "If you ever found an AOL disc in a pizza box, or a cereal box, that was me. Basically, I just brought those skills to the book world, where being creative and being outrageous gets you noticed."
Writers are hiring their own publicity agents and, if their publishers won't foot the bill, they're flying themselves around the country for bookstore readings.
For Alison Pace, a first-time novelist based in Manhattan, a self-financed book tour wasn't an option. Last year, she was working on "If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend," a poignant and very funny look at the dating life of a fictional New York gal. She dressed her protagonist in her favorite pants, made by a clothing company called Theory, and on a whim, she sent the first chapter, titled "A Girlfriend in Theory Only?," to the corporate headquarters.
"I sort of thought they'd put it in their store window," Pace says. "I'd seen a book in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue and I was hoping they'd do the same thing."