CAPTAIN KIRK of the Starship Enterprise is the only person I can think of who would understand what it's like to be publicity director for a publishing company. From his command post he is charged to seek new worlds, to "go where no man has gone before." My mission is close to that, and from my control center at Acropolis Books Ltd., in Adams-Morgan, I am plugged into every radio, TV and print world in America, and the authors who come my way must be plugged in, too.
Every day, I send them out into the void, to go where no Acropolis author has gone before, to seek out new worlds, to deal with alien beings, survive, and sell their products. In the book business, as in the science-fiction world, there are Klingons out there, but after six years at Acropolis I have been forced to make friends with them. And by now most of them are understanding enough to help our authors plug their books into the cosmos of mass communications.
A book publicist needs a variety of skills: one must be a baby sitter, psychoanalyst, marriage counselor, chauffeur, telephone solicitor, producer, copy writer, media coach and auctioneer.
Publicists must have perseverance and good timing. To deal with it all, I use software, hardware and sometimes Tupperware. For instance: When I arrived at a local morning talk show with several Tupperware containers filled with vegetables for a segment with the author of "The New 15-Minute Gourmet," I found that I had to sub for the real 15-minute gourmet because her plane was delayed in a snowstorm. It was a good thing I was up the night before chopping and dicing.
I almost needed some hardware when I was stopped for speeding on my way to do "Panorama" with the author of "Crimaldi, Contract Killer" (the true story of an ex-Mafia hit man). Crimaldi was sleeping in the back seat of my car, and when the police appeared I've never seen anyone jump so fast.
The software is generally in the form of a crying towel for authors with unsolvable problems. When, for example, the author of "Big and Beautiful" (overcoming fatphobia) called me at 1 a.m. from Seattle to let me know that after being in five cities (with 20 more to go) she thought she was no longer a perfect size 18 and was losing weight. I considered an "author swap" with the creator of "Diet Signs" (your astrological guide to weight loss), who at 4-foot-11 weighed in at 149 pounds and was not losing an ounce. Luckily, "Diet Signs" lost weight, "Big and Beautiful" gained weight and I sweated it out.
I don't want to imply that the publicist makes or breaks it. I can slot an author onto "The Tonight Show" with a good, well-written book. But the true test comes when the red lights flash on and the author must tell 30 million viewers that they need to color themselves beautiful, capsulize their wardrobes, come alive with color or insure everything they own.
I don't operate on the one big review, or the one splashy TV expose'. Our authors sometimes have spent a year or two writing their books. It isn't uncommon to book them into a mix of appearances in as many as 25 cities, and when their minds begin to boggle, it's up to me to unboggle them.
And if the old-style days of publishing are over, the old-fashioned "star syndrome" is an ever-present challenge. What do you do with an author who begins to fade out of the job of publicity and suddenly comes to believe, "Hey! I ought to be in pictures, my face should be adored!"--and this rising celebrity is 3,000 miles away and sitting in the green room of "The Merv Griffin Show," only moments before air time, demanding to be treated like Clint Eastwood or Victoria Principal?
It's mighty touchy sometimes, and that is when a publicist needs a little help. At Acropolis it might be a hasty skull session with Al Hackl, the publisher, or Kathleen Hughes, our marketing director, or John Hackl, national sales director, or Laurie Tag, subsidiary rights director, or my sweet-talking assistant, Sharon Smith. At such times everything stops--even though we have dozens of authors with problems and demands. It is critical to launch that starstruck author out of the green room and onto the TV set to talk about the book, instead of the bomb, the pill, the church and that encounter with David Hartman, who just happened to say, "You know, you'd be great on our show."
But publicity is people, not Klingons, and people who are authors can be as demanding and complex as any visitor from outer space. To put it all together, I keep my feet on the ground, my eye on the store and my sense of humor in good order.