I have a new book out, which means I’m giving a lot of interviews, which means I keep getting asked the question authors most often get asked, which is “Why did you write this book?” This question keeps getting asked because it’s one you can ask even if you haven’t read the book, which many interviewers have not; plus, there’s a chance the answer will provide a clue as to what the book is about, thereby suggesting another question.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: Well, Jessica, I’ve always had an intense interest in morels.
Q: So, basically, this is a book about doing the right thing?
A: It’s about mushrooms, Jessica.
I regret to say that most authors do not answer this all-purpose question honestly; if they did, they would all answer the way I always do.
Jessica: So, Gene, why did you write this book?
Me: To make as much money as possible.
Jessica: Ha-ha! No, really.
To be fair to myself, that was not the only reason I wrote my book. My other reason became apparent at the very beginning of a recent interview I did on NPR. Host Maureen Fiedler said: “I am going to ask you to do something I never ask an author to do, ever. Please read the whole book.”
She meant aloud, right there, on the air. So, I did. It took roughly a minute and a half. My new book is a picture book for 5-year-olds. It contains only 327 words. Norman Mailer never got paid as much per word as I did for this book. My point is, I didn’t just write this book to get as much money as possible. I also wanted to do as little work as possible.
So after writing my 327 words, which took me upward of two days, I turned the “manuscript” over to cartoonist Eric Shansby, who spent more than a year illustrating it. Now, Eric is much younger than I am, and he is less well known, but I refused to use these facts to take advantage of him. Fair is fair. I split the book money evenly.
In addition to getting interviewed, authors with new books also go to “book fairs,” which are events in which authors sit at tables with a pile of their books as people walk by and don’t buy them. (The books.) In a recent book fair, I was sitting next to Ralph Nader, who has a new book called “Stop Blaming Me, Dammit.”
No, I’m kidding, though that is what he talks about a lot. His book, of course, is a serious examination of how the little guy is getting screwed. A few feet away was my editor Tom Shroder, who has a new book about the startling, controversial effectiveness of using LSD and ecstasy to treat PTSD. My book makes the ontological argument (to 5-year-olds) that there may be no God. And 10 feet away from all of us was a woman named Laura Gehl with her children’s book titled “One Big Pair of Underwear.” I leafed through it. It appears to be about one really giant pair of underpants. (From the promotional material: “When two bears contemplate sharing one pair of underwear, youngsters will be rolling in the aisles.”)
As of this writing, according to Amazon.com, “One Big Pair of Underwear” is selling more copies than my book, and Tom’s, and Ralph’s combined.
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