Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Enter the Free Press: One Door Closes and Two Years Later, Another One Opens

Here's the lede: I got a job! Starting February 7th I will be bookflacking full time for the Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Here's the background: I started this blog about 21 months ago to chronicle my efforts to publicize myself into a new position. The month that HarperCollins folded the Collins division and my colleagues and I were laid off--February 2009--about 650,000 other people also lost their jobs. The economy was such a basket case, the unemployment rate so high, and competition for jobs so fierce that I knew I had to do something beyond sending out resumes, searching job sites, pressing for "informational" interviews, and all the traditional things you do when looking for a job. So being a publicist, I decided to publicize myself.

I met with some significant success too. I was featured by CNN, Fox News Channel, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, the New York Post. I started this blog and another, Classics Rock! Books Shelved in Songs, hoping they would help keep me in front of the publishing industry. Those efforts also met with some success, getting me into such industry media as Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, the New York Times's "Paper Cuts" blog, CNBC's "Bullish on Books" blog, BookSlut, and Publishing Perspectives. I started writing for The Huffington Post, McSweeneys, and other outlets hoping this would be another way to stay visible, and that too has paid off. (A full list of these media hits appears on this page.)

So: Did all this self-promotion ultimately lead to the new job? Hard to say. In the end, it came about the way it often does--through a friend, who alerted me to an opening and connected me to the appropriate party. Still, I have to believe that the publicity I generated played a part, even if it was a subliminal one. No one ever said, "I saw you on CNN and I'd like to hire you." But I like to think that if someone in the industry was looking to fill a position, and my name came up, they would at least say: "Oh, yeah--I've heard of him."

It all goes to a point that I try to make with authors: Publicity isn't always about making the sale. Sometimes it's just about being visible and spreading awareness.

Thanks to those of you who've been following along. This blog long ago strayed from its original mission, and it will continue on an irregular basis, whenever inspiration strikes (or I get a major media hit!).

Here's the announcement from the Free Press, sent out by my new colleague Carisa  Hays, V.P., Director of Publicity:

I am very happy to announce that on February 7th, Laurence Hughes will be joining the Free Press Publicity Department as Associate Director of Publicity, reporting to me.  

Larry has proven himself, over many years in the business, to be one of the leading book publicists in our industry.  He has held senior publicity positions at several major houses, including: HarperBusiness/Collins, NAL, and Dell/Delacorte.  Most recently, Larry has worked as an independent publicity consultant  working with publishers, literary publicity agencies, and authors who have hired him directly.

In addition to his work as a book publicist, Larry blogs for the Huffington Post, and also writes two personal blogs:  Classics Rock! and Book Flack at Large.  He has written articles that have been published in The New York Times, New York Post, Publishers Weekly, The Author, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and the anthologies Mountain Man Dance Moves (Vintage, 2006), The McSweeney’s  Joke Book of Book Jokes (Vintage, 2008), and Book: The Sequel (Public Affairs, 2009).

In addition to working on many of our upcoming titles, Larry will be responsible for  Free Press’s online publicity campaigns, which have become a  significant part of our overall publicity efforts.

Please join me in welcoming Larry to Free Press.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Belated Birthday Greetings for Edgar Allan Poe

[Today is the day after Edgar Allan Poe's 202nd birthday--time to revisit "Five Belated Birthday Greetings for Edgar Allan Poe," from The Huffington Post.]

"It is what Edgar Allan Poe might have called 'a mystery all insoluble': Every year for the past six decades, a shadowy visitor would leave roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on Poe's grave on the anniversary of the writer's birth. This year, no one showed. Did the mysterious 'Poe toaster' meet his own mortal end? Did some kind of ghastly misfortune befall him? Will he be heard from nevermore?" - Associated Press, January 19, 2010

Hope you're not inclined to scold me, but a little birdie told me
That I missed your birthday, which I've never done before.
With the dawn I should have hurried to the place where you are buried
But the dawning found me napping, napping with a lusty snore.
When shall I next miss your birthday, napping with a lusty snore?
Quoth that birdie: "Nevermore!"

It's not 'cause I'm forgetful that I missed your birthday, surely!
I just went catatonic and was buried prematurely.
Which means I had to spend the anniversary of your birth
Clawing through a coffin lid and several feet of earth.
Caked in blood and dirt, and raving mad, I'm here to say:
So sorry that I missed it--hope you had a special day!

I know I'm late! I thought this year I'd take a different tack
And bring Amontillado, not the usual cognac.
I sought some from old Montressor, an amiable feller--
Until he chained me up behind a wall down in his cellar!
So on your special day I wished us both returns, we two:
That Montressor returns for me--and returns of the day to you!

I know I missed your birthday--a serious omission.
I confess, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!
Imagine my surprise to find that on your special day
I was brought to trial, followed by auto-da-fé.
The pendulum swings lower and will soon cut me in two,
So I want to say I hope your day was really swingin' too!

True! Your birthday's come and gone with no cognac or roses.
The old man said they're wasted on someone who decomposes.
For that remark, I did him in! He'll bother me no more.
I chopped him up and stashed the bits beneath my humble floor.
And yet from underfoot I hear his heart's incessant beatings!
So, from both our hearts, we send belated birthday greetings.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sanitizing Twain--To the Nth Degree

[From The Huffington Post]

When I saw the recent headline that Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben was removing all the n-words from Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, my first thought was: Good! Those narratives will flow a lot better without words like neologistic, numismatic, and nanotechnology cluttering things up.

Then I thought: What if he goes too far? Do we really want all the n-words removed? Would Twain's humor and stylistic charm shine as brightly without words like Nerf and nudnik? We might even want to add some n-words. I think Huck and Tom's adventures could be spiced up considerably by more frequent use of the words naked, nude and nubile.

I became alarmed: Just how far would Gribben take this crusade? It's possible that perfectly blameless words that merely sound like n-words would fall under his editorial scalpel. How empty and lifeless would Twain's prose be without words like pneumatic, knockwurst, and gnu? It would be a tragic case of lexicographical guilt-by-association.

I resolved then and there to counter Gribben by creating my own editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which would consist entirely and exclusively of n-words. Of course, I'd have to change the titles to Nom Nawyer and Nuckleberry Ninn, and the author's name to Nark Nwain [née Namuel Nlemens]. I just hoped I could interest a publisher like NAL or Norton in the project. It might look silly coming from Nandom Nouse or Nimon & Nuster.

All that thinking and reacting and resolving left me exhausted. I fell back on my beanbag and tried to relax by moving beyond the headline and actually reading the accompanying story. There I learned that Gribben didn't have it in for all n-words--just certain n-words. In particular, the n-word. A word that can lead to violence, provoke outrage, inflict pain and reduce people to tears. A word used to hurt and repress. A word weighted with centuries of racial hatred and conflict. A word with more power to make your head explode than the Ark of the Covenant.

The word is "nigger," and it appears 219 times in Huckleberry Finn alone. In each instance, Gribben has substituted the word "slave" in his edition. "I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer," Gribben told the New York Times. "And I don't think I'm alone."

We've all heard that sticks and stones will break our bones but words can never hurt us. Of course it's nonsense--words can hurt deeply. But I've always believed that words, in and of themselves, only have the power to hurt us if we grant it to them. Easy for me to say--I've never been on the receiving end of the n-word myself (incoming for me is more likely to be "dork" or "jackass"), and history has shown that people who use the n-word are often perfectly willing to underscore it with sticks and stones and whips and chains and nooses and guns and fire hoses.

Still, there is some truth to George Carlin's observation that there is no such thing as a bad word--just bad thoughts, bad intentions. What were Twain's intentions? He wasn't being hateful in using the n-word--he was offering an accurate depiction of an idiom in use in the period and location he was writing about. As for his broader intentions--well, his depiction of Jim's efforts to get to freedom can hardly be considered an endorsement of the institution of slavery. But who can be bothered considering historical context or literary themes or the author's intentions? That just sucks up precious time that could be put to better use getting offended.

Of course, the n-word is hardly limited to Twain's work--there are plenty of other offenders around that might require attention. Charles Portis's novel True Grit is enjoying renewed popularity thanks to the new film version, and guess what? There's the n-word right on pg. 19 of my ancient Signet paperback edition--and again on pg. 84. Mr. Gribben--your next project! Unless it's a matter of degree. Portis's two references compared to Twain's 219 may not be sufficiently offensive to make it eligible for altering. Nor does the fact that, unlike Twain's work, Portis's is protected by copyright. Or that unlike Twain, Portis is still around to object.

Perhaps we could take on the rap music industry, where the n-word is ubiquitous--even celebrated--and then perhaps go after any number of stand-up specials on HBO and Comedy Central. And Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why--better watch out: we may be coming for you too!

Or we could take another approach: Just leave it alone. Once you start sanitizing it's hard to know where to stop. Huckleberry Finn is a product of its time. Hate it, debate it, deplore it, ignore it, but don't take it upon yourself to change it to suit your own mores and values. I suspect that if Twain were alive today, he'd have another n-word for someone who presumed to rewrite his work: Knucklehead.