things I felt like writing

the book

We'll Do Lunch
March 27, 2024

I'm currently in the process of shopping my novel. I'm beginning with literary agents, and if that doesn't work, I'll switch to querying the publishers themselves, the way I did with my first book. For me, the worst aspect of being an author isn't having to sell yourself (though that is pretty awful), it's the fact that about 90 percent of what you're promised doesn't actually pan out.
      Let me amend that: I can only speak for my own experience and only with one book, In Cold Sweat. It could be that if I manage to sell my novel, things will be different. They might be much worse, a theoretical circumstance I can't imagine. My brain simply shuts down at the idea.
      The "We'll do lunch"-ism associated with the publishing of In Cold Sweat is the longest-running joke I've ever had the privilege to be involved in. Or be the butt of. Whichever. Two years and counting. It started right away, when I was trying to place the manuscript. One publisher called and left a message on my machine, informing me that he was very interested and asking me to call him immediately. I did so even though he sounded like he was about a hundred seventy-five years old. I left a respectful, enthusiastic, yet businesslike message on his machine. He then sent me a letter telling me he'd left a message, but I'd never gotten back to him. I overnighted him a letter by FedEx and left a new message on his machine. A week later, my FedEx-ed letter came back in a different envelope. Written in red ink on the bottom, under my signature, was

           I'm sorry but we will not be able to publish your book.

      That was all.
      After the manuscript was accepted by Limelight Editions, the next stage was to locate photos of the four musicians I'd written about. It's too boring to go into how many times the photographers failed to produce the photos they said they had or suddenly stopped responding or raised their fees after I agreed to them or offered me shots of the back of the musician's head for $750 or mailed me contracts with their own addresses screwed up so they came back to me marked "Return to Sender." The one interaction that deserves mentioning concerns the guy--very reputable, I'd heard--who had tons of great photos he'd let me use if I paid him a $400 deposit in advance.
      "I hate to ask for deposits," he said in his e-mail, "but I've been ripped off too many times."
      I could sympathize, having just been ripped off by an agency in Australia. So I paid the deposit, gave this very reputable guy the deadline, and waited. And waited. And waited. The photos never came. I e-mailed him over and over but didn't get a response. For some reason, it didn't occur to me to call him. I was too hysterical, I guess. The day of the deadline, I went begging to a famous photographer I thought would be prohibitively expensive, and he not only let me use his shots for a reasonable fee, he allowed me to drive his irreplaceable twenty-five-year-old negatives to the lab myself. A total class act.
      "By the way," he asked as I was racing for the door, "who's this guy who stiffed you?"
      I told him. Surprise! He knew this very reputable guy quite well.
      "Dammit, I'm going to call him and get to the bottom of this!" he shouted after me.
      "No, just forget it," I shouted back. I'm very nonconfrontational. Passive, some would say.
      "Okay, sure, whatever you want," he yelled. "But as soon as you're gone, I'm calling him!"
      And he did. The upshot was an excruciating three-way conference call between me, the classy photographer, and the very reputable guy, who sounded exactly like the actor James Woods. He hadn't sent my photos because his computer had crashed and his printer had broken. It was still all my fault, however; I hadn't told him it was a "drop-dead deadline."
      That's how he said it, in his James Woods-voice: "Hey, man! You didn't tell me it was a-a-a-a drop-dead deadline." I expected him to scream "Motherfucker!" and threaten my life. The classy photographer eventually got him to promise that he'd refund my $400 deposit within two weeks. After he hung up, I bet the classy photographer a sushi dinner that I'd never see my money again.
      "Oh, you'll see it," he said. "Believe me, you will. I'll make sure of that."
      I did believe him. He's classy, successful, and terrifying. I've heard him reaming other people over the phone--it literally gives you chills. My check came ten days later, and I used part of it to buy him all the raw fish and Sapporo beer he could hold. He has a huge appetite for such a skinny guy.
      Once In Cold Sweat was published, the promises came rolling in from all points of the compass. Promises to review it, promises to interview me, promises to post mentions of it on Web sites. I called or e-mailed all my contacts in the music biz, and most of them promised to help me get press. None actually did. I found a publicist who promised me a minimum of eight radio interviews a month, guaranteed in writing. I did some research on her, and she seemed legit, so I took a chance and hired her. I'd dearly love to mention her name here, in case she resurfaces somewhere else and again describes herself as a book publicist, but it wouldn't be prudent. I'll just say that she took my money and arranged two interviews over a three-month period and then ceased operations. Her Web site disappeared, her e-mail address became invalid, and her phone was disconnected. Before she vanished, she told me she'd been sick, her kid had been sick, her computer crashed (everybody should just get a Mac, like me), and some other personal tragedy had prevented her from fulfilling her obligation to me. Although she didn't say what this tragedy was, she was willing to explain if I asked. I didn't ask. I'm not impressed by personal tragedies. I've gone through my share of them, as we all have, and I've always kept my promises.
      I've had some truly amazing offers since the publication of my book. People told me they were going to get me work as a ghost writer, a newspaper staff writer, a magazine staff writer, a press agent, a biographer, and an e-zine columnist. Somebody else--a relative biggie in the music world--said he was going to hire me to rewrite his entire Web site for a giant stack of cash. These offers were all made by people who approached me; I didn't ask anybody for a thing. All I want is to be a novelist. That's all I've ever wanted. But after In Cold Sweat came out, people called or e-mailed with great opportunities and said they'd get back to me in a few days with the details. They never did.
      The most absurd offer came when a guy interviewed me for two hours for an article about me and my book that would be posted on his Web site, which he said got 400,000 visits a month. I spent two hours on the phone with him, and he promised that it would be a terrific piece that would reflect my greatness as a writer and a human being--his words, not mine. It was like being licked all over, head to toe, for two hours. The interview never came out. After three months, I e-mailed the guy and asked what happened, but he didn't respond. I told him I wasn't mad or disappointed, I just wanted to know one way or another so I could end the suspense. He still didn't respond. I think it was a sort of "morning after" situation: When he sobered up and realized who he'd spent the night with and what he'd said, he died of embarrassment.
      Finally, I entered into a very expensive business transaction with someone, a promotional venture I won't describe, and I was promised something that would have made a big difference in the effectiveness of this particular deal. The person didn't follow through, and he gave me no explanation why.
      So these days, when somebody tells me they're going to do something for me, I nod and say "Super!" and put it completely out of my head. I've learned that it's just a ritual that doesn't mean what it seems, like when the Maoris in New Zealand pretend to attack their visitors with spears. It's a convention and nothing more. I accept it. The only thing that really burns me is when people don't respond. You send them a copy of your book, you write follow-up letters, and they can't even be bothered to get their secretaries or interns to write back a simple "No thanks, Thomas. You suck." I can tolerate "You suck." I've gotten it enough times, and I don't take it personally because I know if I wrote a book about powdered cement, somebody out there would get extremely angry and write me a "You suck" letter. It comes with the territory.
      I'm told people don't respond to me because they're too busy. Their lives are just too go-go-go to respond to every piddling little nobody of an author who wants publicity for his piddling little nothing of a book.
      Fine. Cool. Gotcha.
      Unfortunately, I hold grudges. I try not to, but what am I supposed to do if the impossible happens and I become a successful novelist, and the same people who blew me off now want me on their shows or Web sites or in their magazines?
      What would you do?

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