15 MARCH 1975, Page 21

American promotion

The selling of an author

Noel Barber

"Bloody exaggeration," said my friend. "It's not. It's true," I protested. It is true. In three weeks recently I appeared on fifty-two TV or radio shows during a coast-to-coast promotional tour in America. On my best (or worst?) day I made eight personal appearances, one lasting an hour. Promoting? Well, actually (bashfully) me . . . and my book on the Hungarian uprising in 1956 called Seven Days of Freedom. The suggestion came from my new American publishers, Stein and Day. Though I have had twenty-six books Published, with steady sales in America, none have really hit the jackpot, so I changed my American publishers. "I like this idea," said Sol, who (typically Sol) bought the rights on an outline before I had written a word. It was our first meeting, and he mused, "I think we'd better make it into a best seller." Sol is a great publisher (yes, he has bought my next) but he is also a passionate promoter.

"It's no good waiting and hoping for the best," he explains, "You've got to get down in the market place — meet your readers — make them interested in you, so they'll buy your books because they feel they know you. And the market place in America is TV and radio."

Not for Sol Stein the image of the grubby publisher, sitting back in a dingy office, hoping for a best-seller in a pile of dusty manuscripts. "When I feel a book should be a best seller," he explained loftily at our first meeting, "I try to make certain it is."

Sol Stein's character is the key to his attitude to selling books and their authors. A man easily satisfied with the best of everything, he makes sure he gets it, as I discovered at this first meeting at the Connaught, where he has the same suite every year for his annual trip to London. Knowing this, I was surprised to hear him ring the hall porter and tell him that if anyone called, he would be in his room at the Savoy, "The Connaught heats its water by gas," he explained, "and there's a gas strike, so I've taken a room at the Savoy for my morning bath."

This is the sort of life style I hoped to emulate When Sol suggested that I should make a coast-to-coast tour, with all expenses paid by his firm, instead of spending the money on advertising. I was not disappointed. When Sol wants to show off an author to the media, the surroundings have to be suitable for a writer Whose book (he has already decided) will be a best seller.

Timed to coincide with publication, I flew to America. I was met at Kennedy by a delightful long-legged young lady called Jane Parker, Who heads the public relations department of Stein and Day. A large Cadillac whisked me to my hotel overlooking Central Park, where Jane presented me with a bulky envelope containing $500 ("Just for tips or emergencies, you won't need any money really."), my schedule, and a bundle of plane tickets.

It was the ultimate in package tours, with 'couriers' to meet me at all stops, details of "Afternoon free" (not many) or "No engagements after nine pm" (when I was too tired to go out, anyway). Managers of such diverse and splendid hotels as the Hyatt in San Francisco, the Beverley Hills, the Hilton in Pittsburgh had all been advised of the arrival on a given date of the alleged VIP. Cashiers had been advised of my departure dates, so that all I had to do was sign out on behalf of Stein and Day. No money ever passed hands except for the occasional tip, giving me the exhilarating impression of using a credit card knowing the account would never be rendered.

All the same, the schedule was daunting, and as I totted up my 'appointments', the delectable Miss Parker murmured, "You'll find that we've arranged for fifty-four TV or radio shows."

"In three weeks?"

"Don't worry," she consoled roe, "Two or three will probably drop out." (Two did). "And after all, it's not that difficult. You'll be saying the same thing over and over again."

Over a small dinner at Ratazzi's on East 48th Street, Jane gave me my first lesson in the art of selling my books by selling the author. The rules are simple. When a chat show host asks you a question, never reply, "Well, in my book . . ." but always say, "Well, in Seven Days of Freedom . . ." Always name the book, and since I'm a good learner, we will compromise at this moment and call it mnemonically SDOF. Second rule. Always carry a copy of the book with you so that on TV you can perhaps reply, "Ohl On page 27 of SDOF —" at the same time blotting out the screen with your dust jacket. The third ploy is the most difficult. Never let the chat show host get the upper hand, never allow him to wander away from the point at issue — you.

As a one-time roving correspondent with a derring-do dateline, I found that hosts tended to ask me about my alleged adventures in foreign parts, and it needs a skilled ploy to relate life at the South Pole with my book — sorry, Jane, SDOF — but in the end I even managed to relate it to double glazing. I was the guest on an hour-long midnight chat show in Washington DC hosted by a delightful professional called Fred Fiske, who added spice to his programme by reading the ads himself, often ad-libbing — literally. If he felt so inclined, he would draw me into the ad. Fred was advertising a new brand of double glazing when he turned to me and asked, "We go in for this a lot here, Noel. Do you folks back in England?" "Funny you should bring that up Fred. I've got double glazing in the swinging King's Road "You have? Well now, listen folks. Tell us, Noel."

"Well, Fred, it was that terrible winter — bitterly cold, with power cuts — and I had a deadline to meet on (dramatic pause) Seven-days-of-freedom and I don't think I'd have finished it except for dot dot dot."

Being sold is hard work. My toughest stretch started in Washington when I did four shows before ending up with Fred Fiske and his double glazing around midnight after which I tumbled in to bed at one in the morning. I was called at 5.30 am, to catch the first plane to Cleveland (pop. includes 60,000 Hungarians) where I had a live TV show at eight am, another later in the morning, signed two hundred and fifty copies of SDOF around lunch time at Higbee's, a fine bookstore, did two more shows immediately afterwards, then caught the five pm plane to Los Angeles, nearly 3,000 miles away. ("Evening free").

The final radio show was live and lasted an hour. I was the only guest. Great honour. Much appreciated. But before the end, I couldn't for the life of me remember whether my book was called seven or five DOF. I tried both and everybody seemed delighted. Anyway, sales. boomed.

All in all, great fun. My toughest problem was keeping up my enthusiastic, confident "it's-agreat-book" smile at the fifth or sixth appearance on the same day. It tended to become_ Heathlike and fixed. However science is. wonderful and it was easily unfixed by a night: of sodium amytal sleep, after which I was able to come up regularly with a brand new smile as: dawn broke on the next Dexedrene day.