Monday, April 18, 2011

Going Viral. Or Not.

A dozen years ago, I had an experience that I fear skewed my perception of normal when it comes to generating publicity. Some of you may even remember this event.

Three of my sisters were all pregnant at the same time, with due dates spread over a span of eight weeks. This was the cause of some confusion early on a winter's morning when one sister called my mom and, in a pinched, mid-contraction voice said, "My water broke and I'm on my way to the hospital."

My mom's reply was, "Who is this?" It turns out it was the oldest sister, and the one farthest from her due date. The baby came quickly.

Sister number two visited the new baby on the way to her own OB appointment in the same hospital. The OB sent her back to the maternity ward, announcing that she was significantly dilated, and within hours the second baby was born.

The excitement of two cousins being born in the same morning and at the same hospital was a lot of fun, but it was also very difficult for sister number three, as she was "the most pregnant" and the only one actually due. Exhausted, she went to bed early and cried herself to sleep, only to be awakened by contractions a few hours later. Before the night was over, the third cousin had been born.

I thought this was all pretty cool, and so the next day at work I filled in an online tip form at the Associated Press website. This one simple act set off a firestorm of interest, resulting in calls from news organizations as far away as Germany and Japan, articles in People magazine, and an appearance on Oprah.

Yes, my sisters and their babies were on Oprah. And it all started with a single email.

When Bumpy Landings was released earlier this year, I knew that it was nothing as exciting as three sisters giving birth on the same day, and I had no delusions of getting a call from Oprah. However, I will admit that, in the back of my mind, I expected a similarly smooth (albeit much less grand) path to popularity.

After all, my book had a fun hook, an exotic location, and two unique book trailers. Which I have gratuitously posted below. Because I can.

However, I'm finding the skids aren't so easily greased for a niche-market novel as they are for multiple births, and this whole book marketing thing is lot more effort than I imagined. Months after release, and despite positive reviews and concerted personal effort, many independent LDS bookstores haven't heard of me or my book. Even employees at bookstores that do carry Bumpy Landings right there on the shelf claim they have never heard of it.

The road out of obscurity is steep, and I fear it might be a long one.

Of course, I haven't ruled out the possibility that I used up all of my publicity karma back in 1998.

Perhaps it only works when somebody else fills out the form.

Or maybe, just maybe, the universe is determined to keep me from the public eye. After all had those three babies come just one day earlier, they would have been born on my 30th birthday.

And then I could have been on Oprah, too.


Stephanie Black said...

That's so cool about your sisters!

And yeah . . . that going viral thing doesn't happen too often. And it is a little disappointing when your name/book doesn't seem to ring any bells with a bookstore employee. I've been there.

Michael Knudsen said...

It's true, Don, a first book is not a big a deal as we might have hoped, except to those closest to us. But the true road to obscutity is not following-up with books 2, 3, and so on as soon as we can (I feel the pressure every day). Stephanie says she's been there, but she's not there anymore, due to her work to be consistent and build her brand.

Michael Knudsen said...

what I mean was Obscurity, not obscutity, although that could be a cool word in some fantasy culture.

Don said...

Yes, I see very keenly the value of having another book to talk about, and am also pressing myself to make it happen.

I wonder if perhaps I should have spent more time writing last summer and less time playing with Legos.

Anna said...

Well, you may not be well known to thousands of people, but you are known to many. I just think that those of us you know you (both personally and online) will be able to say "I knew him before he was famous" even if it is LDS famous. :)

I think it's like losing weight. We want it to come off quickly and be done. But it goes slowly and builds up until we get there. You'll get there.

I really believe that if you want to be something and you make that goal it can happen. Obviously nothing like I want to be an astronaut, when I know I don't even like to fly. But if I say I want to be as good an author as my favorite authors and I want to be well known in LDS readers minds, and I make that my goal and work towards it... it will happen. You'll get there. :)

Anna said...

Oh yeah, and I remember hearing about the three sisters giving birth the same day and I even remember seeing them on Oprah. :)

Rachelle said...

What an interesting story! I think you have a great start, Don. I'm still working on the same thing and I agree with trying to get more books out--I like that idea, now if my kids would just cooperate. :)

Shaunna said...

Heck, I would have changed my birthday... or at least looked into it!