The Wise Writer Does Not Make the Oprah Angry

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When I began my writing career, somewhere in the back on my mind I still held the romantic vision of myself typing on a manual typewriter lost all day in the world I would create on the page.

If only.

When my first novel came out in 2000, my publisher wrote in an email, “Now what are you going to do to sell this book?”

Sell this book? I wrote it. Did I have to sell it, too?

After puzzling over his words for a few weeks, I realized that people were not lined up outside my door waiting to purchase this little piece of myself — all 192 pages. I organized a book tour and mailed away dozens of books to potential reviewers, promoters, and buyers. I even sent five to Oprah — one for her and four for her assistants. I sold 500 copies of that first book, mostly one at a time, one book signing a day, one book talk a month.

I am reminded of the story of two men several years ago who took nontraditional ways to promote their books. The first one occurred in St. Augustine, Florida. Dusty L. Cage wanted to promote his book against child pornography, so he climbed to the top of the St. Augustine lighthouse dressed in a tiger suit.

St. Augustine lighthouse – a writer’s dream?

After his arrest for burglary, many exclaimed about his antics, but almost everyone said they would have to buy his book. At the time, his website said he committed these outrageous antics to get himself noticed because the publishing world was not going to promote him.

Around the same time, the bigger media hog was James Frey and his nonfiction fictionalized account of his drug-crazed days in A Million Little Pieces.

Frey did what no self-respecting author ever wants to do: he made Oprah mad. She brought him on his show and praised his honesty and bravery in writing his memoirs. Then months later, Frey was exposed for having greatly exaggerated his nonfictional account of his drug abuse. Oprah was furious, but Frey probably raced to the bank to cash the royalty checks for the millions of books he sold before and after the unveiling of his duplicity.

Some argued that Frey was a victim of the publishing machine wanting to sensationalize his life. A memoir is a true account. If names are changed or characters combined in a real story, the ethical author acknowledges it in the introduction. Frey took no such opportunity to enlighten his readers that he added entire incidents and scenes and conversations. If he admitted it, the book would have been classified as a novel, not a memoir.

To market myself as a writer, I do many different things, such as write this blog. I take comfort that I do it without climbing to the top of a lighthouse and without lying.

And Oprah could still be my friend.