Best Sellers and Other Nonsense

Alan Russell and I met when our first mystery novels came out around the same time. Since we enjoyed badgering each other, when our next books came out, we set off together on a book tour.

I was writing feature stories for the San Diego Reader. So Alan and I chronicled our book tour misadventures and pitched the story to the Reader. But my editor had a beef against Alan and the story got shelved until our next book tour. We read it to bookstore audiences, and a small publisher asked if he could bring it out as a chapbook. He called it Road Kill.

After a signing at the Rue Morgue in Boulder, the proprietor Tom Shantz asked if we would like to make a fortune. Alan’s eyes bulged. I said, “Okay.”

Tom leaned closer and gave us the secret: “Write a book called The Cat Who Would Die for Chocolate.”

Since Alan and I imagine ourselves as standing upon a principle or two, we expressed our disdain for base commercial motives by composing a sequel to Road Kill. We entitled it No Cats, No Chocolate, and published it on our own.

The story involves our trip to Chicago to appear as guests on Oprah, on a panel to discuss the descent of contemporary fiction into the pit of commerce. While on the road, we compete to see who can write the smarmiest romance novel (to be published under pseudonyms).

Once the book was ready to go, we asked writer friends to give blurbs. And in keeping with the story’s cantankerous nature, we requested that the blurbs be awful and mean.

Late last year, Alan’s new book Burning Man came out with the publishing arm of Amazon. It’s selling awfully well.

For some time I have found myself alternately dismayed and amused at the claims of everybody and his sister that they are a best-selling author. I mean, most such claims are based upon selling the third-highest number of books on July 2, 2009 in Gooche’s Books and Sundries, or upon an Amazon daily ranking of sixteen in the Chick Lit-Young Adult-Home Schooled-Humor category.

So I don’t intend to add “bestseller” to my email signature just because, assisted by Burning Man’s visibility, No Cats, No Chocolate gained the number one position in each of three categories: Oprah; Travel Books-West; and Travel Books-Midwest.

However, I have learned from the Amazon experience. I now recognize that I had better attempt to decode those categories and give serious thought to the tags on my books. If I discover the right categories, they could all become “bestsellers”.

And I have learned anew that jokes can backfire. Inspired by the Amazon success, I sent to my newsletter subscribers a press release for No Cats, No Chocolate, which included several of the mean blurbs. A couple dozen people wrote back offering condolences, appalled at the unkind comments.

Here’s one of the blurbs:

In a League of their Own! “In my life I have met and associated with many people that don’t fit in with mainstream society. I have written about bikers, and outlaws, and drug addled psychopaths. Let me tell you, those desperados are nothing compared to Kuhlken and Russell. When it comes to creepiness, these two are in a league of their own. Avoid mind pollution! Don’t read their words.” – Barbara Seranella, bestselling author of No Humans Involved

Imagine my chagrin. I mean, anyone who believes I would include such stuff in a press release must believe that I am immensely stupid.

Oh well.

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