Feinstein: Authoring Books Is Great; Doing Book Tours, Not So Much

Beginning next Monday, I will be on the road promoting my new book, The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup.

I am always excited and apprehensive about the publication of a new book even now after 31 years and 38 books.

The pre-publication reviews for this book have been raves, and there’s every reason to believe it is going to sell well. Then again, the book tour is, without question, the most pressurized and frustrating part of writing a book. Almost any author will tell you that.

Why?

Because, to a large extent, how well the tour goes is out of your control. A good publicist (and I have one at Doubleday) can only do so much. Some interviews are easy to book because — especially after 38 books — interviewers are familiar with you and willing to have you back on because they know you’re a good talker. Others will book you even if they aren’t interested in the book, but want to get you to talk about something they are interested in.

Several years ago, I was doing a TV satellite tour for a book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. (Living on the Black). The best thing about TV satellites is that you can sit in a studio for a morning or an afternoon and be on TV in 20-25 cities. This is a great improvement on the old days when you had to go to a city in order to get on television.

When my second book, A Season Inside, came out in 1988, I travelled to 20 cities in 16 days. At times, I literally lost track of where I was. During one early morning interview, I was going on at length about how much I enjoyed spending time with Rollie Massimino and the Villanova basketball team while researching the book. Since I was in Philadelphia, the right move — obviously — was to talk about Rollie and the Wildcats. It was only after the interviewer gave me a funny look and said, “And what about the time you spent with Paul Evans and the Pitt Panthers? Did you enjoy that too?” Didn’t occur to me that I was in Pittsburgh. Philly had been the day before.

Talking about the wrong team in the wrong city was bad, but worse than that, I was talking about the team that Pitt fans despised the most since Massimino and Evans had gotten into it pretty intensely the year before.

Oy.

Now, though, it was 2007 and I was sitting in a Washington, D.C. TV studio. When I do TV satellites, I always ask the people on my end to please ask the people on the other end to understand that my publisher is paying for the satellite tour, and if they have a question of local interest, I’m happy to answer it. But please hold it for the end of the interview and start with the book.

Most people are very good about this. They get it. On this particular day, though, there was an interviewer from a Providence TV station who started out this way: “We’re Red Sox fans up here so I don’t have much interest in your book, but I do have some questions about Providence basketball.”

Fortunately, we were on tape. A lot of satellite interviews are live. This one wasn’t. “Okay, hang on,” I said. “I’m here to talk about the book. My publisher isn’t paying for you to ask me questions about Providence basketball. If you don’t want to talk about the book, that’s fine, let’s just stop right here.”

Sulkily, the guy replied: “Okay, okay, we’ll start again.”

Fine. This time he said, “Tell us about your book.”

My answer was: “No, forget it. We’re done.”

I don’t ask people to have read the entire book or even half the book. But they’re all sent a release on what the book’s about, some of the highlights, even questions they might want to ask if they don’t have time to do any research before the interview. If someone starts an interview with, “Tell us about your book,” or the even more dreaded, “What’s your book about?” I know the interview isn’t going to go well. The guy has been sent the book and can’t even be bothered to spend five minutes learning SOMETHING about it? Why should a listener/viewer bother to go out and buy it then?

My all-time favorite book tour interview was, believe it or not, my very first one. I had flown to Indianapolis to do a two-day tour in Indiana: one day in Indy, one day in Bloomington. A Season on the Brink was just out. I had no idea that it would sell the way it did. Neither did my publisher – thus, the two-day book tour. My first stop was at an Indy TV station for the noon news. When I walked in the co-anchor who was to interview me said, “Did you bring a copy of the book?”

I was surprised. My publisher had told me to always keep a copy of the book in my car in case of an emergency — as in, a TV station didn’t have a copy to show on camera. It was always important to get the cover on-camera whenever possible. But everyone who had agreed to have me on had been sent the book.

“Didn’t you get it?” I said, surprised and a little concerned but ready to go back to the car.

“Oh we got it,” she said. “I’ve read it. But I need a copy for my nephew.”

Now I knew why the publisher had told me to leave the book in the car except for an emergency. “Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t bring one since I figured you had it.”

She huffed off, clearly unhappy at the notion that she might have to BUY the book ($16.95 retail in those days).

We started the interview. First question: “Have you ever met Bob Knight?” She’d said she READ the book.

“Well, um, I spent an entire season with him.”

She leaned forward, pointing a finger. “But did he know you were there?”

I’d been a little nervous at the start. Now I went into complete wise-guy mode. “Well, I weight about 200 pounds (oh for the good old days) so it would have been kind of tough for me to be invisible for an entire season.”

Now, she was furious. “Why then should anyone buy your book?”

That was perfect. I kept talking about various inside anecdotes until I heard the director saying in my ear, “Fifteen seconds.”

The anchor stalked off without a word when we were finished. I’ve always wondered if she ever bought her nephew a copy of the book. Somehow, I doubt it.

The tour will be grueling — they all are one way or the other — but should be fun. I’ll start with a talk/book-signing at Hazeltine, site of last year’s Ryder Cup, which means I’ll get to see a lot of the friends I made out there. Then it’s Chicago, Indianapolis (my old stomping grounds), Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and D.C.

A lot of the people I’ll be talking to are people I know, people who will show up prepared. But I KNOW — just KNOW — there will be someone looking for a book for their nephew somewhere or someone like the NPR producer I once dealt with during the time I worked there.

On the day Bob Knight was fired — a Sunday — I called the desk and said, “You’re going to have to find some time for me in tomorrow morning’s show: Bob Knight just got fired.”

There was a pause and then: “And who is he?”

“Trust me, he’s the most famous college basketball coach on the planet. We’re going to need a segment.”

Another pause. “Famous?” she said. “Did he coach Michael Jordan or something?”

“Absolutely,” I said, remembering the 1984 Olympics. “He coached Michael Jordan . . . or something.”

John Feinstein’s new book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—will be published next Tuesday. (As you may have gathered reading this column. His most recent Young Adult mystery, also just out, is, “Backfield Boys,” a fictional, but timely look at race in sports—and America. Both can be ordered online now.

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