Walking The Line Between Promotion & Serious Stuff

By now, anyone who has read any of my tweets this year or somehow made her way to my blog knows that I published a book about teen suicide in January.  This 2nd edition was an update—albeit 30 years later—of a book I wrote several years after the suicide of my brother.  So much has changed since the 1st edition made its way onto the self-help shelves at local libraries and bookstores.

I’ve written three sentences without mentioning the title of the book.  Why?  Because I don’t want to turn a serious book about a troubling topic into a marketing strategy.  And that’s the trick:  How does an author get people to read her book, if they don’t know about it?  Not easily.  In fact, aside from sales to family and friends, the book will likely gather dust with the other almost 1 million books published every year.  My books will line the shelves of my home office.  I’ll probably give them away and know that many of those copies will end up on the floors in second hand bookstores.

This week two celebrities died by suicide.  The deaths of designer Kate Spade and author, foodie and CNN host Tony Bourdain shocked millions of people who couldn’t fathom why two supposedly happy, successful people could be so distraught that they saw suicide as the only solution to their pain.

I’ve been at this for a while now.  I’m not a therapist or educator (well, I did teach English for five years in another lifetime, but that doesn’t seem to count) and would never pretend to give professional advice.  However, I feel confident that, after interviewing hundreds of teens and experts and exploring my own experience as a suicide survivor, I am in a position to offer some answers to all the questions swirling out there right now.

Still, I don’t want to thrive on others’ tragedies.  I don’t want to be seen as self-serving.  But I do want people to read my book.

One way, is to hire a publicist who can promote the book for me.  That one degree of separation feels like protection.  Someone else can sing my praises.  She can write the media pitches, talk to TV and radio producers—pull out all the stops to market the book.

Well, I did that.  I spent a wad (I’ll never break even) and, if you’ve read other of my posts, you’ll remember that the experience was not what I would call successful.  Hardly.  It all sounds so promising at first.  The staff love my book, think the topic is so timely and so important and will go to the ends of the earth and back to get the coverage it deserves.

And then reality hits: Suicide is a tough sell.  It’s scary.  It can be contagious.  It’s not a subject that one wants to read about before she goes to bed.  People feel uncomfortable standing in line at a local bookstore with a copy in their hands.  And it sure isn’t going on any summer reading list.

Yeah, but the book might save a life or two.  It may help someone get help.  It could improve the way we talk to one another.  You know, to put down the damn cell phone or turn off the computer and have a face-to-face conversation.  The book might encourage someone to step in and tell a bully that he needs to back off.  Oh, please . . . I could go on.  I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

So, I guess Dead Serious is a book for our time.  I’ll write up a media pitch and email it off first thing tomorrow morning.

 

Call 1-800-273-8255

 

In Our Sunset Years, Buying Trees and Shrubs Is Like Buying Life Insurance

If you’re 50+, trying to get a reasonable life insurance policy is a frustrating, expensive task.  As far as the insurers are concerned, you are two steps away from the grave.  (Well, maybe three.)

“Age is the most important contributor to both term and whole life insurance rates. How old you are plays the biggest role in how much you’ll pay to purchase a new life insurance policy.  The reason every year inches up the cost of term life insurance is simple math. Every birthday puts you one year closer to your life expectancy and thus, you’re are more expensive to insure—rates increase every year by 5% to 8% in your 40s, and by 9% to 12% each year if you’re over age 50.” —  Chris Huntley, life insurance agent at Huntley Wealth and Insurance, San Diego, California

Okay, you’re thinking.  I see the title of this blog but don’t get the connection between buying life insurance and buying trees and shrubs.  Let me fill you in:

Yesterday, my husband and I went shrub and tree shopping.  It wasn’t a bad winter here in the Chicago area (Well, not for us because we got out of Dodge) but something went wrong with our 20+-year-old red bud tree, our privets along the south side of our property, a shrub that will remain nameless because I simply can’t remember, and several of our miniature boxwoods that encircle a blue stone patio.

My garden is my temple.  I tend to it with loving care, backbreaking weeding, watering (except for a “summer” like this one that feels more like early October), and with a sense of wonder at how flowers and plants decide to return year after year—most of them— in all of their glorious colors, designs, tactile differences.  I spend a lot of my money on my garden, but I can justify the expense because, the way I see it, the garden is an extension of my home—an integral part of the design to be used and enjoyed.

The saleswoman at the garden center read the tag on a a multi-colored bush perfect for the empty corner where a hydrangea died over the winter.  “Well,” she said.  “This shrub should grow a couple of inches a year and reach a height of 5′ to 6′ in maybe six or seven years.

“Great,” my husband said.  “We’ll either be blind or half dead or in a senior home by that time.”

The saleswoman in her 20s didn’t really connect.  All she could think of was that her shift ended in 10 minutes and that she craved a hot dog with everything on it.

“How about this one?” my husband asked, pointing to another bush.

“Same thing.”

He looked like one of the gangly clematis vines hanging on for dear life on the trellis along the side of our deck.

“This sucks!  Either we pay out the nose for a mature bush or tree or we settle for a little nothing of a plant that we’ll never be around to see when it’s full grown.”

I never envisioned the day when we’d suffer the consequences of aging in the garden.  I anticipated physical and mental insults.  But decisions about shrubs and trees?  Never.

If there is a moral to this story, it would have to be this:  Buy trees and shrubs when you’re young so you can age together.

 

 

 

Writing A Book About Suicide Is One Thing: Getting People to Read It Is Quite Another

It’s not a summer read that you gobble down in a matter of hours while you lounge in the sun, sip your drink of choice, and, if you’re under 40, work on your tan.  (Actually, I see a lot of “older” women out there with the goal of turning a golden brown.  They’ll be sorry.  Trust me.)

I digress.  Maybe it’s my attempt to make a serious subject into a lighter one.  But there’s no way.  Teen suicide is serious: dead serious.  Whether we like it or not, our kids are attempting suicide and, sadly, completing suicide at record numbers.  Suicides among girls ages 15 to 19 reached a 40-year-high in 2015.  That number doubled between 2007 and 2015.  We can never know for sure, but the best estimates show that 5,240 teens attempt suicide every day.  More than 5,000 in grades seven through twelve die every year.

 

www.newshelves.com

When I hired NewShelves to help me promote Dead Serious: Breaking The Cycle of Teen Suicide, head honcho Amy Collins (She’s the best!) was straight up with me: Bookstores are not your best bet.  Really?  I thought such an important topic at a time when teen suicide is rocking thousands and thousands of families, friends, and communities would be a bookseller’s must have.  “No,” said Amy.  “People just aren’t comfortable going into a bookstore and buying a book about suicide.”

 

I was sure she was wrong; sadly, she was not.  Libraries, she said, are the home for Dead Serious.  Again, she’s proven to be right.  Now, I don’t get the difference between taking out your library card and checking out a book or standing in front of a bookstore salesperson and buying a book.  I mean, neither knows you and is probably too busy multi-tasking to pay much attention.

But in this age of everything Amazon (or Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Kobo and the like), a reader can order a book online and either have the eBook format downloaded to their Kindle or other reader or have the actual book mailed to their home.  There is complete anonymity in such transactions.  (Maybe that’s why Dead Serious has been ranked in the Top Ten on Amazon in the Books > Teens > Social Issues > Suicide category since its publication at the end of January, 2018.  Yea!)

 

At this point, I’m going to plug away.  I’ve decided to focus on main libraries in major cities rather than market to a zillion smaller towns around the country.  NewShelves sent me an Excel sheet a million miles long with contact information for librarians who buy books to add to their collections.  It would take me the next year to get in touch with each one.  A Herculean task I’m not about to undertake.

No, teen suicide is not a happy subject.  Reading a book on the subject can be a challenge.  But Dead Serious revolves around the stories of teens in their own words, all kinds of strategies for breaking the cycle, song lyrics, and new chapters on bullying, LGBTQ teen, successful suicide prevention programs, and more.

Authors assume their work is done once they’ve birthed a new book and put it out into the universe.  The hard truth: their work has just begun.