Saturday, October 06, 2007


Little or nothing. Though I’m quite aware that I’ve done a lot of promoting in my time -- just not books. ( is beginning to move towards more emphasis on promotion and less on printing.) That means moving more towards being what we call a “publisher”, a kind of business which in the modern sense has only existed for a few hundred years, if that, and appears to be de-constructing itself.

As review, this is what a publisher does:
Seeks out or accepts work that seems worthy. (Now the criterion has become “seems saleable” which means mostly “like something that sold well earlier.”)
Edits for good sense, organization, and so on as well as correcting grammar and punctuation. (No more. Spell-check, if that.)
>Lays-out the copy with illustrations. (Hooray for this, but they used to pay for the illustrations.)
Proofs for type-setting errors. (Ha!)
Defines a market and promotes the book to that market. (Today’s topic.)
Maintains a warehouse of copies from which to ship. (This is what Print On Demand eliminates.)
Actually ships the books out to the bookstores and customers. Looks for helpful reviewers.

Back to promotion. Bob Scriver had me writing news releases and little brochures from the moment I hit Browning in 1961. One of the reasons it worked was that I really believed in him and his work. When he divorced me in 1970, School District #9, impressed by what they thought I’d done for Bob, hired me to “improve the image” of the district because everyone complained so much. Grandiously, I thought “why improve the IMAGE when the reality needs so much improving?” So that lasted about three months while I bustled around trying to get faculty communication going when what the Superintendent wanted was a nice veneer of photos and stories about how terrific the teachers and esp. the administrators were.

Then I was at Multnomah County Animal Control where Burgwin and I were almost on the same page, except this time I went a little too far the other direction. I did do officer training and in-house education, but I did more with image improvement, or thought I did. I learned to interact with the media by inventing occasions for stories, though I nearly came a cropper with one of Burgwin’s good ideas: issuing the lowest numbered dog licenses for the year (#1 through 5) to the Mayor and Commissioners who had dogs. My subconscious did this by nearly losing the first ten dog licenses off the pile on the very morning we were supposed to hand them out at City Hall.

One of my most successful stories was “how to pick up dog poop without making a total fool of yourself.” No one had thought of the plastic bag strategy then, so I had something to say and it was both a little naughty and quite useful. I also had some standing gigs with radio journalists and an agreement that if anyone canceled at the last minute, I’d come as fast as I could with a fairly decent story in hand. Burgwin had me tracking statistics on graphs (no computers yet) which was an excellent practice for both improving our strategy and keeping the media interested: they love statistics.

The dark side that I discovered in those days was the utter cynicism of modern media: they ALWAYS thought that we had an ulterior motive, that we were covering something up, that there was something vicious and evil lurking in there. They talked abut me being “a dog-catching flack” and didn’t believe what I told them. And I always considered their sentimentality to be their dark side. (One young female reporter explained to me, after a young woman had died in an accident and she’d written a tear jerker about how the woman’s cat slept on her bed in hopes she’d return, that the truth was that the cat had ALWAYS slept on the bed but the photographer had gotten a photo of the cat on the bed and the reporter’s editor made her build that into a big deal.) Their even DARKER side was inventing confrontations and oppositions and inflated dangers everywhere, and then projecting them onto us. They LOVED everyone to be deadlocked in controversy, so much more exciting than complicated compromises.

My next experience came in the church context as the circuit-riding Unitarian minister in Montana 1982-85. Again, the press pushed everything into pre-existing muffin tins, off-handed assumptions about what religion is -- all without any insight into church politics or denominational polity, the history of religions, or anything else very useful. Either you were starting a heresy or you were having a bake sale and that was all there was to it. Nevertheless, I romanced reporters and sent out letters to the editor. Sometimes it helped, if they got addresses and meeting times right. Something like my book of sermons, “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” went whistling right by their ears. Anyway, what reporter has time to read a religious book, even if they cared? The days of publishing sermons on the front page of the paper are long gone.

My last formal job in Portland was working for the City of Portland and it confirmed every suspicion any reporter ever had about cover-ups, behind the scenes deals, “spun” information and so on. In those years the city had an explosion of imported drug crime, a near-flooding of the downtown, a landslide that sent expensive houses sliding down onto other expensive houses, a county commissioner who picked up little boys, a slum landlord scandal, and so on. All hushed up, covered up, re-interpreted. I wasn’t doing any PR but I learned a lot from watching and listening.

So now I’m back in Montana since 1999 and watching the same sort of thing with Bob Scriver’s estate. “How can we wring more money out of it?” “If we never allow access to the inventory, no one will miss the ...” “How do we hide some of the, er, expediences that were, um, necessary?” Claims of being Bob’s best friend or his cousin. The ridiculous promotion of a little tourist piece Bob did early in his career as a “limited edition” valuable “find,” which lost people some money -- partly because of lousy casting. THAT was interesting to watch! And suppression. Old accusations and interceptions. Lots of people have lots of reasons to be suspicious of what I’ve written. Most of them can relax. Most of what I wrote in this book is funny stories, some sad, some amazing. The kind of thing you tell your friends after you read it. That’s a form of promotion right there, the form that really counts.

Tim, a person who has intense and bitter experience with the media, says that they will not be interested in the book -- they will want to go after ME, to find my hidden secrets, my unsuspected nature, and reveal that. So much more fun to snoop around in the life of someone still living, esp. if the book is supposed to be a memoir and if Indians are involved, though the Indian appetite for political witch-hunts has somewhat died down. He says I could play it demure and big-eyed, or I could play it all-knowing and not-quite-nice. I kind of like the latter alternative, but there’s not a lot for them to dig up. I guess that’s never stopped anyone in the past. There’s always something that can be smudged and skewed a bit a little to look worse than it is.

But, more helpfully, the real job is to figure out who will like to read this book and who could care less, so we can leave them out. We know about Western art fans, sculptors trying to succeed, Blackfeet, High Line Montanans, and maybe people who are interested in the Philosophy of Place. Brian Dippie suggests that the love story will pull in even those super-sophisticated Manhattan types. We’ll see. It’s a good one: not just Bob and me but Bob and Blackfeet and me and the reservation.

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