Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Shameless Self-promotion

My first book was published about 40 years ago. I had written a story for the Washington Post Sunday magazine about bikers—motorcyclists—and Harper and Row contacted me. Would I like to do a book? I hadn’t considered writing books at the time, but this seemed viable. No agents were involved. Harper & Row sent me a contract. I read it; it was straightforward so I signed on the dotted line and never once regretted doing so.

I wrote the book over about nine months, and Mr. Wood, a genial older man and a respected editor, sent me several letters asking for clarifications on finer points. What was the difference between a Knucklehead and a Panhead Karley? Were Montesas Spanish or Brazilian bikes? Who were the Motorcycle Maids, and was there really a group called Dykes on Bikes?

When it came out Bike! Motorcycles and the People Who Ride Them was a modest success. A hardback was soon followed by a paperback. I got favorable reviews, including one in Rolling Stone. Harper & Row arranged a brief book tour.

One event was an author appearance on an early morning talk show in Pittsburg. I arrived at the television studio decked in full leather regalia with hair down to the middle of my back. The host was a study in pancake make-up—dreadfully white with bright orange hair, bloodshot eyes, and an iridescent blue suit. It was eight in the morning and he was drunk.

I spent my allotted 17 minutes trying to persuade him that I had not written a book on bicycles. I failed. He actually—really, truly—made a couple of dubious bicycle seat jokes. On a subsequent radio call-in show, I had to disabuse several Pittsburg bicyclists that the book had nothing to do with their two-wheel mode of transport.  

That was then, this is now.

I’ve discovered, as have most authors today, that getting a book published is minimally about writing; putting words on paper is possibly the easiest part of the process.

Getting an agent today is almost impossible and even having one does not mean he or she is aboveboard. My agent, Barry Zucker, persuaded me to sign with his agency, McGinniss Associates, in January 2014. And then he vanished. I have not heard from either him or the agency since June of last year. There’s been no response to my numerous letters, phone calls, emails, and text messages.

It turns out there is no governing agency for literary agents. You want to be an agent? Just say you’re one. Create a web page, and insert your name in any number of lists. You’ll get queries within days because writers are desperate to get published and if you’re going to deal with the Big Five publishers, you need an agent.

Me, after the agent pulled his disappearing trick, I decided to self-publish. I soon discovered this is not the easier, softer way. Aside from mastering the software needed to publish in various versions—epub, kobo, mobi, PDF—that can be read by Kindles, Nooks, iPads, Sony, and others, I’ve had to mount a promotional campaign for myself. I have given free electronic copies of Thirst to readers willing to post reviews of the book on Amazon and Good Reads. I’ve sought and gotten the help of successful on—line gurus. I spend a minimum of an hour a day badgering friends and acquaintances to buy and review Thirst. This weekend, I’ll do a short video about the book that can be posted on my Goodreads and Amazon author pages, as well as on my website, www.sagnier.com. I am trying to set up a book signing at a local independent store that doesn’t seem interested in returning my calls. I’ve attended seminars on making a small splash in a big pond—in 2013, more than 450,000 books were self-published.

So here is the self-promotion of the day: Check out Thirst at http://tinyurl.com/thirstbook. If you think you’d enjoy reading it, send an email to thierry@sagnier.com and put “ebook review” in the heading. I’ll give a free EBook copy of Thirst to the first ten people who contact me and offer to do a review. Make sure to tell me what format you’ll need—Kindle, Nook, or other.



  1. Rus Wornom, Richmond, VAMay 3, 2016 at 2:07 PM

    Thank you for this post. I was about to send Zucker a query letter for a novel, but this has changed my mind.

  2. I just happened to come across your story before submitting to Barry Zucker at McGinniss. I'm glad I read about your experience first. It makes me very leery about submitting to this particular agent. On the other hand, I've received requests for fulls and partials without ever hearing back one way or another. This has made me a cautious skeptic about the current state of publishing. Thanks again for sharing your experience.