No, I'm not Will Self

<p>Writing a book is only the first step. Next you have to go out and flog the damn thing. (&quot;Flog&quot; in the promotional sense, though there is often the &quot;dead horse&quot; feel to it as well.)</p>
<p>Authors, having spent months, years even, huddled in a small room pecking away at a keyboard are now expected to wobble forth atop a unicycle juggling like mad, trying desperately to get the attention of a blissfully uninformed media.</p>
<p>Never mind that the single most boring sentence in the English language is &quot;Mr Jones will now talk about his book&quot;, and never mind that most of the hosts will not even have read your novel, much less skimmed through it, the publicity machine is a rite of passage, much like the running of the bulls&mdash;but with more casualties.</p>
<p>Hosts who haven't read your novel are not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if they haven't read it, they haven't formed any criticisms of it either. Often, when the time comes to introduce you, they will simply flip over your book and read directly from the back cover: &quot;Next up, Jeremy Jones will be talking about his new book . . . an epic tale that combines the poetic elegance of Dan Brown with the meticulous plotting of Michael Ondaatje!&quot;</p>
<p>I was once &quot;interviewed&quot;&mdash;note the ironic use of quotation marks&mdash;by a BBC Radio host who not only hadn't read my book or even the back cover, but hadn't quite managed to get all the way through my name. He'd been expecting Will Self to show up. It was a tad awkward.<br />
&quot;You're not Will Self then?&quot;<br />
&quot;Um, no. A completely different Will.&quot;<br />
&quot;Oh. I see.&quot;</p>
<p>Stranger still, by a weird twist of fate I found myself sitting beside Will Self at a publishing dinner the very next night. This was the first and&mdash;as it turned out&mdash;only time I met the man, which made my conversational opener all the more ill-advised: &quot;Hey! I was just mistaken for you!&quot; This elicited a somewhat perturbed look on Mr Self's face followed by a discernable shift away from me at the table.</p>
<p>My latest damn book is entitled <i>Spanish Fly</i> (Harvill Secker, 3rd January). It's about con men and call-girls who peddle fake love potions to unsuspecting suckers&mdash;hence the title. For the North American launch, we thought it might be fun to hand out packets of &quot;genuine Spanish fly aphrodisiacs&quot; at BookExpo Canada, labelled &quot;Guaranteed 100% placebo!&quot; I had suggested to my publicist that we could put baking soda in brown paper envelopes as our placebo, but it was pointed out to me that perhaps distributing a mysterious powder at a crowded public event might not be the best idea. (Though I have to say, a raid by a SWAT team, complete with rappelling ropes and anthrax-sniffing dogs would have got us excellent press.)</p>
<p>Instead, the publicist slipped promotional packets of sweetener Sweet 'N Low into the labelled envelopes, the marketing of fake aphrodisiacs falling under the broad definition of &quot;publicity&quot; apparently.</p>
<p>The book publicist&mdash;inevitably female, inevitably young, inevitably overeducated and chronically under-appreciated&mdash;is an odd figure. Among their many and varied responsibilities (tour co-ordinator, troubleshooter, chauffeur) publicists also act as sort of &quot;triage therapists&quot;, leaping in once the shooting stops to assuage insecurities and stroke frail authorial egos. Which is to say, they lie an awful lot.<br />
&quot;You were wonderful,&quot; says the publicist as she whisks you from one disastrous television interview to the next. &quot;Don't worry, you were fine. No one noticed the nosebleed.&quot;</p>
<p>At the forefront of the publicist's duties is to Indulge the Author, just as the author's duty is to Torment the Publicist. There are many ways you can torment a publicist: you can refuse to do an interview, you can show up late, you can whinge, you can moan. You can even ask them to pick blueberries out of a muffin.</p>
<p>I once did this&mdash;as a joke, I hasten to add, though the story has followed me around like gum on the bottom of a shoe. I was with a newly-assigned publicist who was taking me to an early morning interview and I decided to have some fun with her. We had stopped at a service station and I asked her for a blueberry muffin. When she handed it over, I sighed in my best passively-aggressive writerly manner and said: &quot;Can you pick the blueberries out?&quot;<br />
She baulked. &quot;Oh, I misunderstood. I thought you wanted blueberry. I'll go back and get you a plain.&quot;<br />
&quot;No,&quot; I snapped. &quot;I like blueberry muffins. I don't like blueberries. Can you PLEASE pick them out for me.&quot;<br />
Her face was set in diplomatic stone but I could see pure contempt in her eyes; then, before she could lunge at me I laughed. &quot;Kidding!&quot; I said. &quot;Just kidding.&quot;<br />
&quot;Oh,&quot; she said. &quot;Very funny.&quot;</p>
<p>Later, I mentioned this story in an interview, which then became an article which then ran in a US national newspaper. When I got home from my tour, a courier arrived to deliver a package from the publicist in question. Inside were a dozen blueberry muffins and a pair of tweezers, along with a note reading: &quot;Knock yourself out!&quot;<br />
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Email <a href="mailto:spanishfly@randomhouse.co.uk">spanishfly@randomhouse.co.uk</a> for your free sample of a &quot;genuine&quot; Spanish fly aphrodisiac (guaranteed 100% placebo).</p>