Shameless Publicity

- by Rebecca York

I found out recently on Twitter that Kate Rothwell had done a column with Gene Weingarten in THE WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE. He interviewed her about romance novels and took a stab at writing one.  Then she told him why his efforts sucked.
I thought, “Kate, that’s great!  What a fabulous place to get some publicity.”  The bad news was that the column ran on the Sunday of the big whiteout.  A day when a lot of people didn’t get their newspapers because the whole DC area was under three feet of snow.  But I was able to read the column online.

I asked Kate how she’d hooked up with Weingarten, and she told me she’d bought his (adjective deleted) car in a charity auction.  She must have mentioned she was a romance writer, and the wheels started spinning in his head.  When you have a weekly column to fill, you’ve got to have your antenna out.

A few years ago, I had my own brush with Weingarten. In his columns he loves to poke fun at people and, um, insult them.  One of his favorite tactics is to call up some poor schmuck for an interview. They don’t know who he is, so he lets them babble on about why camel dung is the universal energy source of the future or how breast size determines IQ or something equally bizarre.

In 2001 I was looking for some publicity after my husband badgered me into writing and publishing a cookbook called FABULOUS LO-CARB CUISINE.  That was at  the height of the low-carb craze, and he kept looking at the books on Amazon and saying, “They’re all by amateurs.  You’ve written twelve cookbooks.  Yours will be better.”  I kept protesting, “I don’t have time to develop 200 recipes.”

I finally agreed to doing a shorter book and said, “I’ll do the recipes if you do the rest of the work.”  In fact, he did a lot of it.  But I also had to find a cover artist and work with her and also design the interior pages.

With three thousand copies in hand,  we started on the publicity.  My husband had some great ideas, including going to low-carb Web sites, getting reviews, and selling books there. He also contacted radio shows I’d been on with previous cookbooks and got me interviews, then branched out into other shows.  In fact, the book went into three or four printings and sold over nine thousand copies.

I wrote and sent out press releases.  And one morning, I got a call from a man who said, “This is Gene Weingarten.”

Me: “Gene Weingarten?  You’re calling ME?”

Gene: “You know who I am?”

Me:  “Of course.  I love your column.  I especially loved the one where you got the diploma mill people to reveal their methods in print.  You said your editor insisted that you tell them what you were doing, so you buried the information in the middle of  a long rambling bio of yourself.”

Gene: “Glad you liked that one.  This time I’m doing a column on book publicity.  I got your press release out of the trash can at BOOK WORLD. If you tell me something embarrassing about yourself, I’ll print that and also print a few sentences praising your book.”

I’d seen his previous column where he’d made the same offer to publicists.  He’d reveal that the woman he’d interviewed had had a baby out of wedlock with a famous politician.  Then he’d go on to say that the book she was pushing, THE SEX LIFE OF THE ARCTIC TERN, was great for putting under the cat box or lining the bird cage.

Yes.  I knew exactly what he was doing.  But I thought, “Any mention of my book is good. Particularly in THE WASHINGTON POST.”

Gene:  “Do you want to be in the column?”

Me: “Yes.”

Gene:  “Tell me something embarrassing about yourself .”

Me, thinking fast.  Do I tell him about the time I got apprehended by a security guard at two in the morning, after climbing in a window of the English Department at the University of Maryland when I was a teaching assistant?  Naw.  I said: “I had my eyeliner tattooed on.”

Gene:  “Really.”

Me:  “Really.  It’s a lot more convenient than having to put it on with a brush every morning.”

Gene:  “Didn’t that hurt?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Gene:  “Did you tell your mother about it?”

Me:  “No.”

Gene, after a short pause: “Okay.  I guess we can go with that.  But I need some more authors to participate before I write the column.”

I called him up a few weeks later and asked how it was going.  He said that too many authors had seen the previous column with publicists, and he couldn’t get enough new people to play.  That’s how I missed my big chance at fame and fortune.

But I’ll do anything for publicity.  If you have any great suggestions, let me know.  Maybe we can get a dialogue going here. Or some kind of co-op arrangement? Something big that will make a splash and get us publicity all over the U.S.  And I can use the material for the panel I’m doing on publicity at RWA National with Sheila Clover English, of Circle of Seven, and Sue Grimshaw, the Borders Romance Buyer.  (Panel was MY idea.)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the eyeliner’s mostly faded.  I’m back to drawing neat black lines on my eyelids.

Rebecca York


  1. I think Weingarten felt guilty about the car so he tried to make it up to me with “a whiff of cheesy publicity” as he put it.

    Turns out it’s a great little car if you like ancient junkers–which we do.

    And also it was not an interview, not really. As I’ve pointed out to some outraged male readers, it’s a humor column and I didn’t really say those things, not like that, anyway. Nearly every opinion expressed was invented by Gene. But hey, I’d let him put words in my mouth any day of the week.

  2. I’m sorry that colunn with you in it didn’t run. It sounds like it would have been a good one.

  3. Kate, glad to know he twisted your words. Or glad because I can’t remember the exact conversation with him 9 years ago. But some of it’s very vivid.

  4. Yes, I do think it’s funny. Boys came in the room to see what I was chuckling about. :)

  5. I’m just really glad I now know this man’s name, Rebecca, in case he ever calls me. Thanks for that! As for publicity, I am on the uphill of a steep learning curve as we speak. I hope we get more ideas here. I would love to hear them. (OH! And I had permanent eyeliner tattooed on as well. It lasted a month. I was very irked. :))