Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Making of Buzz

There was a definite buzz in the air at the offices of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association’s Presidio headquarters Tuesday evening.

A group of women gathered around a slim, affable man, listening intently to his every word. They were local booksellers who had come to meet Sean Wilsey, a San Francisco native and author of the soon-to-be released memoir, Oh the Glory of It All.

Wilsey, 34, is the son of prominent San Franciscans, people whose antics regularly made the San Francisco Chronicle columns of Herb Caen and Pat Steger. When his father, Al Wilsey, left his mother, the beautiful blonde Pat Montandon, for her good friend Dede Traina, the city was scandalized. (Dede’s former husband, John Traina, went on to marry uber-novelist Danielle Steele) Wilsey went to live with his mother, who reinvented herself as a peace missionary by creating an organization that used children as emissaries to the world. In between being thrown out of various schools, Wilsey traveled around the world with his mother, talking peace.

Wilsey’s memoir recounts his troubled childhood, and by all accounts it’s a great read. His good friend, Dave Eggers, wrote this blurb: “Holy moley this is a great read-probably the most compulsively readable book I've picked up in years.” Most of the booksellers at Tuesday’s reception loved the book.

Wilsey is not a household name, not an already well-known author, so it was interesting to see the marketing push behind his memoir. His publisher, Penguin Press, clearly thinks Oh The Glory of It All has bestseller potential, and is doing everything it can to smooth the way for high sales.

The book won’t be published until late May, but Penguin has sent Wilsey on a West Coast tour to meet local booksellers. (He was in Los Angeles on Monday) Penguin is hoping the booksellers will read the book before it comes out so they can recommend it to their customers, a practice known as hand selling.

Most first-time authors are lucky to get even a small tour, let alone a pre-pub tour. It helps, of course, that Wilsey helped start McSweeney’s, and is part of the hip group of writers who are Dave Eggers’ friends. He is also a non-fiction writer, a former editorial assistant at the New Yorker, and a former letters correspondent at Newsweek.

“There is a lot of buzz around this book,” Wendy Pearl, a local representative for Penguin, told the group. “This isn’t a book we were told to love. It wasn’t pushed on us. All the reps read it and loved it and e-mailed each other.”

The book will be excerpted in two weeks in The New Yorker.

With thousands of books published each month, local bookstore buyers rely on reps’ recommendations, so when reps buzz, bookstore owners buzz, which means the book will make it into the hands of readers.

“I feel really lucky,” said Wilsey. “There’s a lot of San Francisco in this book. If people are going to buy the book, they’re going to buy it here.”

The book had an arduous journey. Wilsey sold the book to Random House in 1999 and was supposed to turn in a manuscript in 2001. But writing it took five years since Wilsey decided to interview many of the people he had grown up with. By the time the manuscript was finished, the original Random House editors who had bought in had long since departed. One of those was Ann Godoff, who had been unceremoniously dumped by Random House, but who landed at Penguin. When she read Wilsey’s finished manuscript, she loved it so much she bought the contract from Random House.

Wilsey will be talking at a Clean Well Lighted Place For Books in May .

No comments: