A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Help St. Jackie Bring It to Twitter

You'd be right as rain to wonder what a long-dead, bestselling trash writer could do for ebook writers anywhere. But, as I hope to show you in my usual terse way, the answer is: quite a bit. Let's start off with a handful of the basic facts:

Name: Jacqueline Susann.
When: 1918-1974.
What: Broke out with her world-wide bestseller, Valley of the Dolls, in 1966 at the age of 48 after stints as an actress and model. A born hustler, she married a man she didn't love but who adored her completely--and became her agent and tireless champion. She published four books in her lifetime:: Every Night, Josephine (about her life with her poodle)...VOD...The Love Machine...and Once is Not Enough. Her literary rivals despised her as fiercely as her readers loved her. Gore Vidal claimed "She doesn't write, she types." And Truman Capote claimed that she resembled "a truck driver in drag". But they ate their hearts out at her sales.
Why: Susann's importance to us lies far less in what she wrote than in how she hustled it. For that was her real genius. The specifics matter far less than the spirit Jackie brought to bear and the three key principles.
The Problem with the Specifics: The past is a locked door. The publishing industry has changed too much in the past 40 years for almost anyone to attempt to match Susann's world-wide tours for her books. Almost none of us can hope to appear, as she, did on talk shows. We lack her social and industry connections.
But now that we've got all that out of the way, let's tune into the beauty of Jackie Susann.

                                                SAINT JACKIE'S  MAGIC KEYS
1) Personalize!  Remember, Jackie died many years before the laptop or smart phone arrived. She relied on a Rolodex the size of a beachball. Others went on glitzy tours, yes. But Jackie stayed till every book was signed--and till she'd written down the name and address of each buyer. Why? Because she insisted on sending a personalized Thank You to each. And she was right in knowing that this set her apart from the pack and would richly pay her back.
2) Work the World, Not Just the Room: Other writers made a habit of schmoozing book store owners...while treating staff like dirt. Jackie always met the floor staff who would sell and shelve her books, getting invaluable face-out displays. Others licked reviewers' boots while trashing peeps who didn't count. Jackie waited outside stores with hot coffee and donuts for the truck drivers who delivered her books--wanting her boxes opened before the hundreds of others. For bookstore staff and drivers, she kept additional data: their birthdays and anniversaries, even the names of their kids.
 3) Never Appear to Be Working: This one is the trickiest. And it's a great key that cannot be faked. No one ever felt that they were being worked or played by her. When a card came from Jackie, it was the real deal. A coffee and donut were two precious gifts. She loved the business of her art...and loved the people she met.  Therein lay the difference.

So here we are on Twitter or Facebook, wondering how to apply Jackie's keys. Whether we use a Rolodex, a DayTimer or smartphone, we need to find our way of personalizing our approach. When everyone's touting, we need to be cool. And when everyone is self-absorbed, we need to be open and warm. We need to keep track of anyone who's shown the slightest interest in our work--and to repay them sincerely with ReTweets or occasional check-ins to see how they're doing, best wishes for work in progress. In other words, if we turn from thoughts about Me-Me to genuine thoughts about You, most of the specifics will take care of themselves. And Saint Jackie's spirit will shine upon us.


  1. Interesting stuff, Reb. The sad thing is that her actions just seem like examples of common courtesy. The fact that writers have to be reminded of them shows that the industry's changed in ways other than the technological, too. I haven't read her but from what you say, she really earned her success.

  2. I agree with you, Bill. Compare the following true story about a well-known mystery writer: when he visited Oxford Books, about a year before its closing, he yelled at a number of us because his books weren't displayed to his liking. We humbled ourselves until he'd left--then instantly removed all of his books and stashed them in impossible to find places till sales were run and it was found that he wasn't selling. Then we returned the hated books. On the other hand, there were a half-dozen writers I met at Bantam's promotional dinners. All of them were so charming and gracious that all of hustled their books to no end. As James Bond once said, "Now, now, Goldfinger, be nice to the little people."


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