Magazine article The Spectator

It Isn't Easy Being a Full-Time Self-Publicist

Magazine article The Spectator

It Isn't Easy Being a Full-Time Self-Publicist

Article excerpt

'You've turned into Jordan, ' said my wife, hurling last week's Independent on Sunday to the ground. The reason for this outburst was the picture of me on the cover of the Review section. I'd written an article to plug my new book about crashing and burning in Los Angeles, and to illustrate it I'd agreed to recreate the famous scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen sneezes into a pile of white powder at a Hollywood party.

Unfortunately, in the resulting photograph, it was impossible to tell that I was sneezing. It simply looked like I was inhaling a vast quantity of cocaine.

'That'll be a great help when it comes to getting our children into a good school, ' she said.

Like most authors who've just published a book, I'm extremely anxious that it will sink without a trace. Unlike most, however, there's almost nothing I won't do to prevent this from happening.

For instance, earlier this year I found myself at Hugh Hefner's Fourth of July party at the Playboy mansion. My book had just come out in America and it suddenly occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to garner a bit of publicity. I decided to hide myself away in a cupboard with a view to re-emerging when the party was over in the hope of getting arrested as an 'intruder'. With a bit of luck, one of Heff 's over-eager security guards might even take a shot at me.

I crept into the cupboard, my head swimming with the thoughts of all the headlines to come, only to abandon my plan at two o'clock in the morning when the party still showed no signs of winding down.

No doubt some people will think that such a craven desire for publicity is a tad pathetic, but there's no question that it moves units. In its first week of publication, my last book sold fewer than 250 copies.

Five years later it has sold over a quarter of a million worldwide, a figure that my British publisher attributes entirely to my relentless efforts to promote it. ('Nothing to do with the quality of the prose, then, ' I said. 'Afraid not, ' she replied. ) Of course, it's possible to go too far. Take my efforts to appear on the Graham Norton Show when my last book came out. Back in 1994, when I was editing a magazine, I hired Norton, who was then a jobbing stand-up comic, to perform at an event I was hosting at the ICA. He got a bit of publicity as a result and I have always told myself that I played a small part in launching his career. It was time to call in the favour.

I phoned the show and got put straight through to Tony Jordan, the celebrity booker. He paused for a few seconds after I explained who I was, clearly not used to people calling up and suggesting themselves as guests.

'So, do you actually know Graham?' he asked.

'Well, that depends on your definition of "know".' 'Put it this way, if I mention your name will he know who you are?' 'Er, well, er . . .' 'I see. Tell me, Toby, have you ever watched the Graham Norton Show?' 'Oh God yes. I watch it all the time. I'm a huge fan.' 'In that case, you should be aware that we only have HOUSEHOLD NAMES on the show.' 'Oh yes, I appreciate that, but . . .'.

'Please don't call again. …

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