The Double Life of a Writer

Tayari Jones, the author of The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta, contributes a guest column over at Conversational Reading about her experiences publicizing her books.

[T]his time, I have been packaged as a ‘black’ writer. I have been assigned an African-American publicist who knows her market. Right out of the box, I was featured in Essence magazine, prompting about a zillion hits to my website. (With Leaving Atlanta I was reviewed in People and nobody cared.) Shortly after the piece was published, I gave a reading in Birmingham at Jefferson State Community College where I met an African American woman named Donna. After my reading, Donna took me more or less door to door at the university and announcing to every black woman on campus: ‘This is the author who was in Essence!’ Each woman whipped out her checkbook and purchased at least one copy of each book, no questions asked.

This is not to say that I have only promoted my books at ‘black’ events. Sometimes I feel like I went on two book tours at once. It’s almost like I am living a double life. I hired an independent publicist Lauren Cerand, an Anglo-American, who has done a fantastic job of booking me in a more ‘general’ market. Here’s an example:

When planning my trip to New York City, Lauren booked me at Bluestockings on the Lower East Side, where I read with Maud Newton. There were about fifteen people in attendance. All white, except my good friend Doug and my student Eve. The next day, thanks to my African American publicist, I read at Chocolat martini lounge in Harlem. There were about thirty people there. All black except for Lauren. I sold a lot more books in Harlem. Even the waitresses bought copies since I agreed to wait until they had accumulated tips enough to make the purchase. Both were great events, but my experience on the road has really shown me that there are (at least) two Americas.