What I Learned on My Very Long SEINFELDIA Book Tour

 

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Mini-pies and black and white cookies in Louisville.

I’m sort-of done with my book tour for Seinfeldia‘s hardcover edition—which I certainly should be, given that it came out nearly nine months ago. I have a few book festivals and paid speaking engagements left, but as far as my straight-ahead, girl-and-a-book road show is concerned, I’m wrapped until paperback (which is a mere three months away in June). In any case, it’s a good time to reflect on some things I’ve learned on this tour, which was by far the most intense book promotion I’ve ever done. Not only was this book a bestseller about a topic people loooove, which meant more invitations than I’d ever gotten before; I also did the Jewish Book Council, which books authors who are Jewish or who have Jewish books at synagogues and JCCs across the country, paying for all travel expenses. (Publishers very rarely pay for tours these days, so usually authors themselves are paying their travel if not for an organization like the JBC.)

 

I did enough appearances that I lost count long ago, but I would say dozens. I know how lucky I am to have a book people want to hear about; though it is an arduous process, I remain a big believer in the value of meeting people in person and making connections throughout the country. I have stayed in fancy hotels and in people’s homes; I have been feted with fancy nighttime soirees and I have been asked, upon requesting the luxury of water during my speech, “Is warm water okay?” I have been stuck in the special hell known as a missed connecting flight several times. I have sold anywhere from 1 to 60 books in a night, with crowds ranging from a handful to 200 or so.

If you’re touring with a book yourself anytime soon, please learn from my experiences:

  • Get TSA Precheck, then make sure anyone booking your flights has your Known Traveler Number, then make sure it shows up on every ticket you get. I had Precheck, and it saved me untold agony; but there were also a few glitches when it didn’t show up, and one time this was compounded by a nightmare scenario that had me going back and forth between terminals three times at one airport. Every time, I had to go through standard security with my carry-on.
  • San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room in Terminal 2. It is tiny and no-frills but an extremely pleasant way to spend time between flights.
  • Make your job easier: Have something going on besides just reading or talking. I’m lucky in that I can show scenes from one of the funniest sitcoms of all time. I put together some edited clips, which I showed at the vast majority of my events. It’s a pain beforehand, because you need to make sure your venue has an audio-visual set-up that works. But it’s much more fun for everyone, including you. Alternatives to this include having an interview/discussion with another author (my friend, rockstar author Jami Attenberg, has been doing this on her tour right now to great effect) or putting together a little panel—I usually do this in Los Angeles, where, for instance, several former Seinfeld writers are based. In Louisville, with The J, I did a joint event with Seinfeld composer Jonathan Wolff that was a highlight of my tour.
  • If you do have an A/V presentation, put together a little kit of all the adapters you might need. I have a Mac laptop, so I don’t go anywhere without an HDMI adapter and a VGA adapter. I often bring my own HDMI cable, too, just in case. Jonathan speaks often on the road, and he showed me his even fancier kit, which includes his own lavaliere mic pack.
  • If you need to put together film clips, I recommend ScreenFlow, though certainly there are other programs as well.
  • Don’t travel on a day when there is a deeply emotional, historic election for President of the United States happening. You will be extra distressed when you then get stuck overnight in Charlotte, North Carolina, and your airline does not provide accommodations and you seem eternally doomed to a hell full of CNN TVs blasting terrible news at you. Just a general tip.
  • If you’re planning your own events, partner with a venue that has its own outreach—mailing lists, social media, etc. This goes double/triple/quadruple for cities where you don’t personally have a huge network. My best events were at places like Book Soup in Los Angeles, the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Word bookstore in Brooklyn, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
  • Small towns often have big turnouts. When I got invitations through the Jewish Book Council, it was tempting to just jump at places like Portland, Oregon, and ignore places like Dayton, Ohio, or Newport News, Virginia. No offense to those places, but some cities are just more travel-glamorous than others. Portland was great—it’s one of my favorite cities, and I got to stay in a sweet hotel—but Dayton and Newport News, among other smaller cities, drew some of my biggest crowds. In a place like Portland, there are about three bazillion impossibly cool cultural activities to compete with on any given night; the JCCs I visited in Dayton and Virginia were the hot spots for the night.
  • The bigger deal an event seems, the better it will be. Sounds kind-of duh, but let me explain: If you’re just another author they’re parading through on a daily or weekly basis, neither you nor your guests—if they even show up—will get much out of it. My most memorable events were the ones where we had themed food like Junior Mints and black-and-white cookies, trivia contests, and even—thanks, Louisville!—special themed cocktails and goodie bags. Do what you can, along with your hosts, to make an event An Event.
  • The Savannah Book Festival rules. A total highlight. They made me feel like a celebrity.
  • Applebee’s is not bad in a pinch. The salmon is great and a mere 540 calories.
  • Do not underestimate free breakfast at the hotel.
  • Make a standard list for packing that includes whatever you need for your presentation, what you want to wear for your presentation, and whatever else keeps you sane (I always bring workout clothes). Next time I want to get better at this and come up with a basic set of healthy, air travel-friendly snacks to pack. The eating situation has been a nightmare.
  • Shop for a few go-to outfits beforehand that span whatever seasons might be necessary. I have a lighter linen blazer and a wool blazer, plus a few cotton dresses that aren’t easily marred by travel. All of these outfits can be worn with the same black boots.
  • Don’t assume that because you’ve been asked to speak somewhere, your books will be for sale. Ask ahead of time so you can decide whether it’s worth showing up.
  • Especially for events where your book isn’t for sale, have something easy to hand out to remind people of your book; I got bookmarks made.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If there’s a small turnout, that’s only the tiniest bit to do with you and everything to do with the weather, the venue, local and national events, and all kinds of other things. One event planner at a Barnes & Noble told me that even INSERT NAME OF SUPER-FAMOUS MULTI-BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF AIRPORT-SOLD MYSTERIES HERE showed up once to an audience of zero.
  • Have fun and make friends with organizers and booksellers. They’ll be your allies next time around.

Any authors have any other book tour tips? I’d love to hear them!

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Upcoming SEINFELDIA Events

In the next several weeks, I’ll be in Georgia, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Oregon, and Staten Island talking Seinfeldia. Join me if you’re in the area!

Feb. 16-19, Savannah Book Festival, GA: Appearance.

7 p.m., Feb. 22, Museum of Jewish History, Philadelphia: SEINFELDIA presentation and signing.

11 a.m., March 8, JCC Greenwich, CT: SEINFELDIA presentation and signing.

7 p.m., March 14, Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Portland, OR: SEINFELDIA talk and signing.

7 p.m., March 16, Staten Island HillelSEINFELDIA talk and signing.

Some SEINFELDIA Press

People like to talk about Seinfeld! Here are some places it has been recently:

I talked Seinfeldia with my smart friends at Vulture.

Particularly great excerpt (i.e. I like the bits they chose) about “The Junior Mint,” “The Contest,” and others in The Guardian.

I also talked Seinfeldia with fellow Seinfeld geek Jim Turano at WGN (in my hometown, Chicago!). 

A Salon.com discussion about the antiheroes of Seinfeld.

And ‘How Seinfeld Became About Something,’ from NBC online.

SEINFELDIA Is Out Today!

SEINFELDIA“Her book, as if she were a marine biologist, is a deep dive…Perhaps the highest praise I can give Seinfeldia is that it made me want to buy a loaf of marbled rye and start watching again, from the beginning.” —Dwight Garner,The New York Times Book Review

Get a copy of Seinfeldia wherever books are sold, or online at AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks a Million, or IndieBound.

SEINFELDIA Preview: An Interview with NBC Executive Jeremiah Bosgang

SEINFELDIAJeremiah Bosgang was on Seinfeld duty as a staffer at NBC from the show’s earliest days, when it was still called The Seinfeld Chronicles. For my upcoming book Seinfeldia, I interviewed him about how his boss Rick Ludwin, the network’s senior VP of specials, variety, and latenight, nurtured the strange little show that was about little more than a comedian talking to his friends.

It’s unusual for a sitcom to be developed in the latenight department. How did that happen?

That department is really like the step child. The really cool places are comedy and drama development. I joined Rick as a program associate, which is this special program that NBC had where they bring people in as development executives. You have maybe two years and they see if you’re somebody who can go on to become an executive. I joined in the late ’80s. Rick Ludwin had identified Jerry Seinfeld as this up and coming comedian. He thought this guy is the next thing to really break through. He called Jerry and his managers in for a meeting and asked what he wanted to do. Jerry was like, “I don’t know.” They came up with this idea that Seinfeld was supposed to be a hybrid show. The idea became: I’m going to do these three pods of standup, and then after those standup pieces, we’ll have these little scenes that show how I got the idea. And the pilot was very heavy on that. The first four to six episodes were like that.

How were you involved with the show?

I came in when the pilot was done. I had really always wanted to write and perform comedy. He said, “You’re gonna be the point person.” It was my first job as a network executive. I was probably 28 years old. After we’d do a table reading of the show, I was one of the guys giving Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld notes. What the hell did I know? They were always really very nice to me.

How did it change from The Seinfeld Chronicles for the first episode to Seinfeld after that?

I still remember [NBC President] Brandon Tartikoff talking about how Jerry was unhappy with the title of the show. at the time the show was not any huge success. There were strong advocates for the show at the network, chiefly Rick Ludwin and myself. I remember Brandon coming down to Rick Ludwin’s office when I was in there. He said, “I caved to Seinfeld, it’s gonna be called Seinfeld now.”

What was the relationship like between the network and the show then?

One of the the things that I learned from Rick Ludwin was that Rick really empowered Jerry and Larry to do the kind of show that they wanted to do. Even if there were times when we were scratching our heads at those early episodes, what I learned was this was their show. NBC hired a real voice and talent and vision and then created an environment so they could do what they do. Rick and I had to fight internally to give Seinfeld its due. At the time the show that was supposed to be the big show was Wings. The people at NBC really believed in Wings and the creative people behind Wings. Seinfeld was this thing where even when it wasn’t a perfect episode, you’d go, Wow, that was kind of cool.

How did being involved in Seinfeld help your career?

The big upstart then was Fox. I ended up leaving NBC to become the head of comedy development at Fox largely due to the halo effect of Seinfeld. Even though there were lots of other successful sitcoms built around a comedian, there was nothing that had the kind of storytelling and pacing that Jerry and Larry created.

 

SEINFELDIA Preview: An Interview with Writer Peter Mehlman

la-et-jc-seinfeld-writer-peter-mehlman-on-his-novel-it-wont-always-be-this-great-20141107Peter Mehlman was the first writer hired for Seinfeld outside the core production staff, starting with the 13-episode season that was basically the show’s second. (It began with one episode in July 1989, four episodes the next summer, and 13 the following year.) He was also one of the rare Seinfeld writers who stuck around for multiple seasons—in fact, he didn’t leave until the penultimate season, when he left to develop his own show, the gone-too-soon It’s Like, You Know …Here, some highlights of my interview with Mehlman for my upcoming book Seinfeldia (out July 5, available for pre-order now!).

 

So what was that like, being there for most of the show’s run?

It was so amazing to be on that ride. The show was so good, it was like I couldn’t believe the show could possibly fail. After my first script, when we shot it, Larry said, “If by some off chance we get picked up, you’ve got the job.” And it was like, there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to get picked up. It was just so good. I didn’t realize, of course, that being good is actually a detriment to your chances. At that time, I didn’t realize all that.

 

Did your life change as the show got popular?

Not so much in day-to-day work life. But you could feel things changing. Like all of a sudden the show started getting a little bit of notice and tons of agents started showing up. And none of us knew what we were doing. Larry and Jerry hadn’t even done a sitcom before so we would just let the agents hang out on the floor. So the floor of the Seinfeld set got to be this weekly party. It was like a mob scene.

They were trying to sign writers, especially me because I was with a boutique agency. I would say almost more like a bodega agency. I later found out that CAA and ICM, they literally had agents assigned to me, to try to get me to leave my agency.

Did you ever?

Not until about two years ago.

How did you initially get your agent?

I wrote one spec script for The Wonder Years, not even really planning on getting into the business. I was a freelance magazine writer at the time. So I moved to Los Angeles and I’d seen a few episodes of The Wonder Years and I thought, “Oh, you know what I should do? I should write a freelance script for them and make all this money!” I thought it would really help me out because moving is expensive. I had no idea that your chances of having a script bought on a freelance basis like that are basically next to zero. And obviously it never got anywhere near the show, but somebody passed it on to somebody who passed it on to somebody and it got to my agent. And then somebody met with me and I had an agent!

Did he help you get Seinfeld then?

No, he had nothing to do with it. Agents never really get anybody any jobs. They negotiate when something falls in their lap.

So how did Seinfeld happen?

I met Larry in New York a couple of times. And then I moved out [to L.A.] in ’89. I was still just freelance magazine writing. And the year I moved here, I bumped into Larry. He was doing this little show with Jerry Seinfeld. And maybe I could write a script? He had no idea that I’d never written dialog, really. And so I gave him a writing sample. It was an article from The New York Times, an “About Men” column that was kind of a bittersweet, funny essay. And he passed it on to Jerry. And Jerry just liked it, so… they gave me a chance to write a script.

For more, check out Seinfeldia, on sale July 5.

 

Get a Free Signed Copy of SEINFELDIA by Joining My Launch Team!

SEINFELDIASeinfeldians, I need your help in getting the word out about SEINFELDIA as its July 5 release date approaches! To that end, I am recruiting a special ten-person launch team. In exchange for your help, I’ll send you a free, signed copy of the book. You’ll agree to post something about the book (a pic of the cover, a link to order it online, something fancy like a gif or a meme, a rave review) on whatever platforms you use—blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.—every day for the week of the launch, July 5-12.

If you’re interested, tell me in the comments here, ping me on Facebook or Twitter, or email me here.

UPDATE: This offer is now closed. Thank you all for your interest!

SEINFELDIA Preview: The ‘Real Kramer’ on Larry David, Bus Tours, and Kato Kaelin

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The brochure for Kenny’s bus tour.

Last week I shared some of my interview with Rochelle Rochelle model Chela Holton. Today some snippets from my chat with the man I consider the mayor of Seinfeldia, Kenny Kramer. He inspired his former neighbor, Larry David, to create the indelible character of Kramer for Seinfeld. He continues to lead a successful bus tour of Seinfeld sites in New York, Kramer’s Reality Tour, which I highly recommend. Here are a few choice snippets from my interview with him; for the whole story, pick up Seinfeldia on July 5, or pre-order it RIGHT NOW.

What did you think when you first heard Larry David wanted to base a character on you?I thought that Larry David is going to write a network television sitcom for primetime and nobody’s going to put it on the air. He was living across the hall while he did the pilot and when they shot the four test episodes [the second year it was on].

When did you actually finally get the idea that maybe this was going to change your life? Around the second and third season of the show. The second season was 13 episodes. The third season it really started getting a buzz. Kramer became this unbelievable character.

 

 

Do you have any favorite moments from actually going to the set? Bonding with Michael [Richards, who played Kramer] is special. He and I have a lot in common. We were both single parents raising a daughter; we had so much in common that it was really strange. We never really became friends who always were friendly. But when I go out [to Los Angeles], he and I will sometimes hang out a little bit. It was a kick for both of us.

 

What was it like being there for the finale? It was very exciting. I had VIP access. The moment I’ll never forget is they had the wrap party afterwards, and they did it at House of Blues. Jerry, Larry, myself, Larry’s wife, Jerry’s friends, maybe 20 of us had a special wristband that could get us into the VIP room. I was in there and I will never forget Kato Kaelin was there. And this was not long after all that shit went down in the trial. Kato came running up to me, he recognized me, he was very excited to meet me. Then Larry comes in and I said, “Larry, say hello to Kato Kaelin.” The look on Larry’s face, it was priceless, like he was just despicable human being.

What do you feel like is the best part of being the real Kramer? The fact that I can make a living without too much work.

 

SEINFELDIA Preview: An Exclusive Interview with the Face of ‘Rochelle Rochelle’

 

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Street artist Jayshells made this reproduction of the poster featured on the show and hung it at an abandoned New York City theater in 2013. He gave Holton a copy.

Seinfeld‘s fictional movie titles were always a special treat — Sack Lunch or Chunnel, anyone? — but the one with the most mystical staying power has to be Rochelle Rochelle, “a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.” First, George sees the film at the theater. Then he’s renting it in a later episode when he runs into his ex, Susan, and her new girlfriend at the video store. It even eventually becomes a stage adaptation in an episode guest-starring Bette Midler.

 

And all the time, the movie poster remains the same: a hazy, moody black and white portrait of a beautiful young woman.

She was “played” by an uncredited extra named Chela Holton. Though Holton did lots of Hollywood background work during the time Seinfeld was on, she now lives a low-key life in California. I was lucky enough to be the first to interview her about her Seinfeld experience for my upcoming book Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, which is out July 5 — and available for pre-order right now.

Here, a few highlights from our interview … for the rest of the good stuff, please check out the book!

How did you end up as Rochelle? I was an extra, but I had been hired specifically to pose for this picture. They needed her to have a summery dress on. I had to borrow one from a neighbor. They dolled me up a little bit. Outside the soundstage, there was a little park area where I posed for pictures.

Were there multiple set-ups? We did a lot of different things. They had me walking with my suitcase. The idea was that it was supposed to be a dark and dreary setting but then here’s this girl in her sundress. Most of the pictures they took were of me standing, but the one they used was a crop. The idea was how out of place this girl in her sundress is. I think the day was perfect, because it was overcast.

Since you were hired as an extra, did you appear in any other scenes? By the time they were done with my mini-photo shoot, probably a couple of hours had passed; they had me change and then I was an extra in the bar scene. My back is to the camera and my hair is back, so you can’t tell that it’s me. And by the time that scene was done, there was my picture on the poster, eyebrows all unkempt. It was so fast. It was like a drill. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and they just got it done.

Did you get a copy of the poster? Way back when the show aired, I was told, “Call back next week and ask if you can get a copy.” When I called, they said, “Sorry, it’s studio property.”

Do people in your life realize the significance of Rochelle? I have two beautiful stepchildren. [My partner] took a screenshot [of the poster] from the show and blew it up to hang in his office. So the kids asked about it once or twice. They think I’m famous. Realistically, I very rarely bring it up. It was 20 years ago. Vanity overcomes, and who wants to be as old as that?

There are also people in the office. There’s this young boy who recently moved onto another position. But he’s obsessed with Seinfeld. So much so that he would bring up a quote or say something Seinfeldesque several times a day. We even started a Seinfeld jar. He put a dollar in every time he said something about Seinfeld. He’s young, so he would have been a little kid when it was on. I have not told him. That’s my little secret.