It's 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night in the intensive care unit at Bryn Mawr Hospital outside of Philadelphia. The lights are out in the hallway, and it's relatively quiet -- relatively. The one patient who repeatedly screamed out "Help me!" every hour on the hour has been moved upstairs, and now I'm getting used to a nearby patient whose breathing monitor occasionally plays a bizarre jazz riff in the mode of Charlie Parker. My ICU Room 1 is illuminated only by flickering lights, the TV with its endless-50-something-guy loop of Sportscenter, and a pale green monitor showing my heart rhythms, pulse and blood pressure, thanks to a cuff that strangles my left arm when I least expect it, usually as I'm drifting off to sleep. The cuff is just one element of a tangled web of tubes and wires, EKG leads taped to the hairs of my chest, while a pint of fresh blood drips slowly into an IV line, and oxygen meter taped to my left ring finger that glows red and adds a weird ET vibe to the whole affair.
There's also another glow in the room, coming from my laptop computer, where my IV-bruised arms are typing to finish a blog post about Karl Rove and the Delaware Tea Party before I finally doze off. My new book has been on the market for less than three weeks, and if I don't do something to promote it, it will disappear from the proverbial map, never to return. For one year, I worked my tail off to write what I hoped was the book of a lifetime. Now, amid the strange beeps and flickering lights of the ICU, I wondered if I'd taken that "book of a lifetime" thing a little too seriously.
No matter. The book promotion cannot stop... not even from the ICU.
I always knew that flogging my book -- The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Huckster, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama -- was not going to be easy -- although I never pictured this. That's the way it is in 2010. It was one thing to research and write a book about the rise of the Tea Party Movement. Yes, it meant setting up lots of travel to places where a liberal-minded writer like myself doesn't normally go -- the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky, or slipping in the back pew of the tiny Living Word Baptist Church in Tempe, to listening to Obama-death-praying-pastor Stephen Anderson. Then there was the writing 118,000 words in a few short months -- most of which while I was still at my job as a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News. At least that was all what I do best -- journalism -- and it was under my control.
Promotion is something else. Yes, there are others who are doing a great job working with me on this -- the promotional folks at my publisher HarperCollins and also at Media Matters for America, where I'm a senior fellow -- but the reality is that in the Internet Age the burden increasingly is on the author to be "on" practically 24/7, starting from a couple weeks before the "pub date" and then for a couple of months after that. Sure, maybe in 1990 you could sit back and wait for the dozens of American newspapers with thriving book review sections to weigh in -- but the vast majority of these have vanished -- or maybe back then you could travel the country and actually get people to come out on a Tuesday night for a book signing. That was before they invented high-def TV... and Facebook.
So it's different now. To prepare for the release of The Backlash, I went back to using Facebook and created first a group -- "Backlashing Against The Right-Wing Backlash" -- and then went back and created a fan page when they told me that no one joined Facebook "groups" anymore. Once that task was over, it was back to Twitter to build my following and send out pithy insights or links that might help push the book, even though studies show that most links are only clicked by maybe 3-4 percent of your followers. No matter -- any author who doesn't network socially is dead in the water.
One morning I was on the computer and my wife walked in and informed me -- OK, she read it in the New York Times -- that I would never sell my book unless I made a video for YouTube, and it went viral. OK, I said. I set to work on my first script ever -- and got a break that most authors would never get when some pros at Media Matters agreed to work with me on the production. (Yes, I want you to watch it -- it's here.)
The only problem was that when I went to D.C. to film my part of it, I looked like death warmed over. In fact, I'd just spent several days in the hospital, for a bout of ulcerative colitis, something that had been in remission for 10 years but elected to come back just a few weeks before the "pub date." Ironically, overweight and out-of-shape, I had wanted to lose weight for the book promotion. Ultimately, I did lose 45 pounds in two months, all the wrong way. But now was not the time to ease up, not as the magical date of Aug. 31 approached.
I bumped up my steroid dose on Aug. 28 so I could live-Twitter and blog about Glenn Beck -- a main subject of The Backlash -- from the Lincoln Memorial without covering it from the Port-o-Potties. I called in every chit with every progressive blogger I knew and blogged up a storm myself -- knowing that this was the only way I could guarantee my book could guarantee any attention at all, especially with an onslaught that would include rival books from well-known reporters at the Washington Post and New York Times.
Then came Sept. 14, a day I shall never forget. Something happened that as a writer I had always dreamed of -- The Backlash was reviewed in the New York Times. Amped up on excitement and maybe the steroids, I emailed friends and stayed up until 2 a.m. At 3 a.m., I woke up with the chills. I got up again at 9, too disoriented to even comprehend my emails, feeling short of breath and with some pain in my chest. But the show had to go on -- I needed to get to a studio to tape The Michael Eric Dyson Show, had to cover (from my desk, thankfully) Christine O'Donnell's primary win in Delaware for the Daily News, and then I got asked to go on a special late-night Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. I went on the air at 11:40 a.m., sweating and whiter than Casper the Friendly Ghost and talking as fast at the Fed Ex guy, but was somehow coherent.
I didn't get to the emergency room until the next day.
Look, I won't bore you with the whole medical report -- in addition to colitis they learned I have narrowing of the coronary arteries (don't worry -- my obligatory mea culpa blog post urging or perhaps badgering you to join me in eating salmon and swiss chard for life will come... ot yet), and it got very complicated dealing with both at the same time, including a setback that sent me down to the ICU for four days. The funny thing was I realized that I owed The Daily Beast the final installment of a debate with Douglas Schoen over the Tea Party movement. Thank God that Bryn Mawr Hospital has wifi, huh? Once I finished that, I figured why not get something up on The Huffington Post, especially since I had a mini-scoop from the book about Karl Rove, Delaware Tea Partiers, and Christine O'Donnell, and once that was done I started working on an op-ed for CNN.com. Eventually, I did a couple of radio interviews with West Coast stations from my hospital bed. It was either that or watch game shows, right?
I know what some of you are thinking -- that hospital time is convalescence time, that working in an ICU creates stress? Really? But for an author who poured his heart and soul into a book for a year, what could be more stressful than watching it disappear from sight while you're tethered to a bunch of IVs. For the vast majority of authors whose first name doesn't start with "Bob" and last name doesn't end with "Woodward," we must struggle to be a Superman (or Woman) -- a constant Twitter wit, your new best friend on Facebook, intrepid blogger pouncing on any shred of breaking news that might be an excuse to mention your tome and, fingers crossed, get called by a cable producer. That's not even a complaint (and I've met a lot of great people doing book promotion), just the way it is. Writing a hell of a good book? Some nights that seems like that was an afterthought.
Good news -- as I was writing this last paragraph the doctors signed my release papers, and I'm about to go home.
More time to promote my book?
Actually, I just did.