Will Your Book Get a Death Threat?

by Nancy Humphreys on September 6, 2011

Once upon a time, I had a writing teacher, Ester Hauser Laurence, author of the children’s book, B9, – the hungry metal eater. Ester repeatedly told us to “show” not “tell” what happened in our writing. One day Ester came walking in with all the rejection letters for her book. She had taped her letters together. As we watched, she unrolled them to the desk in the front of the room. We peeked out the door. The rejection-slip trail went down the whole length of the school and out into the parking lot. We got the lesson!

For a long time, I thought rejection slips (and believe me, I had my share of them!) were the worst thing that could befall an author. But then I self-published my first book in 1999.

After publishing two books I had decided to self-publish and self-market my own book. Well, it was actually a booklet. Together with my partner, a geographer and graphic artist, I created a 12-page booklet about places in northern New Jersey Shore documenting the highways, hometowns, and hangouts where Bruce Springsteen grew up. We called the booklet a Brucemap.

We came up with the idea of Brucemaps as a way to subsidize our trip to the East Coast to see the E Street Band Reunion tour with Springsteen at the Meadowlands stadium. We weren’t finished by the time we left, so we took the file with us and printed out the maps when we got there.

The maps of Freehold, Asbury Park, and the surrounding area were custom-made and drawn-to-scale. The map contained information about nearly 100 of places a fan could visit in northern New Jersey. We even included a couple unique photos of Bruce and Mrs. Jay’s, an Asbury Park bar where on a previous trip I’d enjoyed a Jersey Shore musicians’ jam session and just missed seeing Bruce debut his Born in The USA album up the street at another bar.

Greetings from The Parking Lot

It was August and the smell of scorched tar and barbecue grill fluid in the vast Meadowlands parking lot were overpowering. Nevertheless, we took a batch of the maps and began walking out at midday. After a few minutes a guy in a reclining chair with a beer beckoned to us. Excited by the prospect of our first sale, we went over to him.

“You girls shouldn’t be selling those things here,” he growled, “Bruce’s security will throw you out of the park. Just want to warn you.”

We looked around. All we saw was a sea of fans. All we heard were a multitude of Springsteen songs coming from everywhere like a thousand choirs of angels. We ignored the guy and continued on, but something inside us went “cold”.

Discouraged after a few “no” answers to our pitch and tired from the extreme heat, we trekked back to our car. On the way a guy my age approached with a camera on his shoulder.

“Say, are you the ones with the Brucemaps?” he asked. I nodded.

“Would you be in my documentary about fans?” he asked.

I figured I looked like a mess after walking so far in the heat, and was about to say “no”. But my coauthor, not a Springsteen fan, pushed me forward toward the camera.

We didn’t sell any books that day, but as often happens to writers, something else happened. Through writing and selling our book, I landed in Mike Sodano’s documentary Greetings from the Parking Lot: Fanomenon, described under the “videos” tab on Brucemaps.com.

The next day, we found a music store in Freehold, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen’s hometown. The owner wanted our maps. We sold most of our copies to him at a small discount from the regular price. Boosted by that success, we spent our free time between concerts exploring places to put on our second edition. We went home excited again.

And then I opened my email

At home after the trip, and rested again, I retrieved my email. There in big type on the subject line of one of the first ones, in all capitals was “I WILL KILL YOU!”

Briefly I wondered if it was a scam or a virus. I decided neither was likely. I couldn’t just delete it. I had to find out who sent it.  Opening that email, I my stomach clench. I’d received my first death threat ever and it was for a book I’d written. The author, an unnamed male, was going to kill me for ripping off poor Bruce by selling what he thought was a roadmap with a few places on it circled. If we sold another one he would come after me, he warned.

A bit shaken, I fired off an email to a women’s online Springsteen fan group. One of the “goils” reported back that she thought she knew who the author of my death threat was. She assured me he did stuff like that often, and he wasn’t likely to be a danger to us.

Still, as I put the first ad in a fan magazine for our Brucemaps, I confess I was a little scared. Then I thought of Bruce himself hit in the face by a firecracker thrown by a fan, coming back on stage with a bandage saying “No f*)(**& is going to stop me.”  That moment from the concert kept me going. I continued selling our Brucemaps to other fans all over the world for the next decade.

With my new self-marketed book this year, I hoped nothing like that would happen again, but you know what? It did. There it was again, right after my first sale – an email. Someone I knew was writing to tell me angrily that I shouldn’t have written my book. And later, in a discussion online, there was someone else who felt they were being helpful by telling me I was selling my book the wrong way.

My first critic of Marketing Your Book to Libraries was convinced I was a fraud. It just wasn’t possible for self-publishers to sell to libraries. The second one objected to the instant download format, saying she wouldn’t buy a PDF book. I should publish it as a POD book or as an ebook and sell it for under $9.99.

Like my anonymous death-threat maker, neither of my two recent critics had even seen my book before deciding to fire off their objections to its existence. While I can know in my head my critics were way “off,” their comments certainly took away some of the joy of being a new author.

Like lobsters in the pot

“What is it about people” I mused, “that makes us, like lobsters clawing at those climbing out of the pot, try to drag back down others that are on the verge of succeeding at something.”

Then I remembered the boot from the Milwaukee “bomb” show back in 1975. On it you can hear Bruce Springsteen giggling as he announced to his audience that they should check carefully “under their seats” and “in their purses” because the manager had just gotten a bomb threat.

I wondered if in that moment Bruce had just seen how ludicrous the whole thing of being threatened is when all you’re doing is singing or writing a story. Maybe too, he finally knew in his heart when the bomb threat happened to him he’d finally made it over the edge of the boiling pot and seen there was a land of hope and dreams out there.

I wish that in your journey to publish your book you get only well-wishers, but if you run into claws along your way, may this story help you keep on going until you succeed at your dream.

Marketing Your Book to Libraries Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider's Guide for Authors by former librarian Nancy K. Humphreys includes: 
  • How to tell what kind of library to target
  • Types of librarians and books they order
  • Strategies to get past the "gatekeepers" who influence librarians
  • Right ways to approach librarians most likely to order your book

Learn more »


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Mulvany September 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

Nice article, Nancy H.!
Libraries are great potential markets for self-publishers, especially your local library. Local authors can often schedule readings/events at the library.

Keep up the good work.

Joi Kult September 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I enjoyed your article! The story of seeing Bruce in concert and the expense of it, really hit home. Every penny I have ever spent on seeing Bruce has come back one hundred fold…not in money, but in even better ways. I have made friends along the way that understand “our devotion” for Bruce and his music. And that has become priceless to me.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis September 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm

The death threat part of it hit home with me. I write simple little cozy-style mysteries with a real estate agent protagonist who lives where I do, in Santa Cruz. I scramble to get publicity for the books and was thrilled when I talked myself into a feature on CNNMoney that was about collecting Social Security before my 66th birthday because it showed a picture of me holding up my books and had a link back to my book website.

My threat was also from a male. He said if he knew where I lived he would kill me and spouted some nonsense about my being an elitist b…. (why do they always use that word?) who was personally responsible for all his woes.

You were braver than me. I deleted it as quickly as I could and was thankful that I publish with a pseudonym since the books have a real location.

Nancy Humphreys October 1, 2011 at 5:44 am

Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy L J. I appreciate the support. As a fan of mysteries and Santa Cruz, I’m excited to learn about your series. I’ll check them out next time I’m down at the beach! Nancy H.

Lynette Benton October 23, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Thanks so much for this post—and for your courage. It’s so shocking, I’ve tweeted it, so others can be aware of such threats—and overcome them.

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