I don’t understand!

But What Does That MeanMany years ago, a publisher approached my agent with a plan for reissuing one of my old, out-of-print books. Their offer was modest, but it did include a huge inducement: a “national media campaign.”

Whoa! A national media campaign!

I salivated as I imaged myself being flown from Los Angeles to New York, Miami to Seattle, and all points in between.

In each city I would, as was customary at the time, appear on a couple important local radio and television programs, then chat with a local newspaper reporter or columnist. The the “big” national media interviews and appearances to take place in the Big Apple itself!

Could it really be?!

But just to be sure – after all, my interpretation of “national media campaign” might not be the same as theirs – I asked what it meant. A 20-city tour? Twelve-city? Five?

I wanted them to reply, “Twenty-city, of course!” but would have been satisfied with the truncated five-city version. (You could still cover a fair amount of media in, say, New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Miami. Plus, I could get myself booked on shows in my hometown of Los Angeles and nearby San Diego, which would make it a seven-city tour. Not bad.)

“Twenty-city” would have been great, “five-city” would have been acceptable, but instead I got a couple different answers, all of which can be boiled down to, “Don’t you worry about a thing; it’s going to be GREAT!”

I wondered: What is “great?” So I asked what “great” means, and this time I got several more responses which can be boiled down to “Well…you see…ummm…”

I’m not a great negotiator, I admit

But I can tell the difference between “national media campaign” and “Well…you see…ummm…” Again I asked, this time of the person higher-up, and was finally told that “national media campaign” meant that they would send press releases to “all major media outlets.”

“To specially selected media outlets you believe will really like my book, or to everyone on your standard list?” I asked.

“Well…you see…ummm…”

“To specific contacts at these media outlets, or to ‘Dear Whoever Happens To Get This?’”

“Well…you see…ummm…”

“Just press releases? Not full-fledged press kits?”

“Well…you see…ummm…”

“Will you follow-up with phone calls to these media outlets?”

“Well…you see…ummm…”

”Will you assign one of your in-house PR people to my book to make sure it gets the best possible coverage?”

“Well…you see…ummm…”

“Will you hire local publicists in key cities to make sure I get on some important shows?”

“Well…you see…ummm…”

By now, I could definitely see that, ummm, their idea of a “national media campaign” was sending out a bunch of PR releases and hoping something good happened. Sure: Oprah would undoubtedly pick the PR release about my book out of the hernia-making stack she got every day.

And so, after numerous back-and-forths, the publisher gave me an ultimatum: Agree to the deal today, or it’s off the table.

I might have accepted a less-than-thrilling deal

After all, the book was out-of-print and just sitting there, not making any money for me. But I felt that if I had to keep asking, “But what does it mean?” and kept getting progressively less satisfying answers, there was something wrong. And so I walked away from the deal.

The experience was not a waste, however. I learned an important lesson: It never hurts to ask, “But what does that mean??!!”

I’m Barry Fox, a New York Times #1 bestselling ghostwriter. I help executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and top professionals create top-notch memoirs and business books. I can also guide you through the self-publishing process. Call me at 818-917-5362.