Of all my book signings, the ones for my first book, “SPIN MAN,” published in 1997, were the most fun and learning experiences I’m happy to share with new authors. This memoir chronicles my adventures and misadventures in public relations after I left NBC.
I remember as if it was yesterday my signing a copy for one of my favorite actors, Nicholas Cage, one summer evening at Trump Taj Mahal, now the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
For Cage, who was there shooting SNAKE EYES directed by Brian DePalma, I wrote on the title page: “Love the spin you put on your characters . . . PS: this book can easily be adapted for the screen.”
I was there signing my book at the invitation of the spin maestro himself, Donald Trump.
Steve, the casino hotel’s PR director at the time, had set up a display of my books in the Exclusive Taj Gift Shop and had it announced over the public address system throughout the mammoth casino. When we didn’t see gamblers rushing from their slots or tables to get my autograph, I had my daughter Adrienne change the announcement from “Thomas J. Madden is signing his book” to “Meet the Spin Man.” Much better!
By now we were painfully discovering my name had little marque value. Maybe they’ll think it’s a book about spinning roulette wheels.
Sure, if I was Tony Bennet, a mob would fold their cards and run to meet me. But Thomas J. Madden? Even though I had grown up in Atlantic City, and there was a big story about me that day in the local paper, this Madden never coached the Raiders like John Madden, nor did he design shoes and handbags like Steve Madden. Or shoot people like gangster Owney Madden. And I hadn’t even been on Oprah yet, which back then was the key to stardom.
Lesson #1: book signings are no family picnics.
Since our son and two daughters and their families were living in New York, we decided to make a family-affair out of our trip from Florida up to Atlantic City where I grew up. The Press of Atlantic City ran a color picture of me on the front page of the entertainment section.
The caption read: Spin Man author Thomas Madden will be at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort from 6 to 7:30 PM Monday and 6 PM Tuesday at Borders Books, Mays Landing.
Tell me PR isn’t an effective way to get a message out! Here was spin atop spin. And we were glad we had brought the family to witness the return of the conquering hero—or maybe the prodigal son–since many of my cousins felt I shunned them after I became a TV network big shot years ago. My entourage included our three grandchildren, my 89-year-old mother and my feisty Aunt Mac, who would tell us to “back up nine miles” anytime we misspoke. She had the memory of a Smithsonian.
Lesson #2: stay off nostalgic rolling chairs
It was great to be back in Atlantic City, once again whiffing that elixir of peanutty-scented salt air that sparks so many memories. On the day we arrived, instead of talking up my book and trying to get on some radio shows, we all went excitedly for a stroll along the Boardwalk, past where the Diving Horse use to thrill audiences on the Steel Pier, which was now a Trump arcade of kiddie rides and bungie gliding. We strolled past James Saltwater Taffy and sadly the parking lot where once the Traymore Hotel stood majestically where my virtuoso dad played his violin.
He was musical director and violinist there for 30 years. One day I sadly watched it dynamited into a heap of rubble. Somewhere in the pile was the large mural of William “Bela” Madden leading his salon orchestra in the once-elegant dining room, where I was a novice busboy making him nervous as I carried trays of dishes, yet he would glide his horse’s hairs blissfully over his catgut strings, creating enchanting music for the elegant diners to enjoy with their champagne and Crème Brûlée.
Before the main event book signing at the Taj, I had some warmups back in Florida.
I’ll never forget my first book signing, a few weeks prior. It was on a sultry July evening at Borders Bookstore, which you can visit by boat in Fort Lauderdale. I thought I could just sail in and start signing. Instead, they escorted me to an audience of about 75 people, some of them old friends. Others just old and fidgety people waiting to question or interrogate an author. When I was seated at a table with a microphone, it suddenly dawned on me that the show for which they were anxiously waiting, the entertainment, was ME!
“I am the Spin Man,” I said, although after that long hot day I felt more like the Spun Man.
A steely silence prompts me to track from stand-up comedy to take a serious course. “In this book I use the metaphor of the motion picture . . . I now can hear my own pomposity . . . I resort to describing the various characters I’ve had the pleasure and displeasure of working with as a publicist.”
I tell how I wanted to give readers a look behind the scenes at the business of public relations, which I’ve now been in for 40 years since I left NBC where I was Vice President and Assistant to the Present, then the late Fred Silverman, who was never late banging out hit TV shows.
“Does anyone know the name Fred Silverman? (I thought I’d better drop some names to get a response) “How about Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Three ‘s Company and The Love Boat? (which would become the title of my fifth book. They’re some of the hit shows Fred brought to television.” A few eyes brightened. I was on the right glide path.
“What’s a Spin Man?” an elderly gentlemen asked incredulously.
I told him it was someone who puts a spin on information for a calculated effect. His face was expressionless. I continued: “You know, is the glass is half full or half empty?” That’s great. I was being trite, using cliche examples. Oh, that’ll get people interested in reading my book. Trying another route: “It’s presenting information in a way that will achieve a desired effect. You’ve undoubtedly heard of the spin doctors in Washington?”
“You from Washington?” asks Mr. Methuselah.
“No, I’m from New Jersey. Exit 12.” Silence! Seems no one laughs in this group. They must have all signed a pact!
“Tell them about some of the celebrities you’ve handled, suggests my friend, then Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, mercifully from the sidelines at the urging of my alert wife Angela, now in heaven. She knew when the Spin Man was sputtering. The questions save me.
Later I would publish Sheriff Nick’s book “The Cuban Cop” after he catapulted himself into a celebrity appearing on season one of the then popular TV series “COPS.”
I begin to rattle off stories of famous people I’ve represented like movie star Elke Sommer, Bing’s wife, Kathryn Crosby; chief executives at major companies like AT&T, the speech I wrote for Bill LaMothe, when he was Chairman of Kellogg’s of Battle Creek reprinted in The New York Times.
And how LaMothe was so appreciative that he flew to New York to take me out for what else, breakfast—a wonderful bowl of cereal. (laughs) He confided in me his goal as chairman—to get more raisins in Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. I wrote in my book it was his raisin d’etre. (laughs)
Finally, the Spin Man back then was on a roll. I felt relaxed. Happy. I was being paid in chuckles. So, I advise any new author: Get right to the Q&A. Tell all the humorous anecdotes you can think of.
Fast forward back to the Trump Taj Mahal.
Twenty-five minutes after I started talking, I finally got to sign the first book and I could see that people in the audience were impressed it was endorsed on the cover by Sally Jessy Raphael, Regis Philbin and Dick Clark. Today I guess some of you are wondering who they are.
Then I signed 24 more, which I found out afterward was something of a record, since the average sales at book signings is anywhere from 5 to 20 books unless you’re a superstar.
When I think that I spent $1,200 at the Taj Mahal to sell 25 books, it’s obvious it wasn’t for the money. First-time authors have little regard for money, zero interest in economics. It’s just such fun to sign your book.
Now here are a few things I’ve learned from the hundreds of book signings since then.
1.When someone walks up to you with a face remotely familiar, but distorted by age and weight and utters two frightening, mind-numbing little words, “Remember me?” don’t panic. Simply raise your eyebrows and respond: I don ‘t believe it! Then answer with a question: How many years has it been?
It’s amazing how people you haven’t seen since college or high school come to book signings with one express purpose in mind: to startle you.
2.When you’re introduced to your cousin’s son’s wife, her sister, brother-in-law and visiting friend and her fiancé, quietly jot down their names so you’re not embarrassed when they hand you a book and ask you to sign it.
I wish someone would repeal the law that you’re expected to know everyone’s name at a book signing.
Whatever you do, never ever say: Now who the hell are you again?
3.Try to think of clever, personal things to write above your signature when you sign your book. After the 25th book, all I can think of is: May the spin be with you! What it means, I’m not sure anymore.
4. Don’t park yourself behind a table at a bookstore at a shopping mall with your mother, your aunt, your daughter and son-in-law sitting beside you. It looks like, “Please help this poor family out by buying a book.”
5. Never sign at a bookstore near a toy store with your grandchildren around as you’ll never sell enough books to pay for the toys grandma is going to buy to keep them happy.
6. Never beg or grovel as it’s unbecoming for an author to look desperate. Yet don’t be timid about selling your book to browsers or passersby.
Here are a few phrases that at least slow people down when walking by:
“If you’re looking for something fun to read?” “I wrote this book exactly with you in mind.” “I wrote it; the least you can do is read it. May I sign a copy for you?”
A casino high roller with words, Tom Madden is an author of countless published articles and five books, including his latest, WORDSHINE MAN, available on Amazon. He also creates TV series like his latest Xtra Terresla whose main character is modeled after Tesla founder Leon Musk. Madden is the founder and CEO of TransMedia Group, an award-winning public relations firm serving clients worldwide since 1981.