Want to sell books? Play up the Elvis angle

February 23, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

This brief item appeared in a Chicago newspaper gossip column:

"Ann-Margret, in town to promote her book, 'Ann Margret: My Story,' was so excited when she called this office that she barely could speak. 'Can you believe,' she exclaimed, 'that my book, only out a few days, made the N.Y. Times best-seller list?' "

Any writer can understand Ann-Margret's breathless excitement. Only the tiniest fraction of the thousands of books published each year land on the New York Times list.

By making this most influential of all best-selling lists, Ann-Margret is assured of selling even more books, since the list has such great promotional value.

This makes her the envy of countless novelists, historians, biographers, essayists, poets and other writers who devote their lives to working at their craft or art and never get a whiff of the New York Times list.

Many fine writers, even great ones, have gone to their graves without getting near the clout-heavy list or cashing the kind of fat royalty checks that go along with the prestige.

But here is Ann-Margret -- not exactly a show-biz superstar -- currently one of the 15 top-selling non-fiction authors in the United States.

And she didn't even write the book herself. She brought in a hired word-jockey named Todd Gold to turn her story into passable English.

So how did she do it, some aspiring or even expiring authors might ask?

Well, if you have to ask, it means you have been neglecting your daily diet of junk info. You have not been tuning into the TV shows and supermarket tabloids that give you juicy nuggets about the world of show biz.

If you had been paying attention, it would not be any mystery as to why so many people are flocking to bookstores to plunk down $23.95, plus sales tax, to own a book about a middle-aged actress-singer-hoofer.

You would have seen and heard her interviewed by some bland-faced babbler on CNN's show-biz segment. You would have heard the bland face ask about her and Elvis.

Yes, Elvis. See? You haven't been paying attention.

You would have heard bland face ask about how, when she and Elvis were young, they made a movie together. And about how -- as it has been reported time after time -- they became romantically involved.

And you would have seen Ann-Margret sort of sigh and say how difficult it was for her to write about that part of her life, and how equally difficult it is for her to talk about it now.

So, with another sigh, she would prefer that people just read the book.

Let me tell you, the former Miss Ann Margret Olsson is one smart female person.

All those legit but frustrated and unknown writers I mentioned earlier -- the novelists, historians, poets, etc. -- let them wallow in their envy. The klutzes.

If they had the sense to establish a link to Elvis -- especially, wow, a romantic involvement -- they, too, could be right up there on the New York Times best-seller list.

They, too, might be sitting behind tables in bookstores, with hundreds of fans standing in line to get a smile, a word or two, and an autographed copy of their book.

They, too, might be invited to chat with drive-time disk jockeys, the hosts of show-biz reports and all the other deep thinkers who reach those potential book buyers.

So I have deep admiration for Ann-Margret. And the wonderful con job she has pulled on all those people who are plunking down $23.95 (a little less, of course, at the discount joints.)

I can just see them rushing home with the book, cracking it open, and reading. And waiting. . . . On and on. . . . Waiting.

Ah, you know what they are waiting for.

And after 100 or more pages, when they finally arrive at The Big Moment, what do they get?

They were just friends.

That's right.

No beddy-bye, panting, groping or moaning.

Not even a kiss on the cheek. (There may have been a kiss on the cheek, but the former Miss Olsson isn't telling.)

No, they liked to sit up late and talk. News, sports, music.

"We both found solace in the quiet of the night."

How sweet.

And they watched TV and wept together when JFK was killed.

How poignant.

As she (or the faceless Todd Gold) wrote: "It was fun, joy, admiration, and love in its purest form."

How prim and proper.

But how many people would drop $23.95 for the life story of a sexy-looking longtime show-biz doll, if they knew that all they were getting was "fun, joy, admiration, and love in its purest form"?

Don't kid me.

You want to know about the dirty deed.

Well, too bad, but you aren't going to know.

Not about Elvis or anybody else.

There is not one tad of smarmy sex or tell-all titillation in the entire book. (I haven't read it, by the way, but a colleague did, and I trust his expert judgment on dirty stuff.)

So I congratulate the former Miss Olsson.

She pulled it off and made the big list.

But when book lovers in Memphis and at a thousand truck stops everywhere get to the part about Elvis, they will really be gnashing their gums.

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