Crown, a division of New York’s Random House, published Dulcy’s hardcover the last week of September in 1992. A round of signings, readings, newspaper interviews, and television and radio appearances followed. I set these up by using the phone numbers provided by the Crown publicist. Crown promoted the book with a single ad in the magazine Cat Fancy. Dulcy’s book quickly sold almost 14,000 copies, mostly in Minnesota.
A signing at an elementary school in Hastings, Minnesota.
Here’s how I learned that.
A former student of mine was accepted in the month-long 1993 professional editing seminar held each summer in Colorado. Prestigious editors and publishers taught the seminar. By chance, this articulate student sat at lunch one afternoon with a vice president of Random House.
The student explained that the preceding autumn she’d taken a class in which the professor talked about a book she’d gotten published. “Do you remember A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story?” she asked. “And Dee Ready?”
The woman did. “Dee sold that book,” she explained. “Without her the sales would have been minimal.” She confided that almost all the copies had sold in Minnesota where I lived. “She got out and promoted. I wish all our authors would do that.”
The vice president then explained that publishers promoted bestselling authors who didn’t need promotion but expected it. “The small book gets lost,” she added.
According to this vice president, no one at Crown thought Dulcy’s book had much of a chance but the editor—Jane Meara—believed in it. “If we’d listened to Jane, we’d have put some money behind it and had a bestseller.”
I learned all this later and spent the whole of a day feeling morose. A friend suggested that the conjunction of the planets just wasn’t right. By then, however, Crown had sold rights to publishers in Germany, Korea, Japan, and China. Dulcy’s book was going to reach across the oceans. With that I was content. Crown had believed in the book enough to get it published elsewhere.
For the past twenty years, I’ve chosen to rejoice that her story reached at least 14,000 readers in the United States. And yet I don’t think that would happen today. Here’s why.
In thinking about Dulcy I hit upon two keys—family member and channeling—to open the doors to interviews and signings. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s most people didn’t speak of animals as family members. That wasn’t acceptable. So when I called booksellers and journalists, I emphasized that Dulcy and I had become a family and that I’d lost my companion. I also explained that she’d channeled the book through me. These two keys intrigued my listeners. All responded with interest.
I don’t think those keys would work today. After Dulcy’s book was published a series of other cat books were published. Some were excellent; others, not so much. The cat-book market slumped and editors simply had no interest in new books. Several writers, like Desmond Morris, continued to be published but their books were more about cats or dogs in general.
Then a book came along that changed the publishing scene and made intimate books about animals important again. In 2005, Marley & Me by John Grogan became a bestseller and then a movie. It helped people everywhere understand the bond between dogs and humans.
Then, in 2008, came Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. The book’s cover, a photograph of Dewey gazing gently at the reader, captured the attention of cat lovers everywhere.
Today, people converse easily about their pets being members of the family. In 1992, that concept was intriguing. Today it’s just accepted. Channeling, however, might still work. I’m not sure.
Another great difference, of course, between now and then is the fewer number of bookstores throughout the United States and also the fact that many, many readers don’t have the discretionary money to purchase books today. For myself, I’d be quite content if every library in the country had a copy of Dulcy’s book that could be checked out again and again by those who love animals.
Finally, fewer newspapers exist today and many of these spend little space on book reviews. Also, many afternoon talk shows in local television markets have disappeared.
So you see, the universe is just different from twenty years ago. Today, Dulcy’s book might not even be published. And yet. And yet. I continue to believe that she has the power to touch many lives.