7 Ways to Help You Make it Rain

As a marketer, helping my wife Marilynn Richtarik with publicity for her edition of “Hopdance” has been a hands-on learning experience. Here’s what I’ve learned from those experiences—and how they can help you, too.

1. Start with quality

You can craft a successful campaign around a crappy product, but you better have lots of money. I’m fortunate that my wife has a strong track record of research and is a noted authority on the late Northern Irish playwright whose stylized autobiography she prepared for publication. And Stewart Parker was a craftsman whose words pop from the page. A reputable product from a reputable source.

2. Work your network

Marilynn has built up an impressive list of friends and acquaintances that she’s cultivated over a lifetime, not because of what they can do for her but because she likes to keep in touch. We’ve stayed with a woman and her family in Madrid who Marilynn had met once 25 years previously. Almost everywhere we go, she knows somebody. But the network isn’t just one way—Marilynn will do whatever she can to help her friends and colleagues. We send upwards of 120 snail mail holiday cards each year with family picture and letter.

3. Don’t wait to be asked

“Hopdance” is published by The Lilliput Press, an independent press that took a chance on a one-off project from a deceased playwright. Their resources are limited and concentrated on Ireland, not the UK, so much of the initiative on publicity is left to authors. Marilynn has contributed articles to The Irish Times and the Culture Northern Ireland website, been interviewed on a well-regarded arts radio program, and arranged three “Hopdance” readings in Belfast and at least one in another UK city. More events, interviews and contributed articles are in the works but not yet finalized.

She developed contact lists for Dublin and Belfast to publicize these events with press releases and also created a list of possible readers/reviewers for the press. She knew the presenter of the arts program and the editor of the website, but the Irish Times piece and the ones in the works are with people she hadn’t met and contacted out of the blue.

4. No square pegs for round holes

By focusing precisely on the sweet spots, Marilynn has been able to maximize her efforts. Not every publication, website or bookstore will be interested in the book, so we’re not wasting time trying in those areas.

5. Think outside the box

But it pays to think about the larger possibilities. The appearance at the Belfast Book Festival is a direct result of my research. We’ve contacted several other book festivals I found out about, although those are longer-term projects. Marilynn parlayed her last book project, the 2012 biography Stewart Parker: A Life, into three years of Thanksgiving break university visits. She’s already making plans to take “Hopdance” on the road this fall.

6. Reuse, revise, leverage

Reusing content is all the rage in marketing circles, such as turning the seven points in this blog post into a graphic. Think about how you can leverage what you have in new and different ways. For example, Marilynn persuaded a local arts and culture website to post a recording of her first public talk about the book. Now when approaching bookstores and book festivals about potential events, she can point them to the website to hear her performance.

7. Ask for help

Not everyone has in-house marketing resources. You marketing efforts must be concise and well-targeted to succeed, so if you don’t have those skills within your company (or within your household), consider bringing in an expert.

You likely know your product and your market better than a marketing writer, but a professional writer knows how to speak to your target audience(s) in ways that you don’t.

Marilynn is an incredibly talented academic writer whose work also appeals to a wider audience. But she knows squat about marketing writing. Even she needed a little help to publicize the readings, find new audiences and discover new potential sales avenues.

Making It Rain, One Event at a Time

From my wife Marilynn Richtarik’s previous books, she’s learned that if any significant publicity is going to happen, she has to make it happen. It doesn’t hurt that she’s married to a journalist-turned-marketer who knows a little something about making the phone ring and the inbox fill.

So in the month or so since “Hopdance” was published, here’s what has happened.

Thursday, May 4 – Marilynn and a Fulbright Scholar poet shared the stage at the Crescent Arts Center as part of their postings at Queens University Belfast. Marilynn read from the book, describing the circumstances surrounding each scene. A recording of her presentation was later made available on the Culture Northern Ireland website to accompany an article about “Hopdance” she wrote specifically for the online publication.

Saturday, May 6 – Enthusiastic review of “Hopdance” by Sarah Gilmartin in The Irish Times.

Wednesday, May 10 – Marilynn could be heard on The Arts Show, presented by Marie-Louise Muir on BBC Radio Ulster. A recording of her portion of the program is here.

Friday, May 12 – The Irish Times publishes a commissioned article from Marilynn about the 20-plus years she spent researching Stewart Parker that resulted in her award-winning 2012 biography, Stewart Parker: A Life, as well as this edition of “Hopdance.”

Friday, May 12 – Dublin launch hosted by The Lilliput Press, featuring Stephen Rea.

Saturday, May 13 – Marilynn and Lynne Parker (Stewart’s niece who wrote the foreword for “Hopdance”) are heard on The Book Show on RTÉ Radio 1.

Tuesday, May 23 – Publication of the aforementioned article on the Culture NI website.

Tuesday, May 23 – Linen Hall Library event in Belfast. Author Glenn Patterson was the host, with Marilynn discussing the book and reading from it. Audience members included Stewart’s brother and sister-in-law, as well as Stewart’s first college girlfriend, who flew over from England for the event.

Thursday, May 25 – Insightful review of “Hopdance” on the Culture NI website written by Connal Parr, vice chancellor’s research fellow in the humanities at Northumbria University.

Sunday, May 28 – Third review of “Hopdance,” this time from Deidre Conroy in the Sunday Independent. Three reviews, all positive!

More to Come

  • Review anticipated in the Irish Independent on June 3
  • “Hopdance” will be featured in 15-minute increments Monday-Friday on The Book on One, a radio show on RTÉ Radio 1. The show is an abbreviated reading of a book, one book per week. We’ve been told it will be featured the week of June 12.
  • Marilynn will read and talk about the novel as part of the Belfast Book Festival, June 10.
  • Marilynn will read and sign books in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 23.
  • She’s also trying to arrange a bookstore reading in Dublin in the next few weeks and is working on coverage of the book in Culture Hub, a magazine and website that covers Northern Ireland arts.

All in a day’s work for an English professor and a marketer—well, except for our real jobs.

A Touch of Celebrity on Our 16th Anniversary

My wife, Marilynn Richtarik, and I will always remember what we were doing for our 16th wedding anniversary—launching her book in Dublin and talking football with Northern Irish actor Stephen Rea.

People younger than we are may not be familiar with Rea, who earned an Oscar nomination in 1992 for his role in “The Crying Game.” He’s a prolific and highly regarded actor on both stage and screen who agreed to read from the Stewart Parker novel that Marilynn edited, “Hopdance,” because he and Parker had been good friends and moved in the same theatrical circles. More about that later.

Scenes from ‘Hopdance’

In a strong yet understated performance, Rea nailed the reading of four scenes from “Hopdance,” a vignette-driven, semi-autobiographical work about the amputation of his left leg at age 19 that Parker first completed in the early 1970s but never published during his lifetime.

The final vignette, a crowd favorite, described the protagonist, Tosh, listening in as several other amputees chat in the waiting room at the limb-fitter’s shop. One man, a welder, tells of how his artificial leg gave way on the job and was patched by a riveter, who the welder said “done a right fine job” of repairing the leg, much to the consternation of the limb-fitter.

The four dozen or so gathered at the Workman’s Club for the launch were mesmerized during the reading. Marilynn is a fine reader, but the final passage Rea read requires the right accents and a man’s touch to create magic out of a tale of several blokes sitting around in their underpants waiting for their artificial legs to be fitted.

Talking Arsenal football

Marilynn knew from her past dealings with Rea that he supports the English Premier League team Arsenal, the team Declan and I also support. For the occasion, Declan wore one of his many Arsenal jerseys, which immediately caught Rea’s eye. When we asked for a picture with the family, he readily agreed “as long as the Arsenal supporter is in it.” And, as you can see, we all were there.

We told Rea about watching Arsenal play rival Manchester City to a tie at the Emirates in April, and he said he had tickets to the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea later this month. We also talked about embattled manager Arsene Wenger, who Declan and I both wish would quit after 20 years (including 13 years without a league title). However, Rea believes he should be allowed to stay beyond his current contract.

Anyway, who’s to argue with a celebrity?

A little history, please

Nearly 40 years ago, Rea and the late Northern Irish playwright Brian Friel founded the Field Day Theatre Company that aimed to bring plays and literary works to both sides of the sectarian divide during the Troubles. Field Day was the subject of Marilynn’s first book, and she interviewed Rea for it.

Stewart Parker, who died of stomach cancer at the age of 47 in 1988, wrote his final play, “Pentecost,” for Field Day, which it produced in fall 1987 with Rea in a starring role. Marilynn didn’t become familiar with Parker’s work until 1989 but spent the next 20 years researching his life and work for her 2012 book, “Stewart Parker: A Life.”

Stephen Rea and Northern Irish actor Frances Tomelty, who appeared in several TV films that Parker wrote the scripts for, hosted a public event that was part of a conference at Queen’s University Belfast that commemorated the 20th anniversary of Parker’s death.

When Marilynn’s publisher, The Lilliput Press, was working with Rea to find a date, he picked May 12, our anniversary. Again, who’s to argue with a celebrity who’s giving freely of his time? So that’s how Stephen Rea came to help us celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary.

Famous (not really) by Association

My wife, Marilynn Richtarik, is a rock star. Admittedly, her rock star world is relatively small, Irish literature, but it’s neat to be near the spotlight and see someone receive the accolades she richly deserves.

Not only are we in Belfast because she won a Fulbright Scholarship, Marilynn has a new book out. She has two radio interviews lined up for next week (one for RTÉ and one for BBC Northern Ireland) in conjunction with “Hopdance,” a semi-autobiographical novel by the late playwright Stewart Parker that she edited for publication.

The guest speaker at the Dublin book launch on May 12 (which also happens to be our wedding anniversary) is actor Stephen Rea. Northern Irish author Glenn Patterson will help Marilynn launch the book at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast on May 23. She’ll also be reading from the novel next week at Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre as part of a Seamus Heaney Centre Fulbright program.

Finally (for now, at least), she will appear at the Belfast Book Festival on June 10, talking about and reading from the book. And before I forget, a big shout out to David Torrans from No Alibis Bookstore for the great display in his store and for agreeing to sell the book during Marilynn’s Belfast appearances.

Now for a little perspective

The six degrees of separation on this island is more like three. Let me explain. “Hopdance” was written by Parker about the amputation of his cancerous left leg at age 19. He wrote the stylized, vignette-driven novel around the 10th anniversary of the amputation, returning to it during times of great stress or when he had absolutely nothing else to do. After receiving a second cancer diagnosis, he started preparing the manuscript for publication but died in 1988 before advancing very far. However, since the novel is scene-driven and jumps around before, during and after the amputation, it can be viewed as a complete work.

Parker is the subject of Marilynn’s second book, the acclaimed “Stewart Parker: A Life,” published by Oxford University Press in 2012. She’s had a copy of “Hopdance” since the research phase of her second book, and she quoted liberally from it in the biography. Following the publication of the biography, she decided to ask Parker’s executor for permission to prepare “Hopdance” for publication.

Parker’s final play, “Pentecost,” was commissioned by the Field Day Theatre Company, co-founded by Stephen Rea. Field Day was the subject of Marilynn’s first book, and she interviewed Rea for it. When Rea was asked to help launch “Hopdance” in Dublin, he said simply, “Anything for Stewart Parker.”

Marilynn met Glenn Patterson at the 1998 Belfast Festival, where he read and talked about his work. The two hit it off and have kept in contact since. Patterson was a guest in our house when Marilynn helped put together a Belfast issue of the literary journal “Five Points,” which included an interview with Patterson, who came to Atlanta for the launch.

Mary-Louise Muir is the host of “Arts Extra” on BBC Radio Ulster and also appears on TV arts programs. She’s interviewed Marilynn about Parker for the program several times, the last time in 2013 at her home, while Declan and I sat quietly in an adjacent room.

Sinéad Gleeson hosts “The Book Show” on RTÉ Radio 1. Actually, Marilynn hasn’t met her, and this interview was arranged by Marilynn’s publisher, Lilliput Press in Dublin. But I have no doubt the two will become fast friends—it’s just the way things go on this crazy little island.

Conferences, Book Launches and Pilgrimages, Oh My

Marilynn left for the states this morning, Kansas City to be precise, for the American Conference for Irish Studies. Which leaves Declan and me on our own until Monday. Heh, heh, heh.

She is a plenary speaker for the conference, which is academic-speak for Really Big Deal. Business folks would be more familiar with the term keynote speaker, and the rest of us would have no clue.

Academic conferences are full of panel discussions and similar papers on a theme because institutions are more likely to reimburse a professor attending the conference if she is giving a paper. That means there are usually several tracks running at the same time, cutting the audience size for each panel. So a plenary is a single-track talk, with an undivided audience in attendance.

Despite being an excellent speaker, Marilynn was nervous about this, which underscores the Really Big Deal aspect. But I know she will knock it out of the park, like she always does.

Book launch events coming up

Marilynn edited an uncompleted but still powerful novel that her playwright Stewart Parker wrote about the amputation of his left leg when he was a 19-year-old student at Queen’s University Belfast. He sketched out the story a few years later, in a style reminiscent of James Joyce (but the readable James Joyce).

Stewart would pull out “Hopdance” during times of personal turmoil, tweaking the dialog, reordering scenes and writing new ones. He returned to it a final time in the months preceding his death from cancer in 1988 but never completed it. Marilynn took his original manuscript, much of it hand-written, typed it up and then went through it with a graduate assistant word-for-word at least twice, standardizing the spelling and punctuation while retaining Stewart’s writing quirks whenever possible.

It’s a labor of love and a great read. I’ve read it twice and look forward to hearing what the critics and the reading public think.

But it also means book launches in Belfast and Derry, either in late April or early May. Details aren’t final, but Marilynn, her agent and publisher hope to attract some high-powered help in launching the book in both cities. Fingers crossed that they succeed, but it’ll be a blast in any event.

Worshipping at the Emirates

So what will the boys be up to while Marilynn’s at her conference? By a happy coincidence, we’ll be in London this weekend, seeing our first competitive English Premier League match, our beloved Arsenal vs. Manchester City (boo hiss!).

Declan became an Arsenal fan in 2013 for reasons he still can’t articulate. But I got dragged into it, too, and became a fan of “real” football. This is one of the top matches of the year, and we were very lucky to score tickets from an Arsenal season ticket holder I met in the strangest of places.

But that’s a story for another day, which will be next week.

About the photo: We toured the “glorious” Emirates Stadium in 2014 while Marilynn was giving a talk in London. The certificates we received after the tour touted the stadium as “glorious,” and it stuck.