Volume 75, Number 44 | March 22 -28 2006

Villager photo Jefferson Siegel

Part-time store clerk, teacher and author Patrice Hannon hawks her book among the china and chandeliers of Bleecker Street’s Clary & Co.

Dear Jane: How should I sell my book?

By Sara G. Levin

To jumpstart her career as an author, English Literature Professor Patrice Hannon found the perfect job in an unlikely place.

Twice a week, she rings up customers at the cozy Bleecker St. antiques shop, Clary & Co. while promoting her new book, “Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love.” Nestled among delicate Belle Epoque chandeliers and Americana cutlery, the paperback has sold 100 copies from the store since December.

A precarious genre, “Dear Jane Austen” assumes the voice of the famed Regency novelist to give 21st century women love and relationship advice. Though the cover showing Austen’s writing desk is somewhat reminiscent of a sappy bed and breakfast scene, it fits seamlessly into the shop, snuggled within a decorated china platter.

How then, one might ask, could such a possibly corny self-help book sell relatively well in a neighborhood full of jaded New Yorkers?

“People come in and they look over things… and I see their eyes go over the book,” Hannon said. “As soon as I tell them that I’m the author, they suddenly become so interested. They look at the book, turn it over, see my picture and say ‘Oh, well I’ll buy a copy if you’ll sign it for me!’ It’s such a great way to sell, I wish I could tell more writers about it.”

Formatted like a question and answer column, Austen responds to letters from the future. Based in fact, the book sneaks in details about Austen’s family life, and her untimely death from illness at the age of 41, through entries like these:

Dear Jane Austen,

I’m so confused. Do men like women who are quiet or talkative; outgoing or shy; friendly or aloof…?”

“Dear Bewildered Heroine,

It is a source of some distress to me that young ladies should seek to regulate their conduct based upon what will attract members of the other sex. As Elizabeth says to Mr. Darcy when accounting for his initial interest in her:

…you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them...

... I am not praising a foolish inflexibility. Sooner or later — well, yes, later, to be sure — my girls recognize their faults and acknowledge their errors. Ah, Cassandra, come in; You’re quite right; I have let the fire die down. Save your absent-minded sister from the ill effects of her own plunder: pray, stir the fire.

Having taught Austen classes at Vassar College, Rutgers University and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Hannon said she was inspired to write the letters because her students were so intrigued by Austen’s realistic portrayal of relationships. As opposed to unrealistic romantic notions often found in novels like “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” Austen championed cynicism and lifelike dialogue, according to Hannon.

“Many women are interested in relationships and Austen is just the best at showing the way people think,” Hannon said. “Even though some people might say that customs are so different now and rules are so different, human nature is still the same.”

To develop an avenue for her ideas, Hannon said she came up with the “self-help aspect” of the book as a fun way to tell a story about the writer. Included in the fictional letters are phrases lifted from Austen’s personal letters and snippets about her love affair with an Irish visitor named Tom Lefroy.

“When I was merely twenty, I fell in love with a young Irishman. We knew very little of one another — far too little, indeed, to have fallen so deeply in love,” Hannon writes in Austen’s voice. Convinced that Austen’s life was not as plain as legend might have it, Hannon hopes readers will pick up on the subtle drama that unfolds behind the love advice.

A Novel Marketing Plan

Enthusiastic about her work, Hannon began trying to sell the idea two years ago. But she did not have much success.

“I started shopping [“Dear Jane Austen”] around as a proposal while I had already finished the book and there was still no publisher,” Hannon said.

After parting with her literary agent when he was unable to secure a deal, she tracked down a publisher in Idaho whose author list includes Pamela Mogen (pen name Pamela Aidan), who had already written several successful novels about Jane Austen characters in her “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy.

“The publisher in Idaho is very small, so I knew I would have to promote and market the book in New York myself,” Hannon said. But she was able to produce “Dear Jane Austen” with all its quirks, just as she had written it. It was several months before the book came out that she decided to apply for an opening at Clary, while teaching part-time at the 92nd Street Y.

“We wanted to support Patrice,” said Denise Sheehan, co-owner of Clary & Co, describing why she and Sandra Wasserman decided to sell “Dear Jane Austen” at the store. The duo has been running the antique shop on Bleecker Street for 12 years. With devoted local customers and so many tourists, Hannon said she couldn’t have dreamed of a better place to sell.

“It’s so hard to get published,” Hannon said. “Writers go through so much rejection, but if you’re actually selling it, people become so curious. It’s so much fun to be selling to people in the neighborhood, and people going back to Australia, Canada, England, California, Texas.”

According to Hannon, the most important pattern to learn from Austen’s novels is that all her heroines must confront delusions about romanticism before they can be happy. Elizabeth Bennet must realize that Wickham is a fool and that she has been prejudiced against Mr. Darcy. Elinor Dashwood must realize that she is in love with a man who is hiding something.

Likewise, Hannon, who didn’t have the luxury of a public relations team to promote her book, couldn’t afford any delusions of overnight success. To make her book sell, she had to get creative. Or as Austen writes in “Emma,” “she had taken up the idea…and made every thing bend to it.”

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