LONDON LETTER: Becoming an expert with a book

A COUPLE of months ago I gave the owner of the lake where I fish a copy of my book ‘The Apocalypse Chase’.

It’s an adventure saga about a guy fishing in the world’s most dangerous places, and as I wrote it 10 years ago, it was no big-hearted gesture on my part.

The cover of that edition featured a freshly-caught lake rainbow next to a rod pointing towards the horizon.

It was meant to be symbolic of a ‘chase’ – but as I’m the only one who thought so, I’ve now changed it.

It took Jack, the lake owner, two months to finish the book. Either he’s a slow reader or the action is not as fast and furious as I thought.

But even so, I was not prepared for the end result. It happened when one of the lake regulars was preparing to go bonefishing in the Bahamas and Jack called me over to give a few tips.

I looked bemused, as the only bonefish I have caught was at Kosi Bay and I was using a sardine rather than a fly.

‘You know, bonefishing like you wrote in your book,’ Jack prompted.

Indeed, there is a chapter with the hero catching bonefish off Colombia before being kidnapped by Marxists guerrillas.

But most of the expert info was gleaned from Google as I have never been to Colombia.

However, this was a fine excuse to wax eloquent and I described how you have to cast so the fly lands like a feather just in front of the fish, or else you’ll spook it.

Suddenly, even though my book is adventure-fiction, in their eyes I was no longer just a jerk at the end of a line… I was an expert with a book.

People now greet me at the lodge and ask what flies I’m using.

I’m sussed enough not to tell the truth, which is that unless there’s an obvious insect hatch, I just wing it with colour and size.

If trout aren’t going for black, try a smaller green. In other words, inspired guesswork.

But the bottom line is that one book that only Jack had read has suddenly transformed me into the lake’s local guru.

Even when I don’t catch, regulars say ‘that’s unlike you’. They never said that before.

Marketing advice

This could be good marketing advice for business people out there.

For example, last week I was phoned by a guy who lives in London but grew up on a game farm in Africa. He wants a book about that.

I tried to tell him – politely – that particular literary genre peaked last century when Karen Blixen started the first chapter of ‘Out of Africa’ with the words, ‘I had a farm in Africa’.

But my new mate got it right away. This was not about his interesting story (which thankfully it is); it’s instead a highly-effective business card.

A book on his childhood in Africa adds an exotic string to his CV bow like nothing else would.

Of course, he wants it to be a bestseller, but accepts the unlikely odds. However, as a business card it will probably make him more money than any bestseller.

The same can be said for a book I did on two Hurricane Katrina pet rescuers called ‘Forces of Nature’.

After the royalties had been divided, I had enough chump change to buy a small glass of cheap red for myself and a diet coke for management.

But not for the heroines. One is regularly asked to speak on radio, and with the anniversary of Katrina coming up in August, she’s getting requests to address various pet charities.

She is no longer just an animal lover. She’s an expert with a book.

But perhaps the best ‘expert with a book’ example is that of a woman who brought out a tome on the socio-enviro impacts of shopping centres.

I feel drowsy just writing those words. I think she sold four copies. But today, organisations such as Wal-Mart don’t consider new developments without consulting her.

Now that’s real money.

So, for all those bonefishermen out there, you know where to find me. And my book.

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