Too Good To Be True
Bob and I are having lunch, and he asks what’s going on with my book. Bob’s semi-retired, a marketing guy who’s done business with Citicorp, Johnson & Johnson, the New York Times and Quincy Jones.
“Not much,” I say. “Sold 69 copies, mostly on Amazon. Two friends and an ex-girlfriend have read it. Four copies were sold in Germany, which means more Germans have read the book than friends and family.”
It also means I’ve done a terrible job of promoting it. Unless your name is Grisham or Rowling these days, authors don’t just write a book, they must promote it, too.
I’m not comfortable with the idea because it seems like self-promotion, and self-promotion has always struck me as bad manners.
Thus my book — (self-promotion alert!) “Perfect Swing, Imperfect Lies: The Legacy of Golf’s Longest Hitter” — languishes at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, etc.
Bob knows all this, and is not impressed. “What’s your USP?” he says.
“What’s your USP? Your unique selling proposition.”
I’m stumped. I’ve got an elevator speech about the book, but it’s not very convincing.
Bob continues. “Didn’t you say that if the guy you wrote about had told the truth, he would have gotten the recognition he deserved?”
“Then that’s your unique selling proposition.”
It seemed obvious at the time, but later I wondered how you sell that. It sounds like an elementary school maxim like, “Look both ways before crossing.” Thus, “Always tell the truth.”
Although the book is about a golfer, it’s also a character study and a morality tale. It’s a golf book for people who don’t care about golf.
The truth is that Mike Austin was a journeyman golf pro who lived and taught in Los Angeles. In 1974, he hit a 515-yard drive in a tournament at the age of 64, a shot that defies belief and the laws of physics. Forty years later no one on the pro golf tour has come within 40 yards of it.
Austin also had a beautiful and unconventional swing that has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. Perhaps more important, it has the potential to save golfers from the epidemic of injuries caused by the conventional swing. An epidemic, by the way, that the media has either ignored or overlooked.
Those accomplishments alone ought to be enough to make Austin a household name. That he is not has to do with his refusal to tell the truth. He was the subject of an earlier book and a DVD, and Austin consistently lied to interviewers about his past when he could have told the truth.
In fact, he not only lied, he told outrageous lies. But they were lies that were not easy to prove or disprove, and he was encouraged by his proximity to Hollywood, where truth is an endangered species.
Austin not only numbered Hollywood celebrities among his students (Howard Hughes, Jack LaLanne, and the Quaid brothers), he also had a few roles in Hollywood. Although he was primarily an extra, he had a cameo in the 1983 Michael Douglas thriller “The Star Chamber.”
Otherwise, Austin held forth at driving ranges around L.A. No crowd was too big and an audience of one would — and did — suffice. Austin’s niece watched him hold a half-dozen doctors spellbound in an examining room at the Mayo Clinic where he’d gone for a facelift. None of the stories he told them were true, but they didn’t know it and Austin acted as if he thought they were.
And perhaps he did. He could be very convincing, and over and over again people told me Austin was the most memorable person they’d ever met. He was Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world” before Dos Equis ever thought of it.
Hence the fascination. Despite truly noteworthy accomplishments and a charismatic personality, Mike Austin couldn’t tell the truth.
Why? Read the book and find out.