Author Humiliation Contest Winning Entries

Our first winner is Suzan D. Herskowitz, an attorney from Winchester, VA.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I was asked to speak about my scintillating book, on writing your own will (yeah, I know, didn’t even make the top 1 million list for non-fiction). I showed up at a mega-bookstore that is still in business somewhere in South Florida and 1 person showed up…and it was my mother.

Thanks for letting me share.

And in equal first place is Steven Friedman, of San Rafael, California, whose entry is titled


My first (and only) book was published in 2000 by a small press in South Carolina, owned by a bigger concern in England. Their marketing and sales team arranged for the book to be sold in a few large bookstores and even one notable big box store. But the responsibility for promoting Golden Memories of the San Francisco Bay Area was largely mine.

So I arranged a speaking engagement at a national book chain in Berkeley, CA, on December 7, a perfect day of history and infamy to showcase a book of oral histories from nine Bay area elders of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds.

It was a Thursday evening, rain slashing outside, as I arrived at the store. There was a 20×30 poster with a photograph of me on it, advertising my book talk, and I heard someone announce over the loudspeaker that tonight’s event was going to start in 30 minutes. I felt the chill of excitement.

There were probably ten rows of chairs and a podium in front. At 7 PM, there were two men, who I guessed to be homeless, dressed in torn overcoats, warming themselves away from the frigid late autumn air, seated in the middle of the room.

I had a copy of my book, which was filled with several yellow post-its, so I could read a few passages. I’d picked one from Berenice, who’d been a civilian during WWII, about how she’d kissed her then boyfriend, an officer, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. And I’d picked a second story from a Japanese-American woman whose family owned a hotel in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her husband had later served in the Army after Pearl Harbor and after being forced into an internment camp.

So I was ready to share history and discuss history on a day when we remember such a tragic time in America’s past.

I started talking with Karen, the author-events coordinator. She was, like me at the time, the parent of a toddler, so we exchanged war stories.

By 7:30, the two homeless guys had left and the room was empty. Karen and I kept talking and talking and talking. Until 8:30 when I decided to drive home. So I ambled out there door, carrying the poster of my ‘book talk’, and returned to my wife and sleeping son.

I was bummed out for sure, but I realized or rationalized later that why would anyone go out on a Thursday evening, a school and work night, in a downpour to hear an unknown author?

I’ve passed that bookstore in Northern California many times and have even been in there with family and friends. And I always tell them about my day of not actual infamy when I gave a book talk and nobody came. And they chuckle a bit, and so do I. But it still stings, too, even after 14 years.

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