WASHINGTON — Five years ago, in collaboration with cartoonist Eric Shansby, I wrote a children's book titled "Me & Dog." It sold reasonably well, which is perhaps surprising since its main message, only thinly prettified, is that there is likely no God, no heaven, and that life is a finite, terrifying plummet toward oblivion. The book is aimed at 5-year-olds.
It had a pretty good run, considering, but until very recently I figured that run was over. I based this on the book's current "Amazon number," a sales ranking that is updated several times daily. Being in the top 500 is considered quite good, and "Me & Dog" met that milestone more than a few times. Alas, the book's current Amazon number, on the day and hour I write this, is 201,293. To give you an idea of what this means, one product selling considerably better than that, according to the Amazon number, is the health-advice book "Hemorrhoids No More." Ditto, "The Sock Knitter's Handbook." (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But now I am rethinking my business plan. That's because a whole new sales strategy for children's books appears to have emerged, one I had never considered: influence-peddling.
I give full credit here to Catherine Pugh, who is mayor of Baltimore (or at least still was mayor when I wrote this, three weeks ago). Mayor Pugh has been ensnared in a scandal over suspiciously huge bulk purchases of her slender, insipid, self-published series of children's books called "Healthy Holly." These purchases were mostly made by people and corporations that might wish to be thought kindly of by Mayor Pugh — people interested in doing business with the city. They tended to buy tens of thousands of copies of her books, sometimes with no apparent plan to distribute them. One man who does business with the city reportedly gave Pugh $100,000 and received one copy, which is more than the going price for an 1851 first edition of "Moby-Dick."
The media has not been kind to Mayor Pugh, suggesting that these deals are as kosher as crab casserole, and smell like that casserole after a week in the sun. If you ask me, the media are just taking their typically immature cheap shots. Why, the next thing you know, someone is going to write that lurking in the mayor's last name are both "P.U." and "ugh."
But I digress.
My point is that my children's book may not be dead yet, sales-wise. I might not have the power of a mayor, but I have some agency.
The following offer is directed at pop culture celebs, politicians, etc. I hereby offer you one of three purchase plans.
1. The Friend of Gene plan. To become a friend of Gene you merely have to buy 10,000 copies of "Me & Dog" at the surprisingly affordable bulk price of $12.97 apiece. I can make no quid-pro-quo offers — that would be unethical — but consider the tools of a humor columnist. Now go to a mirror. Stand sideways. Would you like that butt to be the subject of good-natured ridicule in The Washington Post? Do you want me to describe it as having the dimensions and feel of a 50-gallon Hefty bag filled with human molars? Another possibility: "She looks like God's third try at creating a female person, where Eve was try No. 79, and attempt No. 2 resembled a giant pancreas with ears." Do you want to be so described? Of course not. Well, if we have a book purchase deal, I can't write about you! It would violate rules of journalism! Don't consider this plan extortion. Consider it preventive image control.
2. The Lover of Gene plan. This is more intimate and much more positive. For every hundred books you buy, I flagrantly disregard the rule above and write a glowing word about you in my column. One hundred books, you are "brilliant." For 500, you represent "the capstone of human achievement." For a purchase of roughly 60,000, you get a whole column devoted to your genius, physical attractiveness and world-class sense of humor.
3. The Gene's Spouse plan. You send me $100,000 in cash. In return you get one book and I write the whole Hefty-bag-molar-butt thing about anyone you designate.