By Caitlin Kelly
Here’s an interesting discussion, from The New York Times Book Review, about whether or not authors should run around promoting themselves and their
Here’s James Parker on why it’s such a bad idea:
She must explain herself. He must sell himself. To a gifted minority it comes naturally; to the rest, it really doesn’t. Hence the tremendous awkwardness that often attends these sorties into the national mind. Author photos, for example, are invariably ghastly: pouting, bedraggled or staring down with blazing eyes from the spire of genius, the author is basically saying (or trying to say): “Trust me. I’m worth it.” As for media appearances, any interview in which the author doesn’t swear uncontrollably or break into loud sobs must be considered a public relations triumph.
Having written two non-fiction books, one before the age of social media — “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, published in 2004 — and Malled, in 2011, I’ve been around that block.
People who choose to write for a living generally prefer to withdraw into their own heads and work at their own pace.
If we were super-chatty extroverts, we would have gone into PR.
If we really loved having our photo taken or being witty in two-minute soundbites, we would have chosen a career in television. Trying to boil down nuance into seconds is difficult and scary as hell — and I’ve done a fair bit of television and radio promotion for my books, whether BBC radio and television, NPR or Al Jazeera America.
And “the public” can be brutal, (see: amazon “reviews”), ignorant and brutally ignorant of what it takes to even get a book commercially published. Authors often get asked to speak at someone’s lunch or alumni group or women’s club, unpaid.
Yet if your book sells poorly — fewer than 10,000 copies — your odds of an agent repping you, or any publisher touching your next attempt shrivel very quickly.
So we feel compelled to sing and dance and do blog tours, even if that’s about as appealing as gum surgery.
Here’s Anna Holmes taking the opposite view:
Book promotion can offer a feeling of agency for authors trying to find their way in an industry that can seem otherwise fickle, opaque and unmeritocratic…
And the readers, really, are where it’s at. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking — or making — opportunities to connect with potential readers face to face or, thanks to the rise of the Internet, pixel to pixel. In fact, I consider book promotion as much of an obligation as proofreading a manuscript. Writing is, in itself, an act of engaging with others, of seeking connection over mere expression. If you were to put a book out into the world, which would you rather have — conversation or silence?
Holmes is being super-polite; “unmeritocratic” is Times-speak for:
How did that piece of shit ever find a publisher?!
I have two friends who head the publicity departments of two major American publishers. I love them as friends, but to hear their insiders’ view of this business is blood-chilling. One told me recently she read a proposal so incompetent she said, “Not a chance.”
Yet the house bought it for a lot of money, because the writer already has a huge following for her website — i.e. demand for her product.
I was intrigued when I started to follow writer Sarah Salway’s British blog, Writer in the Garden, and decided to follow her on Twitter — and read the bio’s of the many highly-accomplished UK writers she follows. Their self-presentation was almost uniformly witty and self-deprecating, a style I used to employ when I moved from Brit-inflected Canada to the U.S. — and to chest-thumping New York City, aka Braggarts ‘r us!
If you’re shy and quiet and reserved about your work here, hang it up kids, because you’re probably going to stay invisible and powerless.
In our noisy, crowded, you-only-get-six-seconds’-of-my-attention culture, introverts can have a tough time getting their books attention, reviews and sales.
I have to say, on balance, I side with Holmes. I’d rather initiate a convo with my readers than sit around waiting for someone to find my books.