Laura Miller’s latest essay in Salon takes up what many perceive as an unpleasant new reality in publishing.
“It has become a mantra that today’s author — whether self- or conventionally published — must learn to promote his or her books. Some, like Eisler and Hocking, happen to be good at it, but many aren’t. People often become writers because they’re introverted or awkward in personal encounters and have poured everything they want to say to the world into their work. What usually gets lost in the perpetual refrain about authors becoming their own marketers is that there’s no particular connection between writing talent and a gift for self-promotion.”
I agree with Miller, that the shared set between self-promoters and good writers is small and exclusionary, but I’m not sure her post accomplishes much beyond the usual hand-wringing. Moreover, I don’t think we’ve arrived at the point where publishing houses demand a marketing plan with a novel submission. Overwhelmingly, agents and editors still take on fiction because of what’s on the page.
Once the book is under contract, however, the harangue begins. Both editor and agent may exhort the author to “get out there” and somehow, cultivate a following. Maddening as it certainly must be for all but the most motivated and gregarious of souls, it’s still not bad advice. Finding an audience for a book is no easy task, and publishers fail more frequently than they succeed, so leaving this to the experts is not as fruitful as most aspiring writers might imagine. Much as agents, authors and publishers may agree that it is part of the role of the publisher to market and promote, the reality is that houses’ commitment is finite and fickle. Houses plough resources back into the books that appear to be “working,” but the books that don’t “find their way” are often quietly abandoned.
For any novelist who wishes to write another day, thinking about ways to marshal sales is a worthwhile enterprise, and the idea that authors, whose job it is to create, should leave the nasty business of selling to others strikes me as quaint and outmoded (in a bad, squeamish and Victorian sort of way. ) There is nothing unsavory or crass in wanting to see–and trying to help– your own work succeed. This might involve hiring a publicist or on-line marketer, becoming self-taught in the ways of social media, or creating a collective of introverted writers in which members agree to buy, or even market, each others’ books. I realize that unions are on the wane, but organizing writers’ groups to tackle on-line publicity and promo might well be viable. Perhaps there are groups doing this already.
What do you think? Is my marketing collective notion ridiculous? But what should the introverted/awkward author do besides tack Millers article to their garret wall and fume?