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Awkward Author/Introverts Unite!

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?

16 Responses to Awkward Author/Introverts Unite!

  1. M.A. Leslie says:

    I agree with you completely. I am not what you would call an introvert, but I could see how someone like that would have trouble in this day and age.
    I know it isn’t traditional or the right way, but we, my wife and I, just self-published a MG book through Amazon, eBook and paperback. The writing, story, editing, editing, editing, and more editing took some serious time, 8 months. However, I am realizing that the real work has only just begun.
    We have been blogging for some time, set up a FB fan page, and now we are on twitter. To top it off we are going to book stores and seeing if we can set up any book signing days and we even got set up to speak at our kid’s school.
    Bottom line, writing is only a small portion of the work. I still don’t know if it is the same for a traditionally published author compared to a self-pub, because I have no way to compare, but I think either way it is quite a bit of work.

    Great post, I think you are bringing some important realities to the table.

  2. Josin says:

    You’re assuming that the writer is capable of choosing social interaction. Some people aren’t. Some have actual social disorders (or other issues) that prevent them from “getting out there” in a capacity that would help, rather than hinder, their success.

    Just because a person is capable of writing a novel or mimicking social behavior in a fictional setting doesn’t mean they actually possess those skills any more than someone writing crime fiction actually possesses the skills required to commit a crime. Sometimes it isn’t social “awkwardness” but other issues from depression to bi-polar disorder to Asperger’s Syndrome and beyond.

  3. Ian Bontems says:

    I think a lot of writers do get together and support each other online by blogging about one another’s books. From what I’ve seen, the field of children’s books (MG & YA) is certainly a very supportive one, with blog tours, guest posts and numerous give-away contests of books other than the writer’s own.

    However, I do see her point, even if it is moot. You either adapt or get left behind. If everyone else is promoting their work and you aren’t, then you’re going to sink.

  4. Kurt Hartwig says:

    I appreciate your take.

    I felt that her argument that Harper Lee couldn’t survive in today’s environment ignores the likelihood that many similar authors to Lee probably didn’t get published in her day either.

    Self-publishing and e-publishing lower the threshold for authors to make their works available – just as camera phones and simple editing programs lower the threshold for visual storytelling – no longer “film” and “filmmakers” any more than authors now write on pages (unless it’s Pages, of course).

    The new problem isn’t that there won’t be more Harper Lees. It will be finding them and sorting the wheat from the chaff. Being a good marketer will be like being good at writing query letters. It’ll be uneven and surprising and full of diamonds in the rough.

    Miller has pointed me toward some delightful books – most recently Kate Atkinson’s work – but I really felt that this was off the mark and largely unnecessary.

  5. Lisa Marie says:

    Once upon a time, it was easy to get noticed on the Internet, because there were so few of us – oh, and you had to have working knowledge of UNIX. Some writers simply stood out (that’s how I got my very first writing gig, amazingly enough).

    What do I think about the marketing issue now? I think with so many writers marketing themselves, it’s going to get too confusing for the reader to make a choice, and they’ll start disregarding blogs, websites, tweets and social networking profiles for the most part and go back to what matters – whether the book itself appeals to their sensibilities.

    I’m not susceptible to marketing. If I don’t think I’ll like the premise of a novel, I won’t buy it simply because everyone else is doing it. That said, I realize that I’m probably different than most people. :)

  6. Tx for the post, Jessica.

    I clicked on it right after I filled out an author survey about… How I felt about marketing my book!

    My debut novel Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys was published by an indie press in Nov. 2010. No one knew who I was except my mother, there were zero marketing dollars and I knew I would have to do 99.9% of the marketing if I wanted my book to stand a chance of getting read.

    I started a FB page for Cupcakes. I got a Flip Camera, took short videos of anything that was ‘Cute as a Cupcake,’ and/or ‘Scarier than a Dead Guy,’ and posted them.

    Once the book came out, I contacted over 400 baking sites and pitched it to them. (Hey Tastycakes Bakery and Fans! Ck out this funny mystery about a baker with a pinch of psychic ability…) I’ve attended Cupcake events, made ‘friends’ with bakers all over the country and featured their cupcakes on my book site. I promote cupcake charities. I still hold down my day job and am finishing a draft of my next novel.

    So – how’s my book doing? The papers – awful. My Indie Publisher has no distribution. The e-books? Out of 800,000 plus Kindle books, on the average I’m ranking between #900 and #2000 for several months now. While I’m not Amanda Hocking, that’s pretty good for a debut novel with a tiny publisher.

    So – do I believe that authors can benefit from self-marketing? Absolutely.

    And, yes, I still consider myself an introvert.

    Best,

  7. Katie says:

    Hand-wringing over having to be a salesman may not have anything to do with contempt for the act of selling. For me, it’s because I’m shy. I find calling attention to myself excrutiating. I will have to resist the urge to delete this comment all the way up until I press “post.”

    When the subject of authors as salespeople comes up, it’s often implied that those who resist are flawed or lazy or asking too much of their publisher. Most of the time, I don’t think that’s true. Some of the problem is with publishers, whose finite commitment and fickle support is an approach that doesn’t suit the personalities of many of the people who create their products. Since publishers will never change on this, it’s hard to resist putting the onus on authors and berating them, or simply letting them fail, when they can’t do it all. Just because this is the way it is doesn’t mean it’s fair, or the best business model, or that these authors are snobby or flawed. They’re just shy.

    Being shy and/or introverted often makes people observant and emotionally aware, which I believe are common qualities among writers. While it’s fair to ask a writer to do what they can to sell their own books, it is not fair to demand that they erase the traits that make them good at their primary job.

    For people who aren’t good at selling for whatever reason, I suggest sticking to things like blogging and Twitter, where you can consider what you say before you say it. What publishers can do, not that they will, is recognize that all kinds of people make good writers, and they’re all going to have different strengths. Whatever those strengths are, they still all deserve some amount of support.

  8. Roxanne says:

    I suspect the term “Marketing” does turn some people off. It implies that one is ‘manipulating’ the reader into buying and reading a book. It also implies a somewhat ‘clinical’ one-way communication.

    Personally, I like to think of it simply as meeting people with similar interests, and that’s kinda fun.

    Rox

  9. Lance Parkin says:

    I think some of it is that authors are a little suspicious that, at a time of cost-cutting, publishers are asking authors to do something that the publishers have traditionally done.

    Authors aren’t getting higher royalty rates or expense accounts, or even the email address of someone in the marketing department so that they could co-ordinate their efforts with those of the publishers. There’s no great evidence that the more you’re willing to push your book, the more a publisher will help push. They don’t send you a pamphlet explaining what to do – or more importantly what not to do – or lay out what they expect. You’re lucky if they let you know when the release date is, or if it’s changed.

    What shocks me is that I have a list of authors I’ll buy on day one, in hardback, and I keep my ear to the ground, but I can go into Borders and find they’ve got a new one out. I’m already a fan, I’m looking, I buy lots of books, it’s someone’s tenth book and these things slip under my radar. How, in that world, are new authors meant to stand out?

    And the answer has to be ‘online presence’. ‘Social media’ is just about awareness. Ultimately, there’s a world of difference between liking someone’s blog and paying cash for their book, but you don’t have the option of buying that book if you don’t know it exists.

    (Jessica made me go on Facebook when she signed me. I scowled, and then the next week an editor got in touch and commissioned something. Never underestimate the value of just having a way for people to contact you).

    On the other hand, there is this rather neat example of how not to go about things:

    http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html

  10. Anyone here have experience with Kickstarter? Would like to leave a more extensive comment, but right now, I gotta work….

  11. Kurt Hartwig says:

    I used Kickstarter to fund travel to Prague to participate in the Fringe Festival there last year. I set a low goal for me and my partner ($2000) that we reached in short order – basically from friends and family. We only received 1-2 pledges from people who found us on the Kickstarter website, but it gave friends and family an easy way to help us out in a non-pushy way – i.e. I never had to go to someone and say hey, can you give me some money?

    The more of a base you have, the more successful you’ll be on Kickstarter is my take. A choreographer friend took a show to the Minnesota Fringe in August 2010 and raised close to $5000 to cover travel, boarding, and food for her company, and she has a very good mailing list. A guy I know who tried to raise 10k to self-publish a book didn’t break 2k.

    Nathan Bransford just did a post (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/03/how-to-use-kickstarter-to-fund-self.html) on this.

    Another micro-sourcing site that lots of filmmakers prefer (smaller cut to the organization, faster payout) is http://www.indiegogo.com. I haven’t used them, so I can’t speak any more than what I’ve just written.

  12. As an introvert, self-published author, former screenwriter and Beverly Hills Psychologist I find myself intimately acquainted with these waters and my two cents is that we are in the midst of significant shifts in consciousness, not just publishing and “promoting.”

    The zeitgeist doesn’t “personally” care about any given author much less book, and that is painful to the ego (at least it has been to my continually eroding ego), yet there is a lot of very good work all around us and the problem, as a reader, much less a writer, has to do with choosing what to spend one’s time on.

    Being noticed is largely about the ego, while great work is ultimately about the soul. If one writes To Kill a Mockingbird it will find a way in this big frantic world, perhaps not in time for the next Harper Lee to try to explain why she could never repeat the magic, but that sort of spirit is rare and wills out. Melville did not have a “hit” on his hands with Moby Dick but we’ve all somehow heard of it several years later than Herman might have liked.

    And while we may aspire to greatness, we generally know that we are not Shakespeare and that if we were the world would quickly enough find out about it. Sadly enough for any of us, the world does not really need more very good books. There’s alway room for a great book, and that is what we should all try for, and when we fall short go ahead and make another offering without becoming Cain about it.

    Or better yet, we might find ourselves freed of the spell of words and play with our kids, make love, cook and laugh with friends. Maybe then we’ll wake up pregnant with a great book and we won’t care if anyone else loves it after we’ve birthed it. Sure we take it to cupcake parties, and give it a shot in the world, but we love it even if no one else makes it a star and through this process perhaps we make our soul—something that is not immortal but eternal.

    We all know that “famous” does not necessarily equate to “good” (just think of the “popular” kids in high school—those most aggressively insistent that they are fabulous, and eventually everybody realizes they are akin to Madonna at the Superbowl… it just takes a while).

    Perhaps the human collective is wiring itself up for something more evolved. Perhaps C.S. Lewis is correct in asserting that we read and write to be less alone. So let’s be less alone and not despair if we are not the belle of the ball. In this new world at least everyone gets to come to the party, and perhaps it turns out that the prince of fame is over-rated and we’re better off with the tailor or the baker anyway.

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