The other day I was whining to a close friend about how disagreeable I find the whole business of self promotion that is regarded as necessary to selling one’s books, be they printed or e-books. In the middle of my rant, he interrupted and reminded me of the politician who disdained the grubby work of campaigning, and consequently lost. His point was that if you want to hold office, you’ve got to stand in the rain and shake hands, whether you like it or not. Lady Macbeth chides her husband in a similar way when he expresses hesitation about killing Duncan. Here she is at her humiliating best:
For those of you who, like me until recently, do not know about the cat, the story concerns a feline who would like to eat a fish, but doesn’t want to get her feet wet.Well, neither promoting one’s self in the land of politics nor pushing one’s own books in the hot competition for those few people who still read is as dire as regicide, certainly, but they all feel—at least to me—as if they participate in the same bad form: unseemly ambition, I suppose you could call it.Nevertheless, I have to confess that I would like more readers, more sales even though my main motive in writing novels is the pleasure writing brings me (see Musings), not wealth and fame. It’s a small dilemma, one that I feel most acutely when, in conversation, people ask me if I am pursing publication, by which they mean Random House, not Kindle. The attitude seems to be that there is little point in doing all that work, all that writing, if you’re not going to make a buck. There is some sense in that idea which is why I have offered the books electronically. Even to me, a fellow who drifts toward ridiculous “artistic purity,” piling the books up on a hard drive or leaving them in a drawer feels empty. No. The novels ought to get out there and do their part, make something of themselves.Not many years ago at the high school where I used to teach, we invited a writer of mystery novels targeted at young teenaged girls to come speak to the English Department. Prior to her visit, we read one of the many novels she had published. The book itself was entertaining, but not something most people would read more than once. During her visit, the writer spoke about her writing habits (as writers love to do) and mostly about the marketing effort she puts in to keep her work in the eye of her targeted public. It seemed formidable. It was a job. She worked hard at it and appeared to be making a reasonable living, although nothing like that living earned by figures like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. I admired her for it, admired her drive, her willingness to stand in the rain and shake hands. In the wake of her talk, by the way, we all received regular email notifications of her publications and readings. The woman did not miss a trick and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The logic of the situation impels a person to get out there in the rain; peddle the books and the self as vigorously as possible. You’ll get nowhere if you don’t. Hmmmm….. Well, where is “somewhere?” What do I mean by “more readers, more sales?” I guess I need to answer that and I haven’t yet.
Walk through a bookstore. All those books—and those are only the ones that are published and happened to have been purchased by that particular store. All those writers marketing themselves and their work. Often in the entryway to such stores you’ll find a clearance table. Imagine finding your work there! It always seemed to me the store wouldn’t mind if you stole the stuff, cleared the table. Books as litter.
Look through any copy of Poets and Writers Magazine and what you’ll find are endless advertisements for MFA programs, expensive workshops on publishing, pricey retreats and so on. The market for this kind of stuff seems without limit, as if everyone in the United States is an aspiring John Grisham. And all of them are out there in the rain shaking hands, I guess.
This makes me feel dizzy and faint.
I’ve got to stop this now. I’ve a book work on and another to finish revising so that I can post it on Kindle, along with the others. In a week or so it will appear here: