Swallowing One’s Pride

Via Emerald City, I just came across this interesting post by Justine Larbalestier, who is a writer of feminist science fiction. She has been accused of overdoing the self-promotion lark, and that led her to consider where, exactly, falls the dividing line between an appropriate and inappropriate amount of self-promotion.

Any publisher or agent will tell you, these days, that the book selling business has changed. The idea of the writer churning out masterpieces from the comfort of his log cabin is laughable (the wrong type of ‘laughable’). To be a successful writer you need to perform on cue. You need to be gregarious as necessity requires. Well, gregarious is not quite the correct word. But you need to be calm and witty during, for example, a radio interview that might be heard by a few thousand people. Or you’ll do a panel at a conference, where you’ll gab off about subjects tangentially related to your book and your expertise, in the hope of shifting a few copies of das Meisterwerk. In short, there is a great deal of stuff to do once the book is at the printer’s.

What are my credentials on self-promotion? Well, you’re reading this blog. I’ve also given radio interviews, a television interview, worked the crowds at a science fiction conference, and sent my book to people within the industry whose names would make good cover blurb (though another motivation for that last action is to find out what good writers thought of my book). I consider this is the bare minimum. I don’t like self-promotion. If you had a conversation with me, you’d quickly notice that many of my attempts at humour are self-directed, and I develop a dislike for people who appear to have a high opinion of themselves.

Despite this, I have, like Justine Larbalestier (great name) been considered a rather energetic self-promoter, particularly among my fellow UKA Press authors. This is probably due in greater part to the effect of my activities than the activities themselves. A year ago last month, for example, my book was reviewed in the Guardian. That piece of dumb luck/achievement (which I thought might arrive with my fourth or fifth book, not my first) came my way because I read a book by Jon Courtenay Grimwood and decided he was good writer whose blurb could be useful on the jacket of my book. I sent him a copy of the book and forgot about the whole thing. It was only months later, and a couple of weeks before the Guardian review appeared, that I discovered Jon moonlighted as the Guardian’s science fiction reviewer. All of the other ‘marketing successes’ I’ve had have been similar strokes of luck – augmented slightly by loading the dice. This blog loads the dice, for example. Without it, Scott Pack wouldn’t have asked to read my book, and would not then have recommended me to a number of agents. But the majority of my self-promotional efforts have involved emails and trips to the post office with copies of my book. I’ve managed to combine moderate marketing success (remember it’s just me; my publisher has no marketing officer) without sacrificing one of my core values: bone-idleness.

One of the most insightful parts of Justine’s post was this footnote:

I’m convinced that the most useful thing you can do to promote your work is get copies into the hands of the opinion makers in your genre. The people who write the most read and discussed blogs, the librarians and booksellers who love to push their favourite titles. How to do that is a whole other question, but, obviously, writing the very best books you can is essential! Getting out and meeting said opinion makers comes in second.

I agree one hundred per cent. If you recommend your book: pff, so what? If somebody well-placed within the industry recommends your book: Hmm, what’s this guy’s name again? And it can never be stressed too much, I think, that the first, second, and third duty of a writer is to write well. If you have half an hour spare at the end of the day, I’d advise spending that half hour on your manuscript. That’s the part – the only part – you have any real control over and responsibility for. The rest is a crap-shoot.

My, but haven’t I rambled on? This self-promotion topic must have struck a nerve. I wanted to mention one more thing. I’m now fully into the end game of my book, Flashback. All mysteries have now been solved. I’ve finally realised what the ending of the book must be. Threads must be drawn together. And, now that I’ve past 100,000 words, it’s time to start the last bit of weaving.

Current progress on Flashback:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meterZokutou word meter
102,237 / 120,000
(84.0%)

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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