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%)

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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