Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To publicise or not to publicise, that is the question...

There were a couple of interesting, and contrasting (in many ways, polar opposite) articles about writers marketing or publicising their work, in the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal the past few days. Together, they raise interesting questions about the role of the author in the modern world of writing. Just how much effort should authors put into publicising and marketing their work? Do they need to be more proactive and hands-on themselves now that the goal posts seem to have shifted in our era of social networking? Or should they solely concentrate on writing what they personally believe is the best book possible, and leave the rest to the Gods?

In a 16 January article entitled "New Rules For Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition And More" author Anis Shivani decries "every prescription for writing success you'll hear as a young writer from all quarters: the conformity-driven MFA system, the publishing industry's hype-machine, successful writers who act either like prima donnas or untouchable mystics, the marketing experts who seek to impose advertising rules on the writing product."

Writers need to strike out on their own, embrace the madness and non-conformity, eschew crowds and run screaming from any well-trodden roads to commercial success, he argues. Shivani instead prescribes a "regimen designed to pull you away from the mother-teat of the writing industry", including ten commandments:
  1. Disobey the system
  2. Ignore publicity
  3. Shun crowds
  4. Seek unemployment
  5. Converse only with the Classics
  6. Refuse recognition
  7. Don't pursue a niche
  8. Aim for zero audience
  9. Accept failure
  10. Think small.
Read the full article here, for his paragraph or two of detail on each commandment. Certainly some debate-starting ideas there, for sure. I admit to a few WTF? moments when reading some of what Shivani suggests, but then there are a few 'kernels of truth' and interesting insights or perspectives amongst what can seem a little like cyncial vitriol at times. Read between the lines, as they say. There is also a touch of irony in that Shivani promotes his own books (including a clickable link to the Amazon page of one) at the end of his piece. 'Do as I say', perhaps?

Hat tip to Graham Beattie of Beattie's Book Blog for the heads-up re: the Huffington Post article.
On the flip-side, Joanne Kaufman of the online Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at a variety of creative ways that authors themselves can look to build their audience and book sales, rather than just relying on the publicity department of their publisher, in an article entitled "How Authors Move Their Own Merchandise". Reader raffles for pre-orders, Facebook slideshows of readers or celebrities reading your work, creative or unusually-themed publicity or launch parties, giveaways, buying up copies of another author's work cheaply to offer 2-for-1s with your own, and turning your work into a performance piece are all amongst the ideas and techniques Kaufman surveys.

Here's a paragrpah from the article: "Excruciating it may be. Nonetheless, authors are becoming more and more involved in the nitty-gritty of moving the merch. "It's no longer a top-down media culture," said Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. "There is still value and import in having authors appear in traditional media venues like the 'Today' show or The Wall Street Journal," he continued. "But what's changed is that they no longer need the intermediary to reach the reader."

... According to Penny Sansevieri, an adjunct professor at New York University and CEO of Author Marketing, a publicity firm, there are 1,500 books published daily in the U.S., including self-published titles. "To get noticed," she said, "you have to throw more at people than just your book.""
Read Kaufman's full article (recommended) here.

It's definitely a new world when it comes to publishing and trying to reach readers. Barriers are being broken down between readers and writers, but there is also so much out there that it can be easy for things to get lost in the flood. The world of books is certainly not a pure meritocracy, and while better writers and books might have a better chance of success, things aren't always that simple. In my opinion authors need of course to concentrate on writing the very best stories they can, but then they can and should also look to be a little proactive when it comes to the publicity and marketing of their books. Meeting readers at events, signing books, or keeping up a conversation over blogs, Facebook, websites, message boards etc with those that enjoy your work can only help grow your audience (cementing the fans you have, and helping to encourage others).

Not every idea will work for every author, but in my opinion, it's worth trying at least some of them. With all the hard work that goes into writing, and the months and years it takes to shape a story, it's always such a shame to see good and great books failing to get the audiences they deserve. If a few things can be done to help things along, and widen the net, why not put some effort in (as long as it doesn't detract from writing the next one, which is of course the main priority)...
What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Craig - A very interesting post - thank you. Speaking as an author, I can tell you how important it is to spread the word about oneself, and I have no problem with some creativity about it. Some of those ideas seem terrific.

    That said, though, I have to say that I think it can easily go too far. I think there is a delicate balance between doing the reaching out you describe and avoiding the kind of blatant self-promotion that just annoys everyone and in the long run does more harm than good to one's book sales.

    I think about this one a lot as I struggle to find that balance...