This isn’t the post you were originally meant to read.
Until last night, I had planned to release an allegory of sorts, a short story about two painters hawking their wares at an arts festival, a thinly disguised version of events that unfolded at a recent group signing I was involved in.
I decided to scrap it. Why? Because — as my wife rightly pointed out — it was too mean spirited and not nearly as clever as I originally thought it was. And in my attempt to take a fellow author to task, I lost sight of the point of the post.
So that post is now gone.
The incident that sparked it, however, is still fresh in my mind and several weeks later, the feelings that this incident stirred up don’t seem to want to go away.
So let’s talk about those feelings.
While I’ll never be one to call what we writers do "art," I certainly take pride in the work I put into a book. It took me years to learn my craft, years to learn to paint pictures with words, to create three-dimensional characters, to keep a story moving forward through dialog and action and unexpected plot twists.
I don’t think I have to say that writing a book is not an easy thing to do, and those of us who manage and, better yet, manage to get it published, have every right to cherish that accomplishment.
Once we do get published, however, a whole new set of realities enter our world, not the least of which is the task of promoting our books.
But the question I have to ask myself (especially after an encounter with an author whose take-no-prisoners enthusiasm for the task was annoying, to say the least) is: what exactly are we selling?
Is the work we do, the product we represent, no different than link sausage or high-heeled shoes? Are we in the same type of business as carnival barkers or medicine wagon hucksters? Should we stand on a crowded street corner, megaphone in hand, and call potential readers over to sample our wares?
I don’t think so.
Call me a snob, but I like to think that what we do is special. And rare. And when it comes to promoting my books, I try to do it with a kind of dignity that reflects that. In a group promotional situation, I also try to treat those around me, my fellow authors, with the same kind of dignity and not allow my words and/or actions to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.
It’s simple courtesy.
Unfortunately, not all of us feel this way. Some of us feel quite comfortable with that megaphone pressed against our lips, and selling our work is no different than selling a bottle of snake oil. For whatever reason — and who knows, it may be a good one — these authors feel compelled to grab every potential customer by the lapels and drag him or her over for a closer look at their "product."
But I’m just not built that way. And maybe that’s a problem. Maybe I need to wake up to the realities of the book business and realize that because we live in a world of short attention spans, a place filled with a lot of glittery objects, that I need to do whatever I can to get people to pay attention to mine.
A few weeks ago, I posted a forum topic over at Crimespace called BSP about my disdain for blatant self-promotion. It turned out that my post touched such a nerve that I got dozens of comments and even won a Crimespace t-shirt after it was voted "topic of the month."
Several of the comments took me to task, telling me that promotion is a necessary part of the game. But these people misunderstood what I was trying to say. I have no problem with promotion. I’ll gladly play that game as long as it’s necessary.
But where I draw the line is when that promotion crosses over into "blatant" territory, where everything we say and do is designed to push our product, where every encounter we have on an online forum or blog or in a chatroom is an opportunity to sell, sell, sell.
I believe in the soft sell. And while I’m happy to do book tours and attend conventions and festivals and mingle with those who love to read, I’ll be damned if I’ll shove my book under everyone’s nose and beg them to read it.
Most of my selling is done on the page. And while I may be naive, I believe that good writing will eventually attract a following and that word of mouth is the very best selling tool we have.
I don’t want to be seen as a crass used car salesman. I can’t imagine that anyone does.
So if you ever see me on a promotional tour, don’t be surprised if I keep it low key. I’ll give my speech, sign my books, talk to you about reading or writing or whatever you feel like talking about.
But, please, don’t ever expect me to pick up that megaphone.