Friday, January 8, 2016

The Problem with Self Promotion

The Guardian Stones is an exciting departure for us. Set in the UK during WWII, a much different period than our Byzantine mysteries, it is also different in tone, darker perhaps, owing as much to the modern thriller as the Golden Age Detectives.

Naturally we want people to read the novel and so, already we have been dutifully attempting to bring it to people's attention. Unfortunately, although promotion is necessary, neither Mary nor I are very comfortable with it. If only Eric Reed were a real person who loved being a salesman.

In his memoir Self Consciousness John Updike described well the plight of diffident writers:

"...the price that we pay, we Americans who shyly wish to live by our eyes and wits, at our desks, away from the frightening tussle of human strength and appetite and intimidation and persuasiveness, is marginality: we live chancily, on society's crumbs in a sense, as an exchange for our exemption from the broad brawl of, to give it a name, salesmanship."

Ain't it the truth!

For most of us, although not, perhaps, for John Updike.

You're not exactly marginalized when you're on the cover of Time magazine, twice. But Updike's fame arrived in the early sixties and I would prefer to believe that back then success sought authors out because of their writing, that Updike had only sell stories and novels, and not himself. Or not to the extent that he would have had to sell himself were he beginning his career today.

How will literature change when an author cannot attain publication without without becoming a salesman? Surely our personalities are reflected in our books. A hard driving, competitive self promoter (the sort of person help wanted ads seek) perfectly at home in Updikes's "frightening tussle of human strength and appetite" is going to write a different kind of book than a person who is retiring and meditative.

Not that retiring and meditative writers have ever fared very well against the literary self-promoters but at least they were not entirely cut off from publication, which might soon be the case.

From a business point of view it isn't surprising. The financial returns from even a bestselling author like Updike amount to crumbs compared to the obscene mountains of money available from the more profitable businesses owned by the corporate conglomerates who control big publishing. Those who read books regularly have become a shrinking minority on the margins of society. Certainly not a market important enough to cultivate.

Nevertheless, some lesser-promoters will doubtless continue to write because for us there is almost no price too high for an exemption from salesmanship. Some of us still aspire to be Arthur Miller rather than Willy Loman.


  1. I enjoyed your thoughtful comments. I too wish I had an alter ego who loved sales and promotion, the kind of extrovert who thrives at cocktail parties, which I consider hideous ordeals.

  2. Glad to hear I'm not alone. With me, cocktail parties rate just above a visit from the Spanish Inquisition. (Not that I'm expecting one) I'd probably need to be drunk to get through a cocktail party which would be tough since I hate cocktails as much as their parties!