Selling yourself: who’s buying?

- by Elaine Isaak

Guy Gavriel Kay recently wrote an article in which he wonders if some blogging authors are perhaps inviting readers a little too far into their lives.  He cites examples where authors like George R. R. Martin and Pat Rothfuss are taking heat from readers for delays in getting new books out.  I think we all get asked by fans when the next book is coming out–it’s great, actually, to know that so many people care.  But when a reader berates the author for enjoying personal activities (like watching sports or having a girlfriend) because the reader thinks the author should be writing instead, things have gone a bit too far.It used to be the expectation that the author writes a book and the publisher sees to it that the book gets all sorts of exposure through reviews, book clubs, in store promotions and what-have-you.  But the new trend is toward author-supported promotions, and we are often encouraged by agents and editors not merely to promote the books, but to sell ourselves. 

Readers like to have a personal connection.  If they feel invested in the books and move on to learn more about the author, they feel like insiders, close to the creation of something they love.  When I was doing the craft show circuit with my crazy stuffed animals, show promoters and long-time crafters gushed about the idea that customers were not only buying a hand-made item, but a little bit of the mystique of the creator, and I think some readers feel the same way.

Many authors enjoy sharing the writing life with readers through newsletters, websites and blogs.  We feel supported by the positive contacts and immediate gratification provided by on-line fan activity.  But sometimes, this concept of selling yourself crosses the line when a handful of readers begin to act as if, well, they own you.  They not only look forward to the release of the next book, they badger the author about it.  This kind of thing has been going on ever since books reached a mass market, but the internet adds a layer of false intimacy between reader and writer, breaking down the barriers to access by providing an instant link and the sense of direct kinship that sending a letter to a publisher never quite offered.

As authors we need to think about where we place the boundary on our own privacy without appearing hostile to the readers we hope to nurture.  And as readers, too, we must allow the sacred space in which creation can occur.  We must, on occasion, bite our tongues and be patient, knowing that our very presence in the temple of art could ruin the experience we hope to share:  that special delight of leaping in to a long-awaited story.

One comments

  1. Additionally, sometimes a writer’s “fans” are a bit less than perfectly balanced.

    I was on a panel discussion with George RR Martin at a convention, and an audience member who asked about his next book… =refused= to be satisfied with his polite answer that he was still writing it. She also refused to cede the floor so someone ELSE could ask a question–such as a question that was actually relevant to the TOPIC of the multi-author panel discussion we were on.

    This “fan” (short for “fanatic,” and certainly applicable in this case) just kept hammering at George, demanding that he answer her upcoming-plot-revelations questions, getting angry when he politely declined to reveal spoilers in advance of publication, and berating him (UNPLEASANTLY, not humorously) for making readers wait for those plot revelations.

    George handled it well; but the incident, which took place in a large, well-attended conference session, was awkward and rude and bizarre.

    Naturally, as a novelist, I think it’s wonderful that readers should become so absorbed in a novel. But one is nonetheless tempted to say to such a “fan”: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GO GET A LIFE!!!

    Or at least: Go read a few hundred other good books while waiting for this author’s next, for goodness sake! I don’t know about YOUR house or YOUR library list, but mine are both filled to overflowing with good books I intend to read.