But, though books have a life outside of the writer, they are still our books. Readers do not need to do a blessed thing after closing the last page, that is true—but at their core, these are our books. They exist only for the multiplicity of hours we spent writing them.
Stephanie Cowell (http://www.stephaniecowell.com/), author of five novels and a winner of an American Book Award, wrote this when I asked her opinion on the topic: “I do think that kind of pushy behavior (described in the article) is beyond the pale … no one should be pushed like that. But I think if we like an author’s work or the author is living and not making a Dan Brown fortune, it is the right thing to buy the book, not borrow it. We contribute to all sorts of things, most of us. We don’t borrow a meal in a restaurant.
Of course, if we can’t afford it, then we can do second-hand or borrow by all means…but again, the author has no right to say anything. It just creates bad feelings. I remember when a friend with a lot of money sent me two remaindered books to autograph… I bit my tongue hard.”
Here’s the thing—we’re caught between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis. Just as actors love acting, dancers love dancing, and comedians love cracking jokes, writers love writing. But though some of all of the above are doing it for a joy of craft alone, a great deal of us are doing it for a living and suddenly, in this new online world, this translated into promoting anything and everything we can. (Cute puppies! Funny kids! Adorable elderly parents saying the sweetest things!)
God save the writer with neither cuteness nor tragedy to promote, because we’re all fighting for attention. There are more books than ever. Bowker reports that over three million books were published in the U.S. in 2010 (May 18, 2011 Bowker Report, http://www.bkpextranet.com/AuthorMaterials/10AwfulTruths.htm).
The number of new print titles issued by U.S. publishers has grown from 215,777 in 2002 to 316,480 in 2010. And in 2010 more than 2.7 million “non-traditional” titles were also published, including self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books.
Cable television somewhat democratized the medium, but it also brought a din of competition—the same is going on with publishing. There are fewer mainstream reviews and a greater number of consumer reviews. There is tremendous pressure to be online, get the word out, do book clubs in person, by Skype, by train, plane, and automobile. Write posts. Do events. Go to festivals. Participate on panels. Form support groups. Shout out other writers. None of the above is breaking rocks, but for mid-list writers there is no money in it either. It’s done for free, or, more likely, it’s done for free and paid for by the writers. When you see those “book tours!!” you can bet that 90% of them are author-funded.
After our books are published, most writers spend months online and in person, trying to convince readers— without turning them off—that our books are worth their time and money. (Or just their time—libraries are book buyers of the highest order. Writers love having readers request our books. )
All this après-writing work requires learning the close-to-impossible: how to do it graciously and well.
One (well, me) can spend hours and hours studying how to do it properly, how to find the right tone and voice, and one can still blow it. Ah, that rock and hard place: on the one hand, squirming at posting another “Me! Me! Me!” and on the other hand, studying your Bookscan numbers and Amazon ranking as though examining the Dead Sea Scrolls. How tempting, how easy, to simply post one more me-me-me about one’s book.
MJ Rose, owner of Authorbuzz—a book marketing firm—and a bestselling author (her next book, Seduction, releases May 7) says, “Authors live in a time when what we’re asked to do, what we think we need to do, and what our publishers often expect us to do, make us look unseemly. Authors online act in ways they’d never allow themselves in person. It’s rare when I meet an author in person who acts the way they do online. One rule I use is this: before I say anything online, I ask myself is this something I’d share with someone I just met at a cocktail party? If the answer is no, then I don’t post it.” (Read more about Rose’s writing at http://mjrose.com/content/)
Author Catherine McKenzie (her latest book is Forgotten) is acutely aware of this issue: “I think every writer these days has that me-me-me feeling whenever their book comes out (and in the months leading up to it and after it). I remember when my first book came out a couple of years ago in January, 2010. I dubbed it the “month of me” and was thoroughly sick of myself by the end of it. One thing I find helps is I turn that me-me-me spotlight onto other authors. It’s so much easier to say “read this!” or “buy this!” when I’m