Remember when writers could be wallflowers, even recluses? Laura Miller of Slate does.
In this thought-provoking article she ponders what we could be missing in a world where aggressive self-marketing and mastery of social media seem to matter more than sheer talent:
Yes, I believe we've discussed elsewhere a Hocking-Eisler debate. Fascinating stuff. As for the quality question, that is a moot point. Under certain circumstances (if the author has literary credentials and connections), good literary novels (and maybe also bad ones) will still get published and get a certain amount of exposure. Reviewers like to be associated with literary stuff. Readers will buy. Perhaps not in the same numbers as the ones who buy Eisler and Hocking, but in large enough numbers to satisfy the publisher. Being up on the latest literary releases is a status symbol.
Shyness has nothing to do with quality writing. The point is that it ought not to matter, provided the book is good. And promotion is the publisher's job.
You know, it is interesting---but it's not just the book/literary world. Artists---visual artists---now have to learn how to "market" themselves in order to become "successful." There are workshops given for artists---notoriously uninterested in the business aspect of art. People like me, reluctant to try to "sell" my own work; now I will soon have a website, because it's expected.
This whole "marketing" trend seems to be a development of recent years, and ONE reason for it, I think, is simply the overwhelming number of people who are writing, or making art these days. Perhaps it's getting more difficult to separate what's good from what's average, from what's good but run of the mill from what's unique, what's good from what's great. Great doesn't always sell----Miller mentions Emily Dickinson, a famous recluse who didn't become famous for her poetry until after her death. And what a loss if we hadn't had those poems----but she never got to enjoy a moment of her fame. Because she didn't, wouldn't, couldn't, MARKET herself! (Poets are the least likely people to do that, anyway. Or were....) :)
Someone below mentioned marketing. I think a lot of it is that for those of us who are 'the real thing' we go through some major transitions from just writing to dealing with the publishing world and brings up marketing and the rest of it.
Shy or not, there is work within one's comfort zone and then there are areas where we really have to get out of it; go beyond it and just deal with what's really possible. That can be easier said than done. In truth, I thnk if it weren't for some of my personal issues I would have been further along now than I am.
Good article. I have pondered this very subject before. When I was in my early teens and starting to devour every book I could get my hands on a large part of the appeal for me was the intrigue of having no idea what the writer looked like, how old they were etc.
I like the fact that as a writer, it is theoretically possible to enjoy commercial success with a very low public profile/persona (Cormac McCarthy). However, this reality has been lost. Promotion is the name of the game, sound bites and news stories unrelated to the writing have become the story. Selling the story has become the story and often the writer IS the story.
I understand why these changes have occurred; I just think it is a real sad state of affairs.
Whatever happened to THE STORY being the story?
I'm with you on this one. Personally, for me, that's still the way it is. I don't care what an author looks like, how many bestsellers he or she has written, or what his or her personal life is like. Eventually, if I like a writer's work enough, I may want to know a little more about the person, but no amount of marketing is going to make me like a book when all I have to do is read the first page to know whether or not it's something I want to finish.
Of course, Cormac McCarthy finally HAS achieved commercial success--but I bet most of the public has not, and will not read Blood Meridian,---would not be able to get through it if they did, it's that savage. Astoundingly beautiful writing, though! That's what got me through it! That, and his overpowering vision of history. They say he would go to parties and not even talk to anyone. I wonder if he's changed. Probably not. :)
Yes, I saw that study also. Advertising is on the list, but advertising has to reach big numbers of people. That is simply not possible for authors. Also, self-promotion is not nearly as effective as promotion by someone else, i.e. word of mouth and reviews.
The only positive thing that can be said about spamming the Internet or making personal appearances is that "name-recognition" enters into this. However, if you irritate people, it may be counter-productive. I automatically toss all the ads in my mail box, attached to my door, and inserted into my newspaper.
As for Hocking and Eisler: they may be writing entertaining books.
It's an interesting article. I wonder how much selling yourself actually matters to sales. Joe Konrath once said that he thought, even with all his mad self-promoting, he sold only a few thousand books more than he would have otherwise. That was before he was into the e-book stuff.