Dan Green is one of my favorite bloggers — smart and provocative — even though we see the world from very different perspectives. I would rather read a 1000 of his words over 10 of most bloggers, even when he takes exception to one my recent comments, one where I was baffled about authors who shun marketing:
Why should this be baffling? If writers wanted to be marketers, presumably they would have become. . .marketers. Instead they chose to be writers, presuming that marketing was the job of publishers.
If one wants to be a “writer” and just write, that is his or her prerogative, but once becomes a published “author”, then you’re moving from the world of art to the world of commerce. Part of the job of the author is to sell books; I am not convinced there was ever an age when publishers put all manner of effort into selling books — and selling books is very much different from selling authors — but it takes thirty seconds in a bookstore to know that a lot of effort is required to rise above the noise.
Some authors might very well limp along without an active marketing strategy, but reality is that you have to sell certain numbers to earn that next contract (there are some, sure, who skate in life, but publishing is a dirty business, and if you don’t meet targets, you don’t win). Self-published authors have to market even harder. If you want someone to read what you’ve written, you have to alert them to the fact that the words exist. I can write endless words (and have), but the moment I deem something publishable and send it off to the world, my relationship with that text changes.
Successful authors engage in active marketing. They get it. It might not be natural, but it’s part of the job, just as writing books is part of the job. Signings, book tours, media appearances, begging for reviews. Authors who get glowing ”New York Times” reviews still find themselves knocking on doors, trying to get their names out. A publisher might give you four weeks of love; after that, what?, your book is dog meat? You don’t get to sell more books?
You’ll note that I distinguished between the book and the author above. The book is that point in time thing, the product being pushed right now (yeah, this is why I so deliberately separate the writing job from the author job) while the author is an entity requiring ongoing effort. The publisher helps to achieve its own goals by publishing a single book (or books, should you be lucky enough to get a multi-book deal) while the author is responsible for the care and feeding of an entire career.
It is peculiar that some believe that authors should be exempt from marketing themselves. It’s expected for musicians — who have a similar relationship with their record labels (yeah, still call them records) — they book tours and sell merchandise. Yes, all obvious business differences are duly noted. While the labels are trying to get a piece of the action, musicians realize that they need to engage in marketing to be successful. Visual artists set up shows; nobody blinks when a photographer sets up an exhibit at a gallery. To say “this is not my job” is to say “well, you know, I’m not really serious about my career.”
It’s not crude capitalism to want to sell your work — for so many writers, this is the fulfillment of their dreams and goals. I’m not going to pull out the tired Johnson quote, because I agree with the sentiment but disagree with the frequent interpretation of it, but wanting to make a living from what you love (and sometimes loathe) doing is not a bad thing.
But to make that living, you have to sell books.
Green sees the need for author-initiated marketing as a failure of capitalism, and while I would take an even harsher view than his when it comes to the failures of modern publishing (and an even harsher view of investors who are so “now” focused that they don’t see sustainability as a business model), I do not agree that taking on the mantel of marketing is “cheerfully” giving in to this. This what authors do. Look at successful authors from all genres — how many are crossing their fingers and hoping for magic beans?
Take advantage of everything your publisher offers and demand even more, but do not cede your career, your image, your future to an entity that views your work as a product in a line of products. Nobody cares more about your future than you do, and if you’re wanting to be precious about your art, then you’re going to be one of those people who grows bitter because you never had a chance. The perfect world where authors don’t market is a bit like a heaven where all the streets are lined with gold and all the lawns are perfectly green and we’re all our most beautiful selves.
I would love to live in a world where writers did just writing and publishers did everything else, but even as I imagine this dream world, one I like, I still see the author engaged in marketing. As a stakeholder in the success of your book — you’ve written this because you have something to say and you certainly want someone to read it — it’s incumbent upon you to make sure you’re reaching the right audience.
Writing a book is art, publishing one is business. Writers don’t like to think this way — I am reminded of would-be first-time author who, prior to meeting with an agent, declared, “I refuse to change a single word. I don’t care.” And I thought, “Good lucky getting published, honey.” — but successful authors tend to be more practical souls.
All entertainment media is changing. Book people, even me, like to see books, reading as somehow different, special, above it all. No, we’re not. Since I’m from Venus (truly, ask my Mom who still lives there, one block down from Mercury), I’ll let Dan Green remain on Earth. But out here in the greater universe, authors engage in active marketing of their work and their careers. Because they care.