What I learned by giving in to the (initially very slight) urge to self-promote

10 Nov

1.  Book publishing in Canada has already started the same sort of massive shift that the industry of recorded music has undergone.  But writers are ten years late in realizing it.

Time was when musicians could make a record, and because the giant record companies had what Marx called the means of production all sewn up, they could tour around a bit to arouse interest in the record, then go home and wait for the money to come rolling in.  Because reading is a much more active and demanding activity than listening to music, there was never the same potential for money rolling in in the publishing world, but still.  Writers expect to simply write a good book and let the publisher take care of everything else.

But people expect to be enlightened and entertained for free or for next to nothing now.  (What writers currently do on their websites and blogs now for free, for example, would have once been considered out of the question.  Hours of work pounding together words for people to read!  I need to get paid for that!)  Websites now do for free what newspapers and magazines used to charge for.  The ebook is revolutionizing how people get their reading fix, and diminishing at a shockingly rapid rate how much they are willing to pay for it.

So writers are going to have to get out on the hustings more.  Now that people love music so much that they will no longer pay for it, musicians tour more often and charge more money for concerts as a way of making up revenue.  Unfortunately, there is nothing writers do live that the public is similarly  interested in seeing or paying for.  So we’re just going to have to get more actively involved in the formerly non-creative side of writing: the publicity, the reaching-out beyond the page to audiences.

The more we do this, the more aspects of our work we take into our own control, the more the role of publisher will be called into question.  If publishing houses expect me to do all my own leg-work, and if the technical and physical sides of book publishing are no longer prohibitively expensive, then what exactly is it that a publisher does that earns them the right to 90% of cover price?

2.  There is great joy to be had in grasping the reins of power in promoting your own creative work.

I just spent a month flogging my book online, making Youtube videos and posting all over Facebook.  It was exhausting work.  But it shook my book sales out of the total doldrums they’d been in for years.  I succeeded, more or less on my own, in rousing enough interest in my work that it positively affected sales.  This alone has done more for my morale than sitting in my room, grinding my teeth in frustration and silently cursing the crowd in Toronto who have been ignoring me.

3.  Snobbery and classism shape people’s attitudes about how writers should behave.

The actions of some writers to self-promote during the recent Canada Reads online-input-madness sparked some harsh words from commentators online.  We (the campaigning authors) were called Carnival Barkers (a tag that fellow long-lister Sean Dixon embraced).  We were called dancing monkeys.

When Margaret Atwood recently toured the world, with the help of choirs and other musicians, singing songs from her novel The Year of the Flood, when she went on CBC Radio’s Q and sang with indie band The Sadies, nobody but nobody called her a dancing monkey.  When wealthy, powerful, established writers self-promote, they are able to muster five digit budgets and dress up their self-promotion in fancy clothing.  That, it seems, is considered legitimately within the role of writer.  But let me borrow my 13-year-old daughter’s camera and make a Youtube video for nothing but the time it took: Why, that’s unseemly.

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