I’m one of those people that believes that if your heart isn’t in something, most of the time others can tell. And that if you’re doing something that you’re uncomfortable with, you’re more likely to make a mess of it and put people off than anything.
You mean you’ve never done anything you were uncomfortable with because you needed to? Sure I have. We all face things in our lives that can be awkward, but we have to go through them. Funerals. Waiting in the hospital to find out if a loved one will be okay. That sort of stuff.
What I’m talking about is a bit different. For one thing, my position with the library involves running programs. Part of our problem out here is that there are a lot of people moving to the general area, but they don’t necessarily know about local services. Those who have been here for ages who don’t use the library don’t always realize what we have going on. You can put a notice in the newspaper and hang them up on bulletin boards all over town, and still not connect with people. In fact, it isn’t just us. Community programs – particularly those for kids – are down in attendance by anywhere from 60-80%. I don’t know if we’ve had a significant shift in the ages of our local residents, but I haven’t heard anything about the local school suffering a massive drop in registration.
So I have been going door to door, all over the village. Not to talk to people (heaven forbid!). Just to leave a flyer with some information about our summer reading program and the library hours for local residents. And after I did three streets, I got one new child registered. It’s possible more will come, since it wasn’t a requirement for them to phone and register.
As I was doing this, I was thinking about how much I hate door to door sales, telemarketing, spam… and here I am, going door to door. But not knocking on doors. Just leaving a flyer in the mailbox (or inside the screen door if they don’t have a mailbox). I don’t particularly like doing it, but I realize it needs to be done. And part of the reason I’m okay doing it is because the library runs a lot of programs that serve the community – tutoring, early literacy, summer and winter reading programs – and has the only free internet in town.
When it comes to promoting myself and my work I can’t justify that level of self promotion. There’s no way I’d go door to door. It goes to my philanthropic nature. I’ve been able to get over going door to door, to some degree, because we have things to offer the community that benefit them. Selling my work, however, primarily benefits me.
I’ve been in the position again, surprisingly, where I’ve needed to stand on the edge of my comfort zone with regards to self promotion. I hit walls with this very quickly and once I start feeling uncomfortable I imagine it must be pretty obvious.
Now, I have a number of things going on, most of which I’m not able to talk about right now. There’s something that requires me to ask favours, under an extreme deadline. And this is important. It's something that will be 'etched in stone', as it were. Having the right ones matters... But (despite the fact that people think I know everyone and surely must have an endless list of people I can ask) there are very few people I feel comfortable asking this of. This morning, I hit my wall on it. I’m done. I'll have to live with what I get, because the whole situation is bothering me.
Leave me staggered that it never seems to bother some others to ask things of others, myself included. How do they do it? Either because it comes naturally to them or because they’ve learned they have to do ‘whatever it takes’ to survive in this business, there seem to be a lot of authors out there who have no reservations at all about pushing for stuff. In fact, there are authors who treat me as though (as a reviewer and interviewer) I’m their publicist. One gave me a deadline about making a decision on something. Many ‘inform’ me they want me to interview them. Um, no. That isn’t the way it works, not with me.
There seem to be two extreme camps in the writing world. There are those who’ve gotten big deals and massive publisher push from the outset and have never had to mail out a review copy in their life. They think all publishers do everything for everyone. Then there’s the other 99% of the authors out there, at various stages of learning that they have to do a lot of things themselves. I lost count of the number of times I heard, in the last year, an author say I don’t think I can afford to be published.
No matter what you do, there will always be some who criticize. If you don’t participate on blogs/forums/attend conventions etc. you end up with people who think you’re snobby and conceited. If you do participate, you run the risk of overstepping, of being too present. One thing I’ve definitely learned is that you can’t please everyone. But damn, you have to be able to live with yourself.
One other thing I know is that there’s such a thing as market saturation, and this is something more authors should pay attention to.
Putting posters all over town has limited potential because people tend to tune out familiar environments, and only notice significant changes. You have to rotate those posters to have them make more of an impact. Think for yourself – how many times have you gone to visit friends/a town you used to live in and said, Something’s different… and then you try to put your finger on what.
If authors are omnipresent it stops being important to see them/interact with them because you know you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. They aren’t going anywhere – they’re always there.
I can cope with stepping out of my box long enough to do the things I need to do. I can even enjoy myself doing some of them. But I can only last so long. I’m not interested in working the promotional trail ten months of the year. If I was, I'd be in sales, selling something I could make good money from.
Part of the reason I got thinking about this was because someone recently commented that lately they’d been seeing my name everywhere. I know I did an interview, and was interviewed as part of a group of people for an article, but I didn’t really think of that being much. Neither were things I went after, both were situations where the person approached me, either for interview or for comment, and I was happy to contribute as requested. But everywhere? I've been leaving lists left, right and sideways - no time, or no tolerance left for the steady stream of self promotion that comes with them. I thought I'd been more low-key than usual.
It seems it’s a good time for me to slither back under my rock completely.
I suppose I have to have some level of admiration for those people who can (in my opinion, with some of them anyway) badger reviewers for coverage. I stick firmly to the ‘catch more flies with honey’ and ‘don’t be a pushy bitch’ philosophy. But I can see now that this is part of the reason why some people do get pages of blurbs and reviews. Squeaky wheels and all that. And, truth is, you can catch a lot of flies with shit. Maybe people just get tired of having it thrown at them, so they break down. (Me, I become more adamant that I won't be pushed.) The other day, a ‘publisher’ phoned our library, pushing for us to buy these books. They’re expensive, and my personal book-buying budget for the year is higher than what the library has in its budget. The books are low-demand, reference, and buying them would take one year’s book-buying money.
And despite having that explained to them, this is the second time the person’s phoned. I suppose it’s like those Nigerian email scams. They must keep doing it because some people are suckered in.
But is that really how you want to feel about why people bought your book? That you suckered them in?
Whatever happened to genuine enthusiasm for a good book that gets more and more attention through word of mouth because it’s a good book?
Speaking of which, a book that’s sure to get a lot of word of mouth in the coming months is Who is Conrad Hirst? by Kevin Wignall. Wignall delivers a punch to the gut that will knock you to the floor. And I’m not saying much more, not until I’ve written my review.