The problem with promoting your book
There is a cape of dread that lands on my shoulders whenever I think about the potential necessity of promoting my book. It’s not a very heavy cape. My guess is that it is made of some type of drip-dry, highly flammable fabric, no natural swing or swagger to it. The cut too is poor, and in combination with the nasty material, it sits like a lurid beacon on my shoulders, like a hi-vis uniform for a fast-food shop you wished you didn’t work for, where managers demand you smile with gleeful joy as you dish out company phrases into the bored or sneering faces of customers.
It is this mood of enforced cheerfulness that most fills me with dread when I try to picture what promoting my book might entail. In spite of having just successfully crowd-funded it on Unbound without having resorted to anything like the clowning, servile foolishness that I imagine is going to be my role for the next months and years, I dread having to sell it.
But it must be done. In the end, it must be done for financial reasons. If I want to give up the cleaning jobs that keep me going and write full time, it must be done. As I wrote in Let’s Hear It For The Hardcore I chose that work because it leaves me free to write. That doesn’t mean I want to stick with it. But it is the intrusion of finance that makes promotion so fraught. Selling, promotion, publicity, all these terms are tainted by the ruthless sharp edge of commerce. Perhaps it is the only real trickle-down we are left with from wealth-making financial concerns – making money deliberately is often an ugly and sometimes deceitful business.
This dilemma reaches into the making of work too. When we talk about authenticity, or dumbing down, or, whether, as I discussed in another post, we produce work for ourselves or an audience, we are getting close to this discomforting taint. Why are we doing it at all?
There is a popular notion of the artist, whether writer, painter or dancer, that they are doing something genuine. Something authentic. We have often imbued their output with a kind of mystery, as if we require our artists to be shamans, bringing down or up or out something reachable only by those willing to enter some kind of otherness, a holy trance state. I see an example of this in that way that some artists embrace (in claim at least) an abject life, a life of little comfort, ideally no success, and a wide safety margin between them and the taints of commerce. It is as if they feel they will continue to produce something pure. (This is problematic for me, but the discussion belongs in a different post.)
It is as though there is a scale that at one extreme has the harrowing desiccating logic of greedy capitalism and at the other has the ragged, wise fool. In the middle somewhere is a wide and cheery sea of co-operative crafters liking each other’s work on Instagram. Where to put myself on this line, in my dayglo cape?
I was told by someone with more experience than me to think about who my audience is. My answer was that I hope they are people who will like my writing, people who like thoughtful books. Unravellers. When I write, I don’t write for them. Nor do I write for myself. But I write for a reader. It would be absurd to write a book then tuck it into a folder never to be thought about again. Writing, like all of the arts, is an act of communication. I think my audience might be a person a bit like me. And one thing is sure, if I see a grinning maniac in a dayglo cape trying to trap me with their eyes, I evade at all costs. So then the answer must be that I sell my book as I write it, by laying open what interested me in bothering with it in the first place. It need not be too hysterical. Simply a matter of making it possible for lots of people to take a look while they make their own choice. I won’t even need to ask if they want free chips with that.