I’m delegating part of this post to two very funny pieces I found. One is recent, in Salon, the other is a 3 years old bit I love, from the New Yorker. Both are about book marketing.
The older one, first:
I sent this to all my publicists and marketing people back when, with urgent assurances I did love them and I didn’t think the industry was bailing on writers this much, but … it was still killingly funny. From the first two sentences on.
The second is in a long tradition of Author Tour From Hell accounts. This paradigm is actually what I used to inspire my first Tour Journal, years ago … the idea that I might try to be both funny and informative, in sharing the stages of how a book got out there on bookstore shelves (e-books as a major alternative were a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye back then). Evoking some of the pieces I’d read when young about authors on the road.
This is a very funny addition to the tour disaster canon. I almost did a follow-up tweet about it, but Twitter is tricky. Brevity means you lose the space to make clear what you are not doing. I don’t remotely want to needle Mansbach (who wrote the linked piece). I loved his riff, winced and laughed. But it has occurred to me, thinking about this, and my own Journal posts: if publisher-funded author tours are dying out – and they are – does it become a humblebrag to talk about the chaos and fumbling associated with your own? I’m big enough to be having a disaster tour?
Or, as I do here, to be writing about aggravations with overseas contracts or sorting out a book video, or a day spent with a (patient!) production editor reviewing the last stages of a manuscript (when most people don’t get that chance)? I hold to the notion that I can (sometimes) be amusing and (sometimes) informative about a subject most readers don’t get to glimpse, and seem to enjoy seeing, but –
I worry about it. I think, often, about the whole process whereby our culture foregrounds the artist as least as much as the art. We write about our parents and pets, we share cute kid pictures, or our favourite scotches and coffee brands. And people seem to want this. But if I start reflecting now about privacy I’ll be getting into Jodi Foster country (and I am not retiring, not lonely, and I loathe Mel Gibson).
But here’s another quote I saw this week, from an Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym), profiled in the New Yorker. She’s highly regarded, not prolific, not anything like a commercial name. At the outset of her career she wrote to her publisher (as quoted by James Wood):
I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t … Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.
Wow, one might say, suavely. There’s someone willing to take the long, long view.