"Keeping a Creative Mind" is a bi-weekly series by New York Times Notable Author Molly Moynahan.
Lord! When you sell a man a book you don't sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.
- Christopher Morley
Recently, a wonderful writer and Internet friend of mine shared via Facebook that she was flamed by someone who didn’t appreciate her promoting her book via social networking. Caroline Leavitt is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels. Her most recent, Pictures of You, already in its third printing, is due to be released this January by Algonquin. Caroline stresses she has always been proactive and used blogging, Twitter, and Facebook to stay in touch with her readers and other writers. Her recent negative experience with self-promotion led to the idea for this column.
"Other writers understand that you have to be out there, but non-writers sometimes feel it's annoying." Caroline said. "I did send out a mailing about my new novel, Pictures of You, and two people reacted really negatively. One snapped, ‘Why the hell are you sending me THIS?’ and blocked me. Another, a writer who should know better, said, ‘Thanks for the spam. Couldn't have lived without it.’ Then he dissed me on someone's FB page!”
Selling is a necessary component of writing a book.
Although the common misconception of a publisher hugely supporting a writer’s efforts continues to this day, for most of us the burden of “uptalk” lies squarely on the writer’s shoulders. My first two novels had brief flurries of attention and then they sank gracefully to the bottom of the fathomless ocean of literary novels.
I had so little preparation for publication I didn’t consider myself a writer. Invited to a Manhattan literary party by a connected friend just after my book had been purchased by Harper & Row, I had the following exchange with a literary agent.
Agent: What do you do?
Me: Teach English.
Helpful Friend: Her novel was just bought by Harper & Row. She’s a writer.
Agent: That’s fantastic. Congratulations.
Agent: I’ll read it.
Me: That’s okay.
Helpful Friend: What’s the matter with you?
Although I haven’t yet had a book published in the time of social media, I have announced blog postings and this column and felt most of my Facebook friends appreciated the information.
Jane Vandenburgh, Author of the recent memoir Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century, as well as Architecture of the Novel: A Writer's Handbook, wrote the following in response to my question, "Have you ever felt annoyed by someone else's marketing efforts?"
“I have. Last year I started, in fact, to unfriend those Facebook people who treat the site as a tool for relentless self-promotion. These are never actual friends of mine in real life, but FB Friends who friended me when my memoir appeared in 2009, leading me to think they friend everyone who might be tangentially connected to anyone. I think of these folks as The Read Abouts, in that they read about me or Pocket History at the time of pub. I don't think any of them actually read my book, nor have I ever been any way tempted to read any of theirs.”
Jane brings up an interesting point about people trying to connect via social network based on mutual interests, i.e. we’re both writers, thus we should help each other.
This has always existed in some ways. I knew Madison Smart Bell through a friend so I risked asking him for blurb on my first novel. He was very generous and helped me acquire my current agent. I feel incredibly lucky to have had his help. But my relationship with Madison was substantiated by our appreciation for one another’s work and a personal connection. However, I have yet to meet Caroline Leavitt in person and I already love and trust her. She has been so generous with connections, encouragement, and praise I can’t imagine feeling annoyed by hearing of her success.
Perhaps it is understanding your audience in the social networking world that makes a difference.
Mary Osborne, author of the young adult novel Nonna’s Book of Mysteries sees self-promotion as crucial to the success of her first book.
“I think you have to throw a whole lot of spaghetti on the wall and hope some of it sticks,” she says. “Go after reviews, advertise as your budget allows (A Nonna’s Book of Mysteries ad rode the CTA Brown line this summer), use social media, be a radio show guest (the Radio-TV Interview Report is a good way to get booked on shows). Some authors feel they don’t get their money back when they hire publicists, but I found Dana Kaye Publicity here in Chicago to be reasonably priced and effective. I also try to tell everyone I meet that I’m an author, and I hand out business cards, which include the title of my book."
Mary uses Facebook as a way to share success with her readers.
“If this isn’t shameless enough, I also post new book reviews and interviews on my Facebook page. I often wonder how many people I annoy by posting this stuff as status updates. This is a risk I’m willing to take, though, because a number of people have ordered my novel after reading about it on Facebook,” she says.
“I used to be pretty shy about selling myself in this way, but I realized I’d have to get over it if I was serious about sharing my work with the world."
"Most of us spend years and years on our craft," Mary continues. "Nonna’s Book of Mysteries was a decade in the making. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that does not give artists the attention and appreciation they deserve. We have no choice but to do everything we can to draw attention to ourselves.”
For many of us, our books are close to being our children. We love them unconditionally, we want them to succeed, we let them go with regret, we cry when they are finished and it’s hard to brag about them without feeling somewhat idiotic. None of us want to be that pathetic parent who refers to their own kid as gifted while we secretly believe nothing has ever equaled the beauty and originality of our offspring.
Think of how many times you have been forced to view and admire a picture of a baby and sell that book!
Molly Moynahan is the author of three novels. The most recent, Stone Garden, was a 2003 NYT Notable Book. She is currently working on a memoir. Molly lives and teaches creative writing in Chicago. Her website is www.teachersway.indiemade.com. Her blog is mollymoynahan.blogspot.com.