Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Charm offensive....

A writer friend mentioned on facebook that they wanted to avoid promotional work for any of their books published. They had considered using a pen name to help with this.

Firstly I can totally understand why folk might not want to get involved in promotion. Its hard work, it's generally very public and it is difficult to know to what extent it is paying off. For some there are barriers to them doing conventional promotion. Some book folk relish the public face of their business. They are naturals: witty and amusing, charming and able to have the crowd in the palm of their hand in minutes. People chase them for public speaking engagements, workshops and literary festivals. But if you are not a natural you must learn how to do it, face a thousand fears as you do so and you must do all the chasing which can be demoralising (as if we need extra rejections) and exhausting. And, always,there are no guarantees of the outcomes of any promotion you do.

If you are set against promoting your work, from all my experience and observations so far, I don't think a pen name is needed to avoid it. In this industry in New Zealand most authors and illustrators have to work long and hard to get some attention going their way. If you don't do this, 99 times out of 100 (sadly) no one is knocking your door down or ringing your phone off the hook to get a hold of you to promote your work, interview you or buy 1,000 copies of your stunning work of genius. There are exceptions, but then there are usually mitigating circumstances as well. And if you do get the hordes chasing after you when your debut book comes out, there are effective ways to respond and make use of your popularity without running round promoting yourself like a chook with their head cut off. Publishers do like authors and illustrators to promote their work but a) I don't think a pen name necessarily makes a difference as Emily Rodda will attest and b) here in NZ I don't think it is a make or break issue to signing a contract.

Of course the other side of this issue is - can you forge a writing career without any kind of promotion? I do what I feel able to do because I am afraid the answer to this question is no. I also do what I feel able to do because there is something very special about meeting the children who have read and enjoyed your work. Sometimes they are passionate readers and it is unbelieveably heartening to know they have chosen to include you in their library. Sometimes they are budding writers and meeting you is a turning point for them. Both of these things will blow your socks off. Wear two pairs in winter in case this happens.

I know there are other people who are better at promotion than me and I envy the ease with which they expand their fan base and improve their sales. I know some people who don't promote at all and some have successful careers and some don't. There are also new ways of promoting your work through the social network and with the aid of technology and these mean so much can be done from the comfort of your own home. If you are uncomfortable or unable to promote in conventional ways, it pays to check out the alternatives. Ultimately it is up to you what you feel able to do and how you manage your writing career. As with so many other aspects of writing there is no right one way to do this. Do what works best for you but make sure you are well informed about it before you make those decisions.

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