WRITERS AT WORK, Regarding the Emperor’s New Clothes, Part 2

Hi everyone,

Welcome to another session of WRITERS AT WORK. Our topic this month is how the publishing world has changed over recent years so that authors are expected to handle more of their own marketing. Sandy Asher went first last Tuesday. To refresh your memory, here’s the link. https://davidlharrison.wordpress.com/page/2 . Today it’s my turn.

Part 2 – David

Sandy, thanks for framing this conversation so colorfully. I’ll pick up with the growing expectation among publishers that authors work harder at marketing their own books.

I’ll start by suggesting that people who write are not generally known for successfully promoting themselves or hawking their own goods. Marketing is a profession taught at the college level. I’m sure that it comes more naturally to some than to others, which is true of writing as well, but most of us really don’t have a clue of how to make a difference.

My first effort, waaaaaaaaaay back, was to concoct a simple little flyer to hand out wherever I had a chance. I went through my files, pulled some background that seemed fairly impressive, and took it to a printer. I came home with 1,000 copies, confident that I would need more soon. That was probably thirty years ago. I threw out the remaining copies a few months back. There were a lot left.

About the only other thing I ever thought to do was have some business cards printed. These I shyly placed in a small stack at the corner of the table when I was signing books. So much for visual aids. Oh, wait! I dabbled in overheads too! But I soon tired of carrying around files of overlays to put on the machine and tinker with until people in the audience behind me started creaking their chairs. Besides, no one past the third row could read them, which only demonstrated my amateurism.

Over the past few decades I’ve grown increasingly aware that some authors can brag on themselves and some cannot. I don’t know about you, but my parents would not approve of a son who beat his chest and leaped around like Captain Marvel telling the world what a writing genius he is. I have met a few Captain Marvels in our industry but most of us are Walter Mitty types.

Sandy, I know that you have been involved in technology longer than I have but this recent life-changing transition from flyers and business cards to websites, blogs, Tweets, and the rest is drastically underscoring the difference between those who can and those who cannot tout themselves.

When our son went into computers, I was proud of him but cautioned that computers are only a tool, not an end. Boy was I confused! I have, over the last three years, taken measures I never dreamed of to bolster my sense of what marketing myself might be.

First came the website. I got a good one, which cost a lot more than flyers, I can tell you that. Then came the blog. A blog doesn’t cost much money. What a blog demands is what a writer cherishes most and has least of to spare: time. Give a writer a stage, he may or may not be comfortable speaking from it. But give him a magic tablet that he can write on every day for folks everywhere to read, and he’ll go for it.

For nearly two years I rarely missed posting on my blog on a daily basis. My wife, the one who asks pertinent, practical questions, asked why I was spending two or three hours a day blogging instead of writing. She asked if my books sales were up. She questioned the time on Facebook and Twitter. Now that stung because I don’t know if my book sales are seriously tied to any of it. And the original reason I got involved in these technological opportunities was to promote myself and my work.

Kristi Holl is a friend, a smart lady, and a good writer and teacher. She’s right. We’re writers and writers write. But these days there is a caveat in that truism. Writers write with the time left after blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and in general spending time in front of a screen.

Sandy, I’ve recently taken a hiatus from daily posting on my blog. I enjoy doing it and have met many fine people in the process. But right now I have more than a dozen book projects on my desk with deadlines flashing toward me. When these books are written, maybe I can figure out how to help promote them. For now I have to write. No one else will do that for me. And to speak to your point, when writers stop writing, it causes problems from the bottom up.


I’m rereading my remarks and wondering if I’m sounding more discontent than I am. The issues we’re discussing are real for sure. But I’m lucky. Not everyone gets to do what they love most. Writers participate in the hallmark activity of our specie – communication. One way or another all humans reach out to others. We dance. We sing. We paint, invent, keep records, teach, and by hundreds of other means express how we feel and seek responses to verify our existence. I think writers are the luckiest of all because we use language itself to touch readers in their hearts and minds. Years ago when Boyds Mills Press published its first titles, publisher Kent Brown took a box downtown, set them on a table, and stopped people on the sidewalk to promote his new line. When I feel sorry for myself, I remember Kent and figure, “What the heck. Maybe I could do a little more.”

Sandy, back to you!