Sunday, 20 June 2010
Blowing your own vuvuzela
How obnoxious should an author be? How loud should we shout about our successes, good reviews, foreign publishing deals? Does self-promotion make us look like big-headed show-offs, or needy and desperate? And which platforms are appropriate for what kind of promotion? Sometimes one feels like this vuvuzela-blasting man in New York, loud, irritating and embarrassing, trying to wake up an oblivious world.
This is something I’ve debated on and off with quite a few children’s authors. Some take a hard line and resist saying anything that could be construed as boasting. Others feel that Facebook, say, is there for the sharing of good news however big-headed it makes one look. One author I talked to this week resists social networking altogether, because she’s so careful of her public statements.
Author Ellen Renner shared this dilemma in a Facebook post this week, in which she apologised for accidentally posting twice about her book Castle of Shadows being included in The Independent’s list of great summer reads. ‘I don’t want to irritate the heck out of people,’ she said. Lots of friends hurried to assure her that this was nothing to worry about. She shouldn’t be humble about celebrating her successes.
Ellen summed up the author’s dilemma beautifully when she wrote: ‘I have to think I’m damned good, or I’d give up.’ And it’s true. Self-belief is important, and it’s so hard to hang onto and when something good comes along to reinforce it, then why not share it?
Of course many authors read FB posts like this with very mixed feelings. On the one hand: Hurray! Ellen’s book is indeed a fabulous read, an atmospheric dystopian tale of politics and intrigue in which a feisty young princess takes on a sinister Prime Minister. Everyone should read it over the summer, not just Independent readers.
On the other hand: Hmmmph. Where’s my book on this list? In the anxiety of life as a debut author, it’s easy to let envy sour one’s appreciation of other authors’ success. Being published can feel like the worst type of sibling rivalry - we’re all clamouring for the attention of a seemingly indifferent public, we all want goodies like awards and Hollywood deals.
The best way to deal with this kind of feeling is to knock it on the head firmly by acknowledging and celebrating the excellence of other people’s work. Like the vuvuzela man in the video, we should celebrate everything we can. Just because Ellen’s book is wonderful doesn’t mean that mine is not. Just because Candy Gourlay’s marvellous Tall Story is reviewed in today’s Sunday Times (‘'A feel-good tale...this novel brings magic to a down-home story of earthquakes and sibling love.') it doesn’t mean that any fewer readers will read my book. I cannot possibly have written the only good book in the world, and I wouldn’t want the book market to consist only of my output. Blow the vuvuzela for Ellen! Make loads of noise for Candy!
Children’s authors are all together in the business of encouraging a love of reading among young people. There’s just no point in resenting others - even those like Stephenie Meyer who have sold gazillions of copies. I’ve come across quite a few readers recently who’ve told me how Twilight turned them into keen readers…a path which eventually led them to When I Was Joe. So, a hearty blast of the vuvuzela for Stephenie too.
I’ve always taken the view that social networking is a great way to raise one’s profile, because it is free. Some books have huge marketing budgets to help them into bookshop windows or onto supermarket shelves, or Waterstone’s 3 for 2 table. Mine does not. So if there’s anything I can do to help, I do it.
I have developed my own protocol. On this blog I share news about my books, but try not to let it overwhelm the wider content. Reviews get added to the permanent page at the top of the blog, with no special fanfare.
Facebook – on my personal profile I try my best not to be too self-promotional. I see Facebook as being like a gigantic office, packed with colleagues some of whom are close friends, others silent and unknown as Mike from Accounts. Unrestrained boasting is inappropriate and will do nothing but make one unpopular.
I have, however, set up a Facebook page for the book(s) and that is an unashamedly self-promotional place for reviews and good news. I hope that people are not irritated when I post a review - but they can always ‘un-like’ the page.
Twitter is more of a marketplace. You can post good reviews and self-promoting news, but you need to mix it in with a lot of other stuff too - including promoting other people and celebrating their successes. Saying funny things about X Factor or the England football team is more likely to get you noticed than shouting about a great review on the Waterstones website (Oh well…if you insist…here).
So, do I get it right? Should I be more upfront? Am I too brash and obnoxious? How irritating is it when I blow my own vuvuzela?