During Aggie Con, a group of writers and artists rallied together in the corner of a dark hotel bar to discuss the puzzling and energy-sucking issue of all creative people trying to make a living off art: marketing. In a time of publishing derailment, how do we sell our work? Which angle do we focus on: pitching the story or the storyteller? The art or the artist?
Authors have become a “brand,” blogging about their personal endeavors (or at least the endeavors of their author persona), to gauge the attention of readers on a personal level. For instance, a respected and talented author I know among the circle of those gathered at the dark hotel bar writes relationship articles under her published pseudonym, and when posting such articles, gains interest of readers, which is then redirected toward her books. My inclination is to say: whatever gets people reading! But, my question is, in this blog-friendly age, must every author maintain a blog or web site, with updates on their personal lives/ideas/opinions, apart from their fiction, to reach a wider audience?
“Publishers confess that branding is becoming a more conscious marketing activity. And authors are their central brand equity. ‘This is clearly a collaborative process,’ Brown explains, ‘where all the parties involved work towards establishing and then maintaining the brand identity. The process starts as soon as the author begins to establish their identity as a writer. The core values of the author’s brand clearly grow out of their personal value system/interests, etc.'” (http://www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=137)
Another author at the table rebuked: he’d rather spend his time crafting new fiction than documenting what he thinks are boring intricacies in his day-to-day experiences.
Growing up, the author/reader world was very separated. I knew as much about R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle as the book jacket revealed. And even then, I didn’t care who they were, which places they’ve visited, or how many cats they’ve adopted. I wanted the stories! Now, the author/reader link is tighter. An author can preview an excerpt of a story that’s not even published via podcast or video blog. The relationship is personal. How personal, then, should the marketing become?
James Patterson, no matter how sucky his books are, stays ranked at number one on Best Selling lists. The man produces like nine books a year. In different genres! His tactics are such: write for your market. He’ll curtail the setting of a story if that population, based on polls, reads more often. Also, to maintain such productivity, he’s hired “co-authors,” which he even admitted on the New York Times article, translates to ghostwriters. He doesn’t even write his own damn books and he’s doubling Stephen King’s income! Where is the heart in this? The integrity of art? And why the fuck are people still buying such crappy, methodically written novels?
I’ve stopped listening to people who advise “best sellers,” because every time I convince myself it might be worthwhile, I close the book in a fit of fury and cry out, “Why! Why! Why!” James Patterson. Stephenie Meyer. Nicholas Sparks. The writing BLOWS! The only person who has successfully captured my attention who has a similar cult following is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, because his storytelling is entertaining, witty, honest, and dark.
Patrice Sarath, a local Austin writer, ranted in a recent blog: “My bestest writing partner and dear friend doesn’t think I’m making a wise career decision about my work. Well, you know what? He’s right, yes, but there’s a time where it’s not about the goddamned market. Sometimes you have to write the story that wants to be written, and fuck the industry. And I’ll be damned before I write to market, because we all know that means vampires. Fucking vampires. I’m not going to do it.”
And why should anyone?
This topic is open for discussion. As a reader, do you buy books based on the author’s persona? As an author, do your blogs hurt or help sell your fiction? Please– comments with suggestions, links, personal stories. I’d like to hear feedback from those with different/more developed opinions than my own.