The Publicity Paradox

by Janis Patterson

It’s hard not to feel sorry for a poor writer. While most people think we are almost supernatural creatures living fantastic, fairy-tale lives, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, sometimes the truth is downright depressing.

Rather than reclining on a luxurious chaise longue, looking over some spectacular view, dashing off a couple of thousand words while sipping champagne (if you’re a romance writer) or pounding on an ancient mechanical typewriter in some dimly lit room with wonky venetian blinds and a bottle of hard liquor at your elbow (if you’re a mystery writer) or ensconced in a book-lined library with a fancy fountain pen and a bottle of smelling salts handy in case your own genius overcomes you (if you’re a literary writer), the real poor writer of whatever stripe is usually trying to cram his output into the nooks and crannies of his life.

These days it’s rare that a writer can make a complete living solely by his writing; nearly all of us have distractions such as jobs, children, families, homes, responsibilities, health issues and Heaven only knows what other interferences mortal flesh is heir to. That, plus in this whacky modern world of publishing the writer is mainly responsible for editing and publicity, both in the realms of self-publishing AND traditional publishing.

Champagne? We’re lucky if we get a chance to grab a diet Dr Pepper!

For me, publicity is especially galling. I do what I must to keep my and my family’s life going. I work very hard at writing the best books I can. I will admit I suck at publicity, even though I was well trained in doing it, mainly because I don’t like doing it and because I was raised to believe it is slightly trashy to blow one’s own horn.

In my opinion, the worst part is the current trend to spread out your private life and make friends with all your readers. My question is, Why? The fact that I dislike brussels sprouts and refuse to wear the color orange should have nothing to do with the quality or content of my books. Plus, I already have many, many friends – real friends, whom sadly I do not get enough chance to see because I’m always having to work. To be real a friendship has to grow organically. I don’t need a pseudo-friendship connection with a fan who wants to exchange recipes and chat about what we’re having for dinner or give me suggestions about my next book. What I’m fixing/ordering for dinner is no one’s business except for me and my family.

What should matter is the book – the story. That is what the reader should be interested in, not whether I prefer Veuve Cliquot or Prosecco, or drive a BMW or a Chevrolet, or live in a condo downtown or a two story house in the country. We are writers – spinners of tales, creators of worlds, manufacturers of dreams – not zoo animals on display for the amusement and edification of the intrusive public.

It’s our books which matter, our books which the readers buy – not unlimited access to our home and family and private life. Private life should be exactly that – private. Writers write stories and readers read stories. That’s the basic contract between writer and reader… or it should be.

7 thoughts on “The Publicity Paradox

  1. Oh, I SO identify with this post! I personally detest Facebook and the constant requests from people to be my “friends,” but I recognize the need to connect with readers, if only to keep my name and my books present in their memories. I live alone and as a former private investigator (who spied on people via their social media posts), I am extremely protective of my private life so I as not to attract stalkers.

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  2. Janis, how right you are about “friends,” a word that has been horribly perverted in the era of social media. “Share” is another term that’s been co-opted and misused to meaninglessness.

    While I love to chat with readers, there is a definite wall of privacy I don’t breach.

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  3. Though I do share a lot of my life on Facebook and in my newsletter, believe me when I say there is plenty I keep to myself. Promotion in itself is so time consuming–but something all of us have to do if we are going to sell any books.

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  4. Amen. Trying to have a public life while writing is a big headache. I’m forever feeling I’m not doing enough on social media (if I did less, I wouldn’t be there at all), and taking too much time from writing to do the little I do. I wonder how this all began. When did we fall off the cliff of privacy? Thanks for voicing my own feelings.

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  5. I agree that our lives outside our books shouldn’t make a differenced on whether or not a person likes the book. I do like visiting with readers, but I prefer to let them talk about themselves and do as little as I can to talk about myself. But I also know I won’t make money if I don’t do the publicity and get exposure for my books. I don’t hand out business cards to people, because I don’t like tooting my own hors. But my husband keeps his wallet stocked with my cards and hands them out freely. Or if he’s with me, he’ll tell me to give him a card and he hands to the person I’m talking to. Like you, I feel odd trying to tell someone to read my books. At events, I let the readers walk in and then I ask them what they like to read. If they say the genres I write, then I tell them about the books, not me. If they like what the other writers I’m with write, I direct them that direction.

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