Marketing is a bit of a dirty word for writers. We like to think of ourselves as releasing our work into the world like a precious, special patch of flowers that discerning readers will bend over and pick, sniffing gently and appreciating each petal’s delicate beauty.
But that’s not how it works. It’s a struggle to get a book published, and a far harder struggle to get people to read it. The Australian publishing market is small and crowded, and it’s tough to break through and tell people you exist. For that, you need publicity, of course, and marketing.Why? Well, of course you want people to read your book because of your own hideous vanity because it will change their lives for the better. I personally believe that if the Israelis and Palestines could only get together and read Disco Boy, peace would break out faster in that war-torn region than my skin did when I was 16.
But of course, there’s the money. As much as I subscribe to the ideal that creativity is its own sweet reward, the truth is that I have a mortgage, and in the event I ever sort out my personal life, may have other mouths to feed at some stage as well. So, in a bid to prolong how many years I can make some kind of a living from this writing thing, I want to actually move units.
When I was talking to the gurus at Random House about how to market my book, they were firmly of the view that these days, it’s all about social media. You know, web 2.0, interactivity and a whole lot of other buzzwords. And above all, that means one thing: Facebook.
So, like the obedient first-time author I am, I set up a fan page for myself and invited my friends to join it, as awkward as it seems to have to ask your mates to become your “fans”. I even did something that I would usually go to considerable lengths to avoid, and put up a video of myself.
I guess the point is to set off a grassroots groundswell that makes geeks across the nation realise that they need my book in their lives as badly as they need sunlight and interaction with the opposite sex. (And I’m allowed to make that joke because hey, I’m one of them.) That hasn’t exactly happened yet – after a strong beginning, my fan army now numbers about 130 – but I’ll bet that it’s helping to sell books.
But there’s a problem with all this. Facebook has already proven a great way of getting in touch with my friends, and it seems to be quite a good way for me to reach members of the general public as well. Here’s the thing, though. All of this social media stuff is destroying my ability to concentrate.
I have developed a compulsion to check Facebook for the latest update on the minutiae of friends’ lives. For some inexplicable reason, I must constantly keep in touch with who’s getting married and having kids. And, just as prominently within Facebook’s hierarchy of information, I must constantly keep in touch with who had a nice lunch, or didn’t much like that Wolverine movie. Sure, it’s almost entirely a bottomless well of non-essential information, but because it’s about people I know and like, I can’t back away.
Mind you, I’ve always had a bit of an online addiction. To get the novel written in the first place, I kept having to take myself off to cafés without wireless access. But now, I’ve got Facebook on my phone. So there’s literally nowhere except underground bunkers and the Outback where I can’t check it. And this is starting to make me worry makes me worry that perhaps I’ll never actually get my second novel written. So Random House, by encouraging me to use Facebook to promote the first novel, may have also ensured there isn’t a second. Hmm, perhaps it was deliberate?
But there is a way forward. I can simply write my new novel a sentence at a time, via Facebook status updates. Here’s how it might work for the first lines of some classic novels.
Dominic Knight is Ishmael (Moby Dick)
Dominic Knight must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. (The Trial)
Dominic Knight, light of my life, fire of my loins (Lolita)
Dominic Knight died today (The Outsider)
Dominic Knight don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter (Huckleberry Finn)
Dominic Knight, it is a truth universally acknowledged, is a single man in possession of a good fortune who must be in want of a wife. (Pride & Prejudice)
Actually that last one’s true, at least according to many of my relatives. Well, except for the fortune bit. After all, I am trying to work as a writer.
Anyway, that’s enough blogging for now. I need to go and check Facebook.
This post originally appeared on the Random House Australia blog.