This week, a grand idea was slushing around in my head and I thought, "I must write something about that." But then, another author beat me to it, and her piece is much more eloquent than I could have written.
Read this blog post, "Please Shut Up: Why Self Promotion as an Author Doesn't Work." by Delilah S. Dawson. Now, doesn't Ms. Dawson's work validate every red flag you've ever had about that author "friend" who suddenly disappeared the minute her book publicity rush was over?
Note: I use "she" here for ease of pronoun usage only. In this case, we actually have gender equality. Male writers do the hyper marketing, faux-friend shtick, too.
I love the point Ms. Dawson makes about how good books generate good book sales--not pushy social media and not tacky networking tactics.
In addition to the quote above, I especially like this line from her blog post: "If they're (fellow writers) smart enough to write a great book, they're smart enough to see through your ploy."
Most of us have been the victim of these "ploys" in which a so-called writer "friend" gets a whiff of a book sale or a speaking gig or a new agent and that friend morphs into a frothing jackal.
It goes like this: You and Ms. Jackal are deep in a bookish conversation that's so meaningful it's positively orgasmic (though those glances over your shoulder make you suspect she's faking a little). Then, Ms. Jackal spots her prey: that literatus across the room whom she believes will advance her career. Or she spots that potential buyer whose purchase will earn her a whopping $1 in book royalties. So you're conspicuously abandoned, mid-sentence, while Ms. J. goes in the for the kill.
Why? Because you and Ms. J's own dignity are worth less than a dollar.
Then there's the sly but equally tacky ploy. In this case, Ms. Jackal doesn't actually race away from you. Instead, she seems positively chummy. Then, by the time you get home from the book event, there is a "Friend" request or a mandate to "Like" her author page or a cookie-cutter invitation to connect with her on LinkedIn. No problem there, because (you persuade yourself) there will surely be a nice follow-up note or email with a link to that article or publishing lead you chatted about.
Nada. And then it dawns on you: You were always just a sales prospect. Fresh kill. Nothing more.
I'm not a very sensitive person. I can, in fact, be abandoned mid-conversation and not really mind or care or take umbrage--most of the time.
What really burns me is what these pushy writer- marketing stunts actually mean for all of us: That we have begun to favor the commerce of writing over the art, the process and the possibility or reality of genuine writer friendships.
I always thought that the reason to make art was to create something beautiful, not something ugly, gauche or mercenary. In a loud and crowded marketplace, in the rush toward platform building, our art shouldn't become a combat sport. It shouldn't turn us against or set us upon each other.
So here's my question: If we allow our book sales to matter more than the words on the page or the friends around the tea table, then can we really call ourselves an artist?
Don't get me wrong. Of course we writers have to roll up our sleeves and support our own outreach and marketing. If we're going to pitch our camp in Writer-ville, we better be good literary citizens, the kind of neighbors who offer, give and return every favor, every cup of sugar we borrow. I feel lucky that my own social media efforts, my correspondence with literary book bloggers have connected me with a set of like-minded folks and have broadened my conversations around writing and publishing.
As I write this, there are missing girls in Nigeria. There are tortured and murdered refugees in Syria. Two streets away from you, or maybe within your own extended family, there's a child who feels sad or neglected or hungry.
So my Twitter engagement score?
Who. The. Hell. Cares?
O.K., enough ranting. Time for a little fun. Here, in order of tackiness, I give you my top three Jackal writer stunts that I've been unlucky enough to witness:
1. Once, less than a year after the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, I overheard a woman tell a fellow writer that she (writer) should "get on it," that her book's theme would tie in nicely with the theme of lost children and, therefore, be easy to promote on the bigger T.V. networks during the one-year anniversary of the Newtown child slaughter. Malhereusement, that conference hotel did not supply puke bags.
2. A writer pal came to fetch me from the party buffet table because she wanted to introduce me to her literary agent. She and I began to cross the room together when there, like a clip from the Roadrunner cartoon (meep! meep!), this third writer overtook both of us to get to that agent first (who, by the way, looked startled). My ribs hurt for weeks afterward--mostly from laughing. Or that woman's elbow jab. Or both.
3. Then, there was that writer who wrote and reminded me (and reminded me) to come to her bookstore reading. I knew her personally. We wrote on similar-ish themes, so I was delighted to attend. After she read, there came that freeze-frame moment when, amid the admiring and chattering fans and friends, it was conveyed that only the lucky few (not me) were invited to the wine and cheese afterward. Eeeeuuuu.
O.K., so I've written mine. Let's have yours. Write in the comments below. Please, no names or identifying details. Jackals need their privacy, too.