Friday, May 20, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

(Last Friday Blogger ate this post, along with a lot of others.  But it's no less timely this week.)

Thank you, Tony Perrottet.

Who's he, you ask?  I didn't know either, until I read his essay "Building the Brand" in the May 1 New York Times Book Review.  He's a writer with several books to his credit, the most recent of which, The Sinner's Grand Tour, came out this week. If you want more details, see

If you're wondering why I'm thanking him, it's because he wrote about promotion.  Now, for those of you who simply enjoy reading and aren't enmired in trying to get a book sold to a publisher and into the hands of as many readers as possible so you can do it all over again, let me tell you that promotion is the bane of our existence.  You think all you have to do is write a good book and people will flock to buy it?  Wrong. 

You write the best book you can, the publisher assembles it in whatever format, then shoves it out into the cold cruel world and tells you, "okay, now go sell it."  They may send out Advance Reader Copies or pay for bookstore placement, but it's up to you the author to drum up attention for the book.  What nobody tells you, when you are nursing that germ of a story and sending it out to agents and editors, is that promotion will eat up half your waking life, if you're lucky enough to sell it.  Personal appearances, at large and small events; bookmarks and postcards; newsletters; blogs; crazy stunts; and, yes, social networks--we are supposed to use them all, all the time.

So where does Tony fit?  In his essay he points out that this is not new.  In fact, the concept of manic promotion goes back to at least the 5th-century BC (yes, you read that right), when the Greek author Herodotus paid for his own book tour (nothing has changed) around the Aegean Sea, and was smart enough to include a stop at the Olympic Games. 

In the 12th century, the cleric Gerald of Wales put together his own book party in Oxford, where he provided his invited guests with room and board, and food and ale, for THREE DAYS, and all they had to do in exchange was listen to him recite from his books.  For three days.  Fair exchange?  (BTW, I've read his book on Ireland:  he hated the place, and all the native inhabitants, and he didn't hide the fact.)

The list goes on, and you might be surprised by some of the examples.  Guy de Maupassant hired a hot-air balloon and inscribed it with the title of his latest short story and sent it flying over Paris.  Colette created a cosmetics line (which flopped); Virginia Wolff did a fashion spread with a magazine editor.  The mystery writer Georges Simenon contracted to write a novel in three days while suspended in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris--with input from the audience (it didn't happen because his sponsor went bankrupt).  Walt Whitman wrote unsigned reviews of his own works (sound familiar?).

Perrottet's prime exemplar is Ernest Hemingway.  Perhaps you think of him as a terse and manly writer.  Would it disappoint you to learn that he shilled for beer ads (Ballantine Ale), Pan Am, and Parker pens?

Those of us who live in the current electronic world can moan "but what about the Internet?" That's a mixed blessing, or do I mean curse?  Using the Internet means that you can reach a lot of people very quickly.  The downside is, it never stops.  You can tweet yourself blue in the face, andTwitter is still there, hungry, waiting.

What works when you're trying to sell a book?  No one really knows.  How much is enough?  Same answer.  But we all keep trying, because we like to write books and we want people to read them.


JJM said...

[Notices the "Let's Play Dead" book cover to the left of the post] [Sees it's a "museum mystery"] [Wanders over to Amazon (via Stop, You're Killing Me!)] [Does the necessary click, click] [Happily awaits the download of "Fundraising the Dead" -- begin at the beginning -- to the Kindle tonight]

Obviously, social networking can work, even if it's just (as in this case) through a well-placed advert on the side. So can interacting with potential new readers, e.g. on Facebook comment threads. It does happen that, if the potential new reader likes you, (s)he'll be inclined to look up what you've written and perhaps even buy. (I'm beginning to realize it's dangerous "hanging out" with mystery writers. [laughter])

But, yes, I hear you, it's a definite problem. And then there's the balance between promoting your book (Good) and becoming such a pain about your book that people stop reading your posts (Double Ungood). (The person I'm thinking of does not write mysteries, nobody reading this need worry I mean them.)

Excellent article, I learned much I had not known before. Thank you!

Sandra Parshall said...

Interesting! I'm not sure what I thought writers did with their work in ancient times, but I never imagined them going on tour!

Pauline Alldred said...

It's good to know there's a tradition for doing crazy things to draw attention to your work. It helps me believe it's in the genes.