Authors, and the Readers Who Love Them, or Why You Should Consider Turning Off That TV…

Posted: October 19, 2006 in Books & Authors

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a published book must be in want of a venue in which to promote it.

Being an author is truly hard work. Not only must a writer produce an actual written, published product, but once that’s done (which is no small feat), the real work starts. Unless a writer’s name happens to be truly big, like Stephen King, or JK Rowling, promotion and marketing are largely the work of the author. The publishers may subsidize a bit, and set up a few events if you’re lucky, but that leaves an awful lot of work that must be done by the actual writer him or herself.

One of my own personal missions, in case that hasn’t become really obvious, is the promoting of authors whose names you haven’t heard of but should have. Why haven’t you heard of them? It has nothing to do with quality or how much they deserve to be read, but it does have a lot to do with economics. Publishing’s a dog-eat-dog business, and there’s always another book out there waiting to hop in the front of the queue, pushing everyone else back a few spaces. If you’ve written a book you have to get out there and promote, promote, promote, then hope to break through the general apathy of the average reader long enough to claim a smidgen of attention.

And attention, there’s another thing that sticks in my proverbial craw. Don’t get me started on the attention span of the average American, and unless you want to see me turn bright red and risk apoplexy, please avoid two words: REALITY TV.

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What IS this addiction, anyway? I don’t understand it. I’ve watched probably a grand total of two episodes of “Survivor,” and maybe four episodes of “American Idol.” And, okay, it’s funny seeing those really bad singers fail miserably. That appeals to the evil, masochistic side of a lot of us, but to watch these things regularly I can’t even fathom. Now, if you watch these regularly but also slot in time for reading and other pursuits more power to you. That’s achieving balance, and that’s a good thing. But what scares me is I know the majority of Americans don’t even consider that. This is what disturbs me. There’s no intellectual achievement in reality TV, and no work of any kind required. RANT OVER.

Despite what you may be thinking of me at this point, I do own a TV. Actually, I think our count is up to four, including the tiny travel TV we don’t ever actually use for travel. One of our TVs is pretty sizeable, too, but that’s because movies look better on a bigger screen and we do love our movies. And, yes, we even have surround sound, so I’m not a purist. Far from it!

However, if you walk into my house on any given evening (knock first, please!), you’re about 80% likely to find the TV off. We sometimes go for days without ever turning on a television, mostly because we’re: a). not at home in the first place, or b). just too busy with other things like homework, the practicing of musical instruments (I now have two children who play the violin, and one who in addition plays the piano, the guitar, and as of last evening – it’s a long story, don’t ask – , the flute), working on the computer (okay, largely consisting of Googling things), and, what do you know, READING. If you walk into my house on any given evening you’re about 90% likely to find at least one or two members of my family engaged in this occupation, and about 95% likely that one of these family members will be yours truly…

These are only a few things authors have to compete against. Even after their book is published the deck’s already stacked against them. First, they have to target readers. Then, if they’re not a household name, they have to hit upon a way to stick in the minds of the readers who are likely to go out and purchase their books. They accomplish this through reviews, interviews and author appearances (signings, readings, etc.), and all this while competing against quick, ready-made entertainment in the form of TV, much of which is the reality variety.

How it pains me!

Self-promotion doesn’t generally come very easily to writing types, either. Those who think it sounds like a lark to sit home at the computer, more than likely alone, and type away all day aren’t always the most socially inclined types. That’s not to say they’re hermits, but there’s a push required to really get yourself out there, and not everyone has that naturally.

This is why I spend a lot of my time promoting wonderful authors and their wonderful books. And, what’s perhaps even more shocking, a whole lot of that time is gratis. Not all of it, as I do freelance and get paid for some of my work, but often I’m handing it out like Halloween candy.

Sometimes I know the author, or I’m a friend of a friend, but often I don’t know the author from Adam, but he or she has written a book that’s impressed me so much I feel the urge to give something back. It does come back to me, too, either in referrals from one author to another, or just a new connection that sometimes turns into a friendship. I consider these deposits into my good karma account, and I could certainly use all of that I can get. Can’t we all?!

All of this is a good preface for another one of these really good up and coming authors, and his name is Jon Clinch. Random House sent me Clinch’s book Finn: A Novel, due to be released in February 2007. Because there’s so much lead time here, I can’t yet publish a review of the book, but I can say I think this one’s going to be a great one. Finn takes a thread from Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn, specifically the reference to Huck’s father being found dead in a floating house, and expands on it. Though I haven’t yet finished the book, what I have read is gorgeously written. I can tell this one’s a keeper. Keep an eye out for it.

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And, keep an eye out for Jon Clinch, as I’m doing my best to convince him that coming to Chicago is a very good idea. Keep your fingers crossed! Oh, and pass the remote. I think Oprah’s on…

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