Aren’t We Just Precious?: Writers Who Live in Ivory Towers
There’s nothing more pompous than a writer who is precious about his or her work. If you’ve been around a bit, be it in the publishing world or even in a creative writing class, you’ve no doubt run into such a creature. As the editor of a number of anthologies (Amazon US/UK/Ca), I’ve met up with my fair share of writers with inflated egos and more attitude than talent, but come on – there’s a limit!
The other day I received a rather unpleasant email from an author who told me that he no longer wishes to receive any communication from me. Now this is not someone with whom I’ve been in endless email discourse, but someone who might, if he’s lucky, get an email from me maybe once or twice a year. Apparently I remind him of a world he’d rather not be a part of – which I assume means the one belonging to a writer who does not have the luxury of toiling away in an Ivory Tower deep in the rugged hinterland, protected from the unpleasantries of the world such as promotion, publicity, administrative tasks, laundry, and pretty much struggling to avoid having one’s mail forwarded to a cardboard box.
Now I’m not going to name this individual, save for the fact that he’s had several books published and, thanks to me, sold several more on my recommendation alone. In his email where he dismisses me from his universe, he emphatically states that he is a writer of “SERIOUS LITERARY FICTION.” Ouch! I guess in effect he’s telling me (and thousands of other writers) that what we do is shit.
I’ve never met this guy, and frankly after this exchange I’ve no desire to. I did get in the last word, however, telling him that he’s a lucky man indeed, if he has the luxury of avoiding all the hard graft the majority of us must undertake in order not to sink into the quicksand with all the other writers out there trying to survive against nearly impossible odds. Perhaps he also has publishers who knock themselves out to promote his books, unlike those of us who find ourselves in the rather unpleasant position of having to become not only our own publicist, but our own motivational speaker.
Those of you who’ve been working at this gig for awhile will know that the success of a book very often has nothing to do with how good it is, but rather how much went into its promotional budget. Get your book plastered all over the walls of the London Underground and sure, you can bet it’ll shift a multitude of copies. Send out a paltry smattering of review copies and it might shift a copy or two. Or it might not, depending on whether the reviewer was suffering from PMS that day. The irony is, the average Stephen King novel gets a huge promotional push, though with his amazing track record he hardly needs the kind of financial outlay that goes into selling his work. Yet the last I heard even Mr. King wasn’t too precious to indulge in a bit of self promotion. Why? Because that’s the way the game is played. I’ll tell you this: I’m thrilled to bits if someone is interested enough in my work to come to a reading or book signing just to see little me. And I’m even more thrilled if they plonk down their hard-earned dollars, pounds, euros, or rubles to actually buy something I’ve written.
Needless to say, I doubt very much that our Mr. Precious in his Ivory Tower will be reading this blog post. Reading a blog is beneath him, as is the filthy cesspool of literature festivals and book signings and author interviews. Should the time ever come when he can no longer meet his mortgage payments, I wonder if he’ll still feel the same way.