Writers face a sort of conundrum. If you ask a writer to list the best things about writing, chances are good that promoting isn’t on that list. Personally, I don’t know any writers, myself included, who think that doing the work of promoting oneself is a lot of fun. It can be awkward, especially if one’s an introvert. Promoting one’s work takes time, too, and often some expense, even if you enjoy getting out there and meeting people. And there’s always the question of how much promotion is helpful without being obnoxious.
That said, though, writers know that promoting is part of the proverbial package. If your name’s not ‘out there,’ you’re not going to make sales, especially in today’s world of easy access to books from all over, with just a few clicks. Somehow, writers have to find a way to get the word out. And it seems writers everywhere face this challenge; that includes fictional authors. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.
In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, Hercule Poirot travels to Nasse House, Nassecomb, at the request of detective story writer Mrs. Ariadne Oliver. She’s at Nasse House preparing a Murder Hunt as a part of an upcoming fête, but she has come to suspect there’s something more going on than a fête. Her concerns prove completely justified when fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is strangled. Poirot works with Inspector Bland to investigate the murder and finds that Marlene knew more than was good for her about someone’s secrets. At one point, Poirot telephones Mrs. Oliver, and here’s how she reacts:
‘‘It’s splendid that you’ve rung me up,’ she said. ‘I was just going out to give a talk on How I Write My Books. Now I can get my secretary to ring up and say I am unavoidably detained.’’
And that’s not the only time that Mrs. Oliver expresses her feelings about doing self-promotion.
Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn introduces readers to introverted mystery writer Martin Canning. He lives in a sort of dream world and abhors violence. Even his novels, which feature private investigator Nina Riley, take place in a very ‘safe’ 1950s world. He doesn’t care much for public speaking or ‘pressing the flesh,’ so he has to be convinced to do any of it. Canning’s publicist talks him into appearing on a panel at the Edinburgh Arts festival, so he reluctantly prepares. One afternoon, he’s waiting to buy tickets to a lunchtime comedy radio show when he witnesses an accident. A blue Honda has hit a silver Peugeot, and the two drivers are arguing. When the Honda driver brandishes a bat and attacks the other driver, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, thereby saving the other man’s life. That act draws him into a web of intrigue and murder that he hadn’t planned on at all. Canning does appear on the panel, and there’s a funny scene as he struggles with his natural inclination to be anywhere other than where he is.
In Deborah Johnson’s historical (post-WWII) novel, The Secret of Magic, idealistic young attorney Regina Robichard takes a job with the New York offices of the NAACP. One day, she gets a letter from an extremely reclusive author, M.P. Calhoun. In the letter, Calhoun alleges that a returning black veteran, Joe Howard Wilson, was murdered. As it happens, Calhoun wrote one of Robichard’s best-loved books from childhood, so the letter is intriguing as it is. It’s even more so because Calhoun gives no interviews and does no publicity at all. So, Robichard travels to Revere, Mississippi, where the murder is supposed to have taken place. As she delves deeper into the story, Robichard learns that things are not always as they seem…
We find another extremely reclusive author in Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret. Sessional lecturer Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig did her master’s thesis on the work of Margaret Ahlers, an enigmatic author who never did any promotion such as personal appearances. Craig wasn’t even able to get her to consent to a personal interview. Still, Craig completed her thesis and is now teaching when and where she gets classes. Then, a friend tells her that there’s a new Margaret Ahlers book coming out soon. Craig knows that Margaret Ahlers is gone, so she’s immediately suspicious. It’s not likely to be a case of a manuscript stuffed in the back of a drawer or tucked away by a relative. If that’s not the case, then someone may be forging a book. Craig can’t resist looking into the matter, and soon finds herself in danger as someone works very hard to keep her from getting to the truth.
See what I mean? Plenty of authors don’t like to do promotion. And, really, if you think about it, that makes some sense, even if it does cost sales. I mean, look what happens to Stephen King’s famous fictional author Paul Sheldon in Misery. When he gets into a car accident during a heavy snowstorm, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes. At first, he’s very grateful to her. And it’s nice to hear that she’s a devoted fan of his work. He gets back to work on his new novel during his recuperation, but Annie decides that she’s not happy with the way the plot is going. And you can just imagine how that will work out for Sheldon. Maybe it would have been better for him if he’d done no promotion and hadn’t gotten famous…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Putting it Together.