the book promotion circus: even Stephen Crane went a little nuts (and goodbye for now)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Confession: There are a lot of us who die many small deaths during the act of promoting our books. We wish we didn't have to. We wish we were Michael Ondaatje or Alice McDermott or Colum McCann or any of the greats for whom the world both spins and waits, and not us, ourselves and ourselves only, who are easily forgotten, or never actually known.

Book promotion. It can involve embarrassing displays of self-involvement (for the next sixty minutes I will be doing all the talking, thank you very much), nasty tricks (remember the writer who recently shipped her dead husband's ashes around with the galleys?), indulgent wardrobing (you will remember me,  you must remember me, won't you remember me?), and bold pronouncements about one's own talent (eeewww). We are asked to do many things. We do what we can. We close our eyes, we (maybe) grin and (barely) bear it, and then, mercifully, the promotion season has passed. We can be ourselves again.

We can buy and celebrate the books of others.

I'm not a touring writer. I'm not a famous one. This here blog, which is dedicated primarily to writerly musings and the works of others during the bulk of the year and to the news it seems right to share following the release of the small books I write (forgive me, I beg you, forgive me my books), is my home base, my foundation, my brand, my world, my virtual me. There is also, for the record, a flesh and blood me—a somewhat innocuous middle-aged woman who has little to say in real life and surprises people who meet her for the first time.

Just ask dear Debbie who could not, on Tuesday night, at Books of Wonder, get over how short I actually am.

(You might have thought I was tall? You might have thought I was glamorous? Ha! Wrong on both counts. Plus, I don't have a memorable wardrobe.)

I think about this promotion thing sometimes. Indeed, not long ago, musing out loud, I told my agent that I had begun to feel pressure not to speak of myself anymore on my blog. That, if only I had much more time to read than I do, I'd spend all the blog language on others.

"But it's your own blog," she said, "and you have responsibilities to your books."

"I know," I said. "But. Still. People are talking."

I'm talking about all of this right now because I just read Caleb Crain's piece on Stephen Crane in this week's The New Yorker, "The Red and the Scarlet." It's a fine piece of biography and it doesn't need much of a preface; it stands, wildly, on its own.

But here's the part I'd like to excerpt for you. It's the late 1800s. We're looking at self publishing and self-promotion. Seriously. Has anything changed?

Unable to find a publisher, Crane scraped together the money for "Maggie" to be printed. He chose yellow covers and the pseudonym Johnston Smith, and his friends threw him a raucous party....

To advertise the book, Crane hired four men to read it as conspicuously as possible on the elevated train, which, unfortunately, had little effect on sales. "It fell flat," he later admitted."

Self promotion. It's a terrifying term.

I'm going to be taking a small respite from the blog for the next few days, for I have several books I've bought and am planning to read. I need a little reading time and space. And then I'm going to report back here, as my short and unglamorous self. I hope you'll return when I do.


Serena said...

I never find your posts to be all about you..they rarely are. They are more about the glory of your students or the written words of others...and even when you do talk about yourself it is because others are applauding you and you modestly accept our praise, even if you think you don't deserve it (and you do, do deserve it).

Enjoy your books, take your space...we'll all still be here.

Florinda said...

I never noticed you were short. Then again, I may not be the best person to evaluate that, given that my eye level is below five feet... :-)

Also, what Serena said about what you write here.

See you soon!

Beth Kephart said...

Serena and Florinda, your words are greatly appreciated — greatly. I try, believe me, to make this space much bigger than me. It can get confusing when there is more than one book in a year. Alas. I'm working on being less productive, too. Beth Kephart. Work in progress. And Florinda, you made me laugh!

Unknown said...

So beautifully said! You deserve the break 1000x over.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Yes, Beth, you do deserve a break, and I agree with Serena and the others. No one cares more about others, whether they are your students, your family, or other writers, than you do. You are wonderful, and I am so blessed to know you. I'll always check in on you via your blog. Enjoy some special reading time, my dear.

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