I’ve been hearing a lot about what I need to do as a writer to get my work noticed. I’m not even talking about what it takes to get stories or novels published – that is a whole ‘nother arena – I’m talking about blogs, Facebook, Twitter, writer’s conferences where I’m supposed to march up to literary agents and somehow get their attention without being removed by security. It’s the tricky, icky thing called “self-promotion.” All of this self-promo talk made me remember something from long ago and far away in another land…
It was a dark and stormy night…no, really, it was. It was sometime in the early 2000’s when I worked as a part-time librarian in suburban Chicago. The staff at the wonderful, fantastic, well-funded (God, what a concept) library where I worked were all a flutter because Annie Proulx was the star attraction at a reading series sponsored by us. The head of our Fiction department was going to be Annie’s guide and chauffeur for the evening.
To put this in some sort of historical perspective, I believe “The Shipping News” had just been release in theatres.
I couldn’t attend the event because I had wee ones at the time but I remember my boss’s crestfallen face the next day as she walked into the office. “How did it go?” I asked, perched on my chair and ready for a slew of witty anecdotes about her evening with Annie.
“Annie Proulx was rude.”
“Rude. And, then, she was worse than rude. She was silent.”
Apparently, Ms. Proulx (whom I gather is not known to have a chirpy, chatty personality to start with) did only the exact amount of talking to meet the minimum requirement; otherwise, she was quiet. Everyone was disappointed; our Fiction department sort of didn’t like her or her books after that.
Annie, I don’t know you. I will never know you. But I think I get it.
Authors, if they want to be successful at any part of the authoring business, cannot just write a book or a collection of poems, thrust it in the hands of their publishers and then retreat back into the mists. Even before the days of Facebook, blogging, and Twitter, authors were expected to do promotional book tours and readings. The business of writing has always been more than just writing.
Recently, I read a review of Annie Proulx’s book on the saga of building her dream house in the desert. Somewhere in the intro of the article, the interviewer discussed Proulx’s reclusive personality. So imagine this most private of women who wrote books. Now imagine her being yanked hither and yon by her agent and her publishing house. Just put yourselves in the shoes of a woman who does not apparently, enjoy the company of a lot of other humans, plonked into suburban Chicago on a dark and stormy night…well, I can understand her a bit better now. She was already a successful author – did she really have to do the dog and pony shows?
I don’t feel sorry for her, really. She knew the reality of the publishing world but maybe she had a sick relative that she was worried about…or a sick cat…maybe she was sick herself. When I hear about these publishing realities, I have to admit I cringe…just a little.
A friend of mine gave a reading recently. It was a small group: a smattering of emerging writers mixed in with those who were more successful. One guy was introduced as a New York Times bestselling novelist. I was struck by how the “emerging” writers, including my friend, gave better readings than the “seasoned” authors. The better known writers were a bit flat, a bit monotone…they were quieter. How many times had they done this? Still, I envied them for being old hats at the game whereas I am just starting out. And, then…I remembered Annie.
Still, I want to be in the position she was in. I want a small suburban library group (well-funded so there will be food at the event!) to invite little old me to a reading series or an “Evening With…” series. I want my work to be read by well-read people in suburban Chicago. And, if I have to go there on a dark and stormy night to give a reading…I will. That is part of the vocation I have chosen to pursue. So be it. But don’t expect me to be cracking jokes all night…and make sure there is good coffee on hand!