If you’ve been to any kind of writing or reading event recently, there’s a good chance you heard someone somewhere talk about the importance of us authors building our “brand” and developing a “social platform”. In other words, about promoting ourselves by doing author events and using twitter and facebook, and keeping a blog – not sure about keeping a blog? Hop over to Belinda Pollard’s brilliant site, where she explains why we authors do need to blog and much, much more!
The thing is, while I agree in theory with the writing gurus about spreading the word, I also absolutely believe we writers have a duty to write “with integrity”. Blatantly inviting people to listen to me talk about me and my books, makes me feel as if I’m prostituting myself and it puts that integrity thing into doubt. But then when I feel like this, I remember that self promotion for authors is not new. Far from it. The great and good writers have been at it for years. Like who?
Well, Georges Simenon for a start – you know, the famous author of the Maigret novels? In 1927 for 100,000 francs he agreed to write an entire novel while suspended in a cage outside the Moulin Rouge nightclub for a period of 72 hours. Members of the public were to be invited to dicate the theme and name characters and even the title of the novel. It was promoted as a “record novel: record speed, record endurance and, dare we add, record talent.” It was the talk of the town. And, even when, in the end, the event didn’t actually happen, people talked about for decades to come as if it had.
And John Steinbeck, who also appeared in Ballantine Ale ads.
And Ms Virginia Woolf, who went on a “Beautiful Woman” style shopping expedition with London Vogue’s fashion editor in order to help improve her “image”.
In the 12th century a certain Gerald of Wales invited people to his house for a meal and then forced them listen to him read from his latest work for three days!
In the 18th century Grimod de la Reyniere invited his friends to a “funeral supper” which he held to promote his new book “Reflections On Pleasure”. When the friends got to his house, he locked them in a room and hurled abuse at them while others watched from a balcony above. When the visitors were finally released they all ran around telling everyone that La Reyniere was mad and his books sold like hotcakes.
In the 19th Century Balzac, in his work “Lost Illusions”, said that not only was Paris plastered with posters advertising new releases, it was standard practice to bribe editors and critics with lavish dinners to secure a good review.
In 1887 Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story, “Le Horla,” painted on its side.
In 1932 Colette created her own line of cosmetics, which flopped.
And in 1885 the famous American poet Walt Whitman wrote his own anonymous reviews:
“An American bard at last! Large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking and breeding, his costume manly and free, his face sun-burnt and bearded.”
Finally, author Stendhal said in his biography “Memoirs of an Egotist”:
“Great success is not possible without a certain amount of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism.”
Do you agree with Stendhal? And, if you are a writer, how far would you go to promote your book? If you are a reader, how much “charlatanism” would you put up with before being put off reading books by an author?