A writer who wants to write and to be published successfully has to try to cultivate a certain doubleness of being. When you are writing, you have to think of yourself as a writer and not as a commodity. But when your book is published, it becomes a product. Over the years publishers and agents have become increasingly sophisticated at promoting books, and to let pride keep you from cooperating in their efforts would be churlish and self-destructive. – Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
That’s it! That’s exactly it. I feel doubled as a writer – both the creative and the promoter. This small quote, which I read just five minutes ago as I sipped coffee at my father’s dining room table, explains so much, and while I want to bristle and claim some sort of “aboveness” when it comes to promotion, I cannot.
Kidd and Todd give this sage wisdom in their book Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, and as I read it, I feel both scolded and commended. I have wanted to eschew all promotion, to leave that to others – whoever these mystery “others” might be.
But I also embrace the idea that writers are entrepreneurs who need to know the market into which they enter, even if I call that market “culture” and talk about “literary trends” more than I do sales figures.
It seems, as with all things, balance is the key here. A balance that weighs in art and commerce, self-promotion and professional promotion. A balance that does not make a book’s sales figures the only indicator of success and does not elevate “artfulness” beyond the way the art connects to the reader.
Sometimes, I sway too far to the side of art, at least in my rhetoric, because our culture so overvalues money as the prime marker of something’s worth. My words are, sometimes, an attempt to balance out a larger imbalance.
I do not believe money or even sales tell us very much at all about the value of a book. Many brilliant books go unpublished or largely unread even if they are published for many reasons – poor marketing, cultural disinterest, politics. This lack of readership does not undermine the value of the work, and it’s this reason that encourages me to write as a practice – to “think of [myself] as a writer,” as Kidder says.
Perhaps, again, I am being reminded to be mindful, to be in the moment of the experience. To write when I write and promote when I promote. To take where I am as gift and live it.
How do you balance writing and promoting? What do you use to value the worth of a book? Your own or others?