This Is Where The Magic Happens by William Kowalski

There’s a fine line, it seems, between being an active self-promoter and a complete pain in the ass to everyone who has the misfortune to be on your Facebook friend list.  I confess that although I’m a web-savvy dude who’s had his own site for several years, many aspects of blaring the news of my creative efforts through an electronic megaphone strike me as downright gauche.  Yet in these straitened times of low publisher advertising budgets (and by low I mean non-existent), it seems that one has no choice, unless one is Stephen King, or perhaps Zadie Smith—neither of whom I happen to be.

Part of the problem is this:  I was raised to believe it’s bad manners to speak of myself in glowing terms.  This quaint notion, so reminiscent of other twentieth-century chestnuts such as “Don’t put your feet on the furniture!” and “Never use profanity in public!”, is dying a hard death.  It’s one thing to link to a review of my work in which the reviewer has nice things to say.  It would be another entirely to describe with fanfare and hoopla the more trivial aspects of my writerly existence, such as the fact that I woke up, got the girls off to school, poured myself a cup of black coffee, kissed my wife goodbye, and sat down for the infinitieth time to stare in abject terror at the blank computer screen that has become a  metaphor for my existence.  I don’t write because I love it.  I write because I’m convinced that if I don’t, I will spontaneously explode. I don’t find anything particularly romantic about this, and it’s hard for me to believe anyone else would, either.

Many writers seem blissfully free of this particular hangup.  I won’t name names, but sometimes, when I feel like hurting myself, I peruse the pages of various authors who clearly have taken to heart the dictum that the more your readers know about you as a person, the more they care about your work.  I question the veracity of this newly-coined bit of “wisdom”, but apparently I’m one of the very few who does.  Several of these people seem determined to make a post every day, although whether or not they actually have anything to say is a secondary concern.  I am astonished at the things some people consider worthy of emitting into the blogosphere.  They rank right up there with the colonoscopies, dramatic breakups, workplace grudges, and menopausal hot flashes of those Facebook friends to whom shame or modesty mean nothing. They can all be distilled into something like this:  “I should be writing right now, but I crave attention too much, so instead I’m going to write about the fact that I should be writing, and oh, by the way, here’s a picture of all the things I have on my desk.” Truly, this is the Too Much Information Age.

Another problem is this: I find myself oddly embarrassed whenever people want to talk to me about my published work.  I don’t do well with attention in general.  I suffer from some sort of social malady that ironically allows me to address a crowd of a thousand people without a hint of self-consciousness, but which renders me a blithering idiot when someone makes an innocuous statement like “So, I hear you’re a writer!”  There’s no explaining it.  I have social graces, but they’re all faked.  At parties, I tend to wander around aimlessly until I find the bookshelf, where I will engage myself until my wife taps me on the shoulder and tells me it’s time to go home.  If I happen to encounter that rare but dreaded beast-—someone who’s actually read one of my books and wants to talk about them-—I am not above inventing a sudden case of gastroenteritis, or perhaps leprosy, that necessitates a long visit to the washroom.  Once a book is out, I feel two things about it: everything I had to say about the book is in the book itself; and I never want to see it, think about it, or talk about it again.  My books are not my children.  They are exorcisms of the darkest parts of my psyche, put into print.  Did the little girl in The Exorcist spend hours happily chatting with that ancient Middle Eastern demon after poor Father What’s-His-Name managed to coax it out of her body?  No, she did not.  I do keep a copy of each of my demons on a bookshelf in my living room, but it’s not a trophy case.  I keep them for the same reason a veteran keeps the shrapnel the surgeons pulled out of his body. They are reminders of what I’ve survived.

To the relief of my publishers, I started blogging recently, after making excuses nearly every day since 1998.  My rationale for doing so was that I have certain things to say that might not ever find their way into print, but which some readers might find interesting for two minutes before bouncing off to the next strand in the web.  I’ve blogged about many things:  gun control, adult literacy, duck hunting, and how to correct a certain very specific error on my MacBook, to name a few.  But one thing I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to write about is writing.  To me, this would be the equivalent of appearing onstage in my underwear at Radio City Music Hall to deliver a stand-up comedy routine for which I have rehearsed not at all.  This is classic nightmare material, actually.  I expect at some point in the near future a new nightmare will visit me: one in which I post a picture of myself sitting on the toilet, pecking away at the keyboard, bearing the caption “This Is Where The Magic Happens.”

I don’t mean to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but at the age of 42 that’s essentially what I am.  My career straddles that awkward chasm between the old world of publishing—-when there was lots of money floating around, and a chipper and attractive young publicist handled all aspects of promoting my work-—and the new, in which a mid-list author must screech to be heard over the clamor of the hundreds of thousands of books that are published, self-published, and e-published each year.  I love the internet (unfortunately), and I will likely write until the day I drop dead, but I’m not convinced these two things need have anything to do with each other.  And I’m a hypocrite, too.  (See my author bio below for proof.)  This may be a great time to be a self-published author, but it’s a strange time to be a socially anxious obsessive-compulsive neurotic whose greatest fears are firstly that people will pay attention to him, and secondly that they won’t.
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William Kowalski’s fifth novel, The Hundred Hearts, will be published in May 2013 by Thomas Allen Publishers.  You can visit him online at http://www.williamkowalski.com/
© 2013 by William Kowalski

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  • I absolutely loved this post, laughed out loud at the toilet image. It’s so true – what’s an author to do…sit quietly by and hope people miraculously discover the books or toot and trumpet until everyone wishes a permanent internet connection failure upon you? I’m with you on the ‘No profanity in public’…all the more mortifying to be told off for the ‘naughty’ language in my book by a mum at school. Squirm.

  • Mike Mellor

    I have a couple of friends who are published authors. When we occasionally meet I will always pay them a warm compliment that shows I read their latest book, and presumably paid cash for the privilege too. They seem to appreciate it.

  • Janice Kenefick

    I enjoyed this post and can identify with the feelings behind it! My husband and I have published our first book with an e-publisher and I wish this had happened before the age of self promotion and social media. Both seniors, we too were brought up to regard self promotion as an impolite no no and yet it seems to be happening everywhere. Some of the other writer blogs I’ve read are insufferable. Yours was encouraging and helpful.
    All the best in your work.
    Look forward to reading your new book when it comes out!
    Janice

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  • As a (hopefully) soon to be published newbie author who was also brought up to believe that self-promotion is somehow ‘not quite nice’, and who has a facebook page, a website with a blog and a twitter account I’m never quite sure what to do with, your post made me laugh out loud (or LOL, whichever you prefer). It also made me feel glad that I am not the only person to feel the same way… it seems to be the done thing, and I have all sorts of ideas for things to blog about – but as soon as I start to type them I find myself thinking, ‘Will anyone else really be interested in this?” and that’s that… If I make it as a successful writer, I am almost sure that my personal blog won’t have contributed very much towards my success… unless I get better at self-delusion, that is!