I think it’s becoming obvious—and I have read similar thoughts on other blogs—that the model for literary success no longer lies in the writer/agent/editor combo, where the agent recognizes the author’s genius, takes him under his wing and finds a benevolent editor to nurture his latent talent. If this model ever really did exist, it is long gone now, and replaced by the one-man-band. These days, if a writer hopes to be successful, he must do it all—the marketing, the advertising, the business planning, the networking, the artwork—which does not account for the fact that creative people tend to not be very good at those things.
I don’t see myself fitting in.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a poor marketer and self-promoter. Much of this (more than I like to admit) has to do with laziness, both the physical “I can’t be arsed” type and the mental “Okay, now I’ll brainstorm 100 new marketing ideas before lunch” type. A lot more of it has to do with a lack of ability, meaning that, when I do attempt to brainstorm 100 new marketing ideas (or even 10) I generally come up empty. But ultimately, what keeps me from connecting with my inner huckster is a fear that I will end up looking like…well, a hunkster.
Is it, therefore, up to the people who have marketing in their blood, who possess the soul of a salesman and can exude unflagging sincerity for their product to fill the shoes of Hemmingway, Woolf and Wolfe. Will the new literary stars be like Stephen King—laboring in obscurity until their audience discovers them, and then being surprised and slightly embarrassed by their success? Or will they be more like Ed Wood on the set of Plan Nine From Outer Space—genuinely, enthusiastically and evangelically convinced of their own genius?
If writing success becomes the territory of those who excel at marketing, not those who are good at writing, are we doomed to a future of mediocre books? I can openly point to John Locke, because he openly admits his books aren’t great; they are serviceable, they fill a purpose, he sells ‘em cheap and often. He understands he is a salesman, not a writer. But others are not so honest with themselves. There are a few writers I follow, not for their books, but because I am awestruck by their marketing. These aren’t the heavy hitters, but they have each built an impressive soapbox and wield an effective megaphone, and they preach with zeal and infections confidence. There is much to be learned from people like that about marketing and getting your message to as many people as possible. But, alas, they have little to teach about writing because their books are uniformly bad. In one instance, a sample of the very first chapter left me with my mouth literally hanging open at its awfulness.
Is this what we have to look forward to: bad books shilled by good marketers who happen to have the perseverance to string 90,000 words together?
Some pundits maintain the market will self-edit, that good writing will find its audience, but I am less optimistic. If I buy a Kindle and download a couple dozen 99-cent self-published books based on the glowing reviews the authors gave themselves, and each and every one of them is total tosh, I’m just going to stop buying self-published books. Sure, you can find a gem in a small pile of manure, but this is a massive cesspit we’re talking about; it’s not a case of quality floating to the top, it’s finding a needle in a haystack. Because of this, people are going to eat a lot of straw (we’ll keep the metaphor firmly on the haystack here, oaky?) and the few needles are going to remain undiscovered.
This isn’t a future I’d like to see. Our only hope is that a new breed of writer—one equally at home in a boardroom or a garret, who can nurture their own talent while being honest with themselves, command respect, remain empathetic and balance the books at the end of the day—arrives on the scene. This new writer will need to be versatile, multi-competent and a multi-tasker. Does this mean, then, that the future of writing belongs to women?
That may be better than the alternative, but I still don’t see myself fitting in.