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Even in the writing business, it sometimes pays to advertise


Please forgive my un-Canadian pushiness.  I’ve just come from a workshop for writers entitled How to Be Your Own Publicist.  Here is what I learned:

1:  I am not just a writer; I am a brand.

2:  I need to max out my credit cards and start travelling all over Canada to ‘meet and greet’ with bookstore owners from Haida Gwai to Joe Batt’s Arm.

3:  I need to ‘chat up’ book store customers, subtly steering them by the elbow over to the Canadian Humour section and asking them if they ‘see any names that look familiar’ nudge, nudge.

4:  I need to attend booksellers’ conventions in a rented tux and throw myself at the feet of booksellers and publisher’s agents.

5:  I need to enlist 50 friends and/or family members to talk up my book and strong-arm local bookstores into featuring it in their windows.

6:  I need to join Facebook, create a blog, master Twitter and overhaul my website to reach the teeming masses who would all buy my book if only I tweeted, blogged and Facebooked about it.

It was at about this point in the workshop that I wanted to stand up and shout that I would prefer a colonoscopy by RotoRooter over engaging in any of the aforementioned stunts.

I didn’t stand up and say that of course, because, (a) I’m Canadian and (b) dammit, that is not writerly behaviour.  Writers are detached. Aloof.  Introverted. Okay — shy and awkward. We don’t wear lampshades at parties or dazzle the crowds with our tango moves.  We aren’t cool.  We trend geekwards.

Hey, that’s why we became writers in the first place. Do you think if we could dance or do stand-up or be otherwise socially dynamic we’d be wasting our time making scribbles on paper or pecking away on laptops?

We certainly don’t do it for the money.  Do you know what the average annual salary is for a Canadian writer? Two thousand, seven hundred and twenty-five bucks. (Okay, I made that up — but statistics show that 80 per cent of all statistics are made up on the spot.)

The very attraction of being a writer (aside, from the princely sums you haul down) — is that you don’t have to go to an office to do it.  Writers may be underpaid, but on the plus side, we’re pretty much totally ignored.  We can write in our pyjamas at the kitchen table with three days of stubble on our chins or our hair in curlers. Writers don’t have to worry about the boss barging in on them, contributions to the office birthday fund or showing up late for work.

As for the downside, well, nobody ever put it better than Bennett Cerf, publisher of Random House:

“Bunyan spent a year in prison, Coleridge was a drug addict, Poe was an alcoholic, Marlowe was killed by a man he was trying to stab.  Pope took a large sum of money to keep a woman’s name out of a vicious satire and then wrote it so she could be recognized anyway. Chatterton killed himself, Somerset Maugham was so unhappy in his final thirty years that he longed for death … do you still want to be a writer?”

The answer is, oddly enough, yeah. Being a writer isn’t so much an occupation as a condition. An itch that needs to be scratched.

You want to be rich? Be a hockey player. Famous? Invent a cure for baldness. Powerful?  Go suck up to somebody in Stephen Harper’s office.

The writing business isn’t about any of those things — unless your name is Bill Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling. For the rest of us, motivation is very simple. As a Greek fella named Epictetus put it a couple of thousand years ago: “If you wish to write, write.”

Oh, and don’t forget to advertise!



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