Friday, June 5, 2015
We conclude this week’s spotlight on Myfanwy Collins, author of the new novel The Book of Laney, with an essay about something that’s a struggle for nearly every writer: tooting their own horn.
As you probably know, I am in the middle of launching my new book, The Book of Laney. It is a young adult novel and so a bit of a departure for me. I am extremely proud of this book and I hope those of you who have read it will believe me and know this to be true when I say it: I have a mission for this book. My mission is that if reading this book can lift one young person (or person of any age!) out of darkness and offer them hope, then I will feel I have done my work well.
Since I am my own publicist, I have been working hard, as I always do, to get the word out about The Book of Laney. I have sent out many pitches and for all that have been responded to favorably, 10-20 or more have either been denied or ignored entirely.
For all the booksellers, libraries, people in the media, reviewers, who have responded favorably or reached out so far: THANK YOU! I am truly grateful to you (which I hope you know already but I want to say it again here). I know what it takes for you to do the work you do and I appreciate that you continue to fight for literacy and literature and the future and young people and hope.
I read a few blog posts recently that were making the circuit. Two different writers talking about what to do and what not to do when one promotes one’s book. There was some decent advice (though a bit snarky in tone) from the perspective of these writers. However, I come at promoting my work not just as the writer, but as someone who knows what it is like to promote the work of others. Someone who knows what it feels like to be pitched day in and day out.
I have been on the receiving end of the pitch and I know what worked for me and what didn’t. I try to remember my past experience with each pitch I make myself. Honestly, to call what I do a pitch is not accurate. What I do is get in touch and give some information and try to be as pleasant as possible and never, ever, ever demand anything.
So here’s my story: Twenty years ago, I was living and working in Boston. I was a writer in my heart and trying to find ways to sustain myself, but I wasn’t doing much writing. What I was doing then was making a living. What else I was doing was learning. For a time, I was the Regional Promotions Director for Tower Records New England. What this meant was that I was responsible for in-store/off-site events and off-site sales for the three New England stores (Boston, Cambridge, Burlington). All day, every day, I had people pitch me: indie record labels, big record labels, radio stations, distributors, artists themselves (musicians, writers), publishers, book distributors, etc. I, in turn, pitched events to these same people when they had work coming out we thought would be a big draw or when we thought they were hosting an event we might want in on. My team (all two or sometimes three of us) and I were responsible for promoting, publicizing, and managing these events.
During my time, we hosted Marilyn Manson, Nancy Sinatra (when she was in Playboy… THAT was an interesting in-store event), Marianne Faithfull (for her book. She was allowed to smoke in the store because she was Marianne Faithfull), etc., etc. No end of famous people.
I remember and have fondness for all of the people who were pleasant to us. I worked with those people many times because they were pleasant, polite, and nice to work with. There were assholes, too. The assholes were rude, demanding, and had the expectation that something should be done for them. The assholes… we didn’t work together much. I avoided the assholes. I lost their messages. I didn’t return the calls.
Remember, this was before social media. This was before Amazon. If you wanted your stuff to be sold, you pretty much needed it to be in a brick and mortar store. And you pretty much interacted face-to-face.
I learned so much from this job (and subsequent jobs in which I promoted and publicized other things) but the key lessons I learned are this:
1) No one likes a pushy sales pitch. NO ONE. Pushy sales pitches are not normal human interactions. They are not love. The people who spoke to me with love and honesty and who got to the point quickly about the artist they were representing were the ones who opened my heart. Even if I didn’t respond to that particular artist the fact that they so believed in that artist and their potential, moved me and brought me to action. So if you are your own publicist (as I am mine), try your best to get to the point and to do it in a way that is open and be honest about yourself. You don’t need to pitch yourself so hard that you come off sounding false.
2) Be a human being and treat others as though they are human beings. I was on a panel once and I responded to a question (don’t even remember the question) that writers should treat agents and editors like human beings. The follow up question was: “What do you mean like human beings?” Not even kidding. Basically, you know how you like to be treated. If you are like me, you like to be treated as though you have thoughts and feelings that matter and as though you are not just on this planet to serve others. Well, that’s the way we all want to be treated. We want kindness and respect and honesty and generosity of spirit. I know I responded best to those people who approached me as if I were a living, breathing creature. The people who took the time to learn my name and know some things about me.
3) As for social media: do it if you like and it feels right to you. Don’t do it if you don’t. Back in the 90s we had to hit the streets with paper fliers and hand them out to people. NOTHING is more humiliating and humbling than having people ignore you when you stand before them with a flier in your hand. Your outstretched hand. Social media can be like that. You might just be tweeting about your book and you think that’s cool but you don’t realize how many people are averting their eyes from you and your outstretched hand. It’s okay, though. It’s cool. Do what works for you and don’t let people make you feel ashamed for doing whatever you feel like you need to to get yourself out there.
So I’m here in these trenches with you. I am trying to get this book into as many hands as I can--not just because I want to do a good job for my publisher and my editor (because I do) but also because I want it to be read. I want it to make a difference in the world. We all want that, right?
Echolocation was published by Engine Books in 2012. I Am Holding Your Hand, a collection of her short fiction, is available now from [PANK] Books. The Book of Laney, a Young Adult novel, is now out from Lacewing Books. Click here to visit her website.