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Vanity, Vanity. All is Vanity

Okay, the #marketing of Changing the Subject slog is getting easier; I am starting to ‘build relationships’ as the How to people on the internet call them. A writer, Peter E Mcginn, with whom I am now in old-fashioned correspondence, albeit via email, calls the How-to people ‘Them’. I doubt that ‘they’ consider two baby-boomers reading and thinking about each other’s virtual letters as ‘building relationships’ but it is making me feel much better. This, together with about 4% of the book bloggers and reviewers I have contacted agreeing to review my book, which is what I am after in the short-term, has given me what I am doing all this for in the long-term; a connection to the world outside of my friends, family and work colleagues. My words are not just screaming in deep space or falling in the woods; soundless and unheard.

I found Peter E Mcginn while marketing on Amazon. I had looked up books that I like, or looked like I would like, on Amazon and then performed the excruciating task of sifting through all the reviews and finding contact details so that I could then ask those reviewers to honestly review my book in exchange for a free copy, which is what I was told I absolutely need to do. I have stopped doing that now and just google book bloggers, most of whom review on Amazon anyway. Less than 1% of Amazon reviews for books I like, and 2% for books I might, leave contact information on Amazon.In the hours and hours I spent gathering 50 names I found myself asking why, why, why was I doing this. And then asking myself why the why, why, why, and then why that why too.

Why am I spending all my free time trying to get people to review Changing the Subject? So that as many people as possible will buy it. Why do I want people to buy it? For the money? Hah. The double-barrelled waste basket is still my best chance of making any of that. No; because I want people to read my book. Why do I want people to read my book? Because, because, okay that’s a hard one.

The How-to-theys treat marketing a book like marketing anything else; they talk of pricing and volumes and give-aways. They are forgetting two things. First, that books are not fish-food. And secondly, that both the writers and the reviewers are not in it for the money. Most of us are doing this in our spare time, not as a hobby, but because we don’t appear able to stop. So why, why, why are we doing this?

Writing is a little like a disease, and its spreading. I’m an old lefty, the demand for books might be growing but the supply is so enormous that that is hardly surprising. Book ‘production’, with possibly zero up front financial costs, is not just soaking but positively pouring ‘units’ onto you, dear reader. I should be inventing a cheap plastic free catheter, not adding to the sea of books. But I can’t stop.

It appears to be the same for book-blogging. I read on one of their sites a quote by Ginette Winterson, ‘Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it.’

But why? For god’s sake, why?

When I was little my dad was always going on about writing as a craft. After the 5% inspiration, writing a story requires skills in sentence structure, story arc and characterisation to name just three. Writing does involve the desire to craft, which is what separates us from the animals. From flint axes to faberge eggs we people like to make things, well. I am quite good at sculpting clay, why don’t I develop that craft? Given that we are all supposed to have multiple careers nowadays and retirement is still a distant dream, maybe I’ll try sculpting next? I am avoiding the question, why do I want people to read what I write?

To find and develop ideas? I’m very opinionated and I enjoy a healthy debate with people with different opinions. Well isn’t that noble. Trouble is; I don’t buy it. I am politically minded so my writing has a political element, that’s all. I could, with equal difficulty, stand for parliament. And I wouldn’t be hiding behind the fact that what I write is fiction.

Company? Self-publishing and marketing, being mainly online, can be done without ever speaking to another soul. Great. I’m pretty content in my own company and although I’m quite friendly I am not exactly a social gad-fly. I am not ready to go beyond thinking about signing up for the multiplicity of events available for readers and writers in London. I went to ‘An Evening with Salman Rushdie’ at the end of August because he is one of my faves but I didn’t have have to talk to anyone.

Fame? I sometimes wonder why Salman Rushdie bothered going into hiding when he got that fatwa. He could have moved into pretty much any street in the UK without fear of recognition. We don’t generally fuel writers’ compulsion with the oxygen of publicity here. A writer can mainly get on with their life pretty much undisturbed. I like that. We exist to write disembodied words, not get our actual face in the paper. What about respect? Hah. I’m a British comic novelist. This piece of land gave the world Thackery and Elliot and we don’t mind saying it now they’ve stood criticism for a few hundred years.

So that leaves ego. A big fat over inflated sense of self-worth. The presumption that I have got something worth saying. Yup. There’s no getting around it. I think people might like what I write, that’s why. And I won’t get put back in my British place until someone tells me, emphatically and repeatedly, what it is. So I have to get back to marketing myself again. As soon as I’ve written back to James R.


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