Life is too sweet to waste on self propaganda

Came across a good little article in the LA Times on author self-promotion. It seems that a letter from Jack Kerouac has just turned up at a literary auction, and it bears an interesting quote:

I can just see the shabby literary man carrying a “bulging briefcase” rushing from one campus to another, one lecture club to another, nodding confirmation with his hosts that he is right, hurrying to the next town … a whole gray career of proving himself to others, to as many as can hear him, that he was right … till finally people say: “Here comes the self-prover again, O dear … bring out the papers and the canapes.” This my friend is what I will become if I accept all lecture offers, TV appearances, radio interviews and start arranging with reviewers and critics who want information and my books through me, a great long lifetime in a briefcase proving my work and my work itself stopped dead at the level where I took to proving myself. So, I say, life is too sweet to waste on self propaganda, I quit self promotion, I enter my page.

The writer of the LA Times piece, Carolyn Kellogg, guesses that “his thoughts have got to resonate with today’s authors”, and as far as I’m concerned she’s absolutely right. As she says, authors today have so many more ways of promoting themselves, and publishers increasingly expect us to use them all. Yet the reason I became a writer was to escape from previous careers that had often made me feel fake. I wanted to write, to express myself, to tune the world out for a while and just  “enter my page”, as Kerouac puts it.

It’s a struggle to balance two conflicting interests – the desire to be “pure” and just write what you believe in, and the desire to sell books. For a while after On the Holloway Road came out, I’d say that I became a bit obsessed with selling books – this was also the time at which I had more events organised, and did sometimes feel like Kerouac’s shabby literary man with the bulging briefcase, rushing from town to town trying to prove myself. Now, though, I’ve got a better balance. I spend most of my time writing, and only a small amount on self-promotion. To be honest, though, that’s largely because I’m not Jack Kerouac and I don’t have the TV networks phoning night and day to get me on the air. A quick spot at the local library or bookshop is more the league I’m in at the moment. Perhaps the moment when my next book comes out will be more of a test of whether I can resist the lure of self-promotion.

Sometimes, of course, the lines are blurred. This blog, for example, was created originally to record my thoughts on the books I am reading, but since I became a published author it has also become a vehicle for self-promotion at times. I enjoy writing it, and I don’t consciously try to “prove myself”, but if I’m honest I can’t say that I have the courage to quit self-promotion entirely. Yes, I want to enter my page, but when I’ve finished I want people to read what’s on it. I don’t need to get rich, but I would like to support myself. So I compromise, and probably become the sort of man Kerouac would have despised.

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