Crap! I’m not Jenny Lewis.

Say you write a book. You pull off (in my opinion) the most rockstar move possible. You’re a freaking novelist. Deep, profound, romantic, misunderstood. Perhaps you wrote your novel in complete isolation while battling consumption, as I wish I had done. Well done.

Hopefully, it’s good. Otherwise, you run the risk of being mistaken for emo, what with being deep, profound, romantic, misunderstood. Plus, you’ve got that case of consumption to deal with, and the only point in acquiring consumption is to die tragically just as your novel finally earns you the praise and adulation that’s due any writer of your talent.

But even if it is good, there’s no point or purpose in its goodness if readers aren’t aware of its existence. Enter a very, very unpleasant thought, the most unpleasant of thoughts for a Joe Cool editor at an alternative newsweekly: You have to become a marketer. If your vision of your romantic life as a writer has not already splintered into thousands of tiny shards that tear mercilessly at what’s left of your sentimentality and hope, well, then perhaps you really were born for this profession.

Writers are artists. If you don’t believe me, spend half an hour in a newsroom full of them then try to argue otherwise. But I don’t believe we’ve succeeded in capturing the public’s imagination as effectively as other artists—say musicians or poets or painters. We spend vast amounts of money to see musicians live, not because their art is actually better live (generally it’s considerably worse), but because they’re gods. Gods that command music and respect and inspire throngs of fans to fling underwear and engage in otherwise-humiliating behavior. When’s the last time you heard of someone throwing underwear at a writer? Not that this is the pinnacle of professional success or hygiene, by any means, but it does indicate a certain level of stardom has been achieved.

Maybe we aren’t as polished. Want to know the last time I put on makeup? I can’t remember, but it was over a year ago. And anyone who calls me out for my seahorse cardigan and mismatched socks will probably get one of my comfortable asskicker boots lodged somewhere uncomfortable. So I’m no Jenny Lewis. There’s no surprise there. Except that when I buy Jenny Lewis records, to what extent is my decision influenced by what I know about her independently of her music? Her appearance and attitude in public? Would I buy a Jenny Lewis record if she looked, dressed, and acted like me? I don’t know. It’s difficult to assess my marketability. But, in the end, that’s what it boils down to. And shouldn’t any writer willing to brave the near-collapse of the traditional publishing industry be willing to at least consider how their own brand can prove instrumental, or detrimental, in marketing their work?

Which brings me to another uncomfortable point: My personality is my “brand.” I get it. I don’t necessarily like it. But I get it. I don’t like it because “personality” suggests a set of quirks, interests, and warmly human flaws whereas “brand” suggests something that exists solely to be commodified and marketed. It conjures images of vending machines and power buttons and the sanitized smell of hospitals. It suggests that my quirks, interests, and warmly human flaws exist solely to convince you, the reader, to pick up my book. Or diet pills. Or beach towel, or whatever the hell else I happen to be shilling. Call me crazy, but I actually think I’m better than that. And more complicated as well.

But complicated doesn’t sell so well these days, unless my quick tour of the young-adult-turned-paranormal-romance section of Barnes & Noble was less indicative of what’s selling than I took it to be. And, either way, whether I’m debating how to market myself and my book or drawing a hard line between me sitting in my footie pyjamas on a giant beanbag ruminating on the subject of marketing a book and the thing itself (the book), there’s no guarantee of success. Some of my favorite writers were absolute characters themselves, and they didn’t meet with success until they were far too dead to appreciate it.

I have to find some happy medium: a way to market Scourge of the Righteous Haddock without packaging myself into a happy-meal-box2Happy Meal. Without pretending to be anyone else. Without trading in my footie pyjamas for a pair of size two whatever Taylor Swift wears. But also without forgetting that I made the book and it is a looking glass of sorts. We reflect one another. And I can’t sit back and let the book speak for me right now. Because if I don’t have anything of value or interest to say, then why the hell did I write a book? And, more importantly: Why the hell would you want to read it?


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