Citations from an article about the importance of tireless self-promotion in trying to establish a brand for your work:
For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed.
— Honore de Balzac, Lost Illusions
Great success is not possible without a certain degree of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism.
— Stendhal, Memoirs of an Egotist
I slacked off blogging this month, mostly to focus on my manuscript, from the Latin manu scriptus, “written by hand.” A funny word, because nobody writes anything by hand anymore, and because it connotes the promise of special knowledge or even wisdom. “I sent the whole manuscript to an agent,” a fellow writer said to me the other day in a self-reverential tone that made me think of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A doubly funny word because, on any given day, thousands of fiction writers seek agents for their manuscripts, and we aren’t talking precious scrolls here. Most manuscripts end up in so-called slush piles. Increasingly, virtual manuscripts are assigned to virtual slush piles.
And yet writers persist, mainly because we’re egotists, as Stendhal noted. We think our manuscripts will be embraced if only the world can get a look at them. We know we’re one lucky break away from gifting Western civ with something as enduring as Lost Illusions.
I exaggerate, but you get the point. We want to be read.
Sometimes a writer breaks through to an agent who may actually skim a manuscript because of a clever cover letter or an influential intermediary and then try to “place” the thing because he/she likes it and thinks it might be salable. As a last resort, there’s self-publishing — you will read my stories, damn it, even if I have to peddle them personally!
For the record, I haven’t yet sent my manuscript — a collection of short stories called Idiot Lights — to any agents, but rather to an English professor friend for suggestions and, most importantly, praise, whether or not it’s deserved. I’m pitching individual stories to magazines.
I harbor no illusions. None of my stories will find a champion at the New Yorker, and they’re much too raw for whitebread literary publications such as… I won’t drop names, there’s always the chance someone actually reads these posts.
Let’s just say my stories have provoked mixed reactions among the few people who’ve read them. My favorite was a workshop leader in New York who’d made a name for himself working with a famous minimalist short story writer. He said my characters are “low-stoop,” meaning low-class — pimps, junkies, psychos, whores, musicians, produce vendors and so on — and that my fiction therefore wouldn’t appeal to middle-class readers, the group that buys the most books.
What could I say? One writes what one knows, and I think there’s an audience somewhere for my low-stoop fictional friends. One of these days an agent will agree and it will on my head to push push push to establish recognition and sales, so I’d better start practicing now.
Or maybe not — “It’s a crap shoot,” as my professor friend says — and I’ll try to worm my way back into copywriting and PR. Hey, where do you think I learned so much about pimps and whores?