As referenced in a previous blog (1-20-23) …
Department Of Here We Go Again
Sub-Department OF Preview Of Coming Grievances Attractions
Sub- Department explanation: This is part two of a three-part series dealing deal with various aspects of The Writing Life As Moiself Sees It ®) …
Parts one and two feature essays I wrote several years ago. The essays have the following commonality:
(a) I was satirizing certain aspects of the writing/publishing life;
(b) More than one editor to whose journal(s) I submitted the essays wrote, in their kind and complimentary rejection letters, that although they personally liked the article they could not publish it and, added that they felt it incumbent to warn me that that the article might be unpublishable due to my making fun of the process (i.e., gnawing at the hand that was supposedly feeding me – despite the essays being clear intended as satirical):
“You realize that many people in this world 
do not have a sense of humor about what they do….”
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“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”
( Daphne du Maurier, English novelist and playwright )
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, moiself began to admit to moiself a not-so-pleasant realization about moiself: my growing disappointment with and even contempt for the literary publishing world. It seemed that publishers had forgotten, or deliberately discarded, du Maurier’s sage advice, and were determined to celebritize authors. This gradually devolved into pushing for (and in some cases contractually binding) the authors to celebritize themselves, with no resulting increase in royalties to the authors for taking on what is the publishers’ job – publicity. Publishers did this by convincing authors that they must turn themselves into brands, and construct platforms.
For many years the literary world has been riding the towering (and crashing) waves of the relatively new universe of internet/ebooks/digital publishing. Many publishers (mostly nascent, but also established/aka “traditional” publishers) have formed or remodeled themselves as essentially hybrid publishers, thus avoiding crucial aspects of the traditional work of publishing . These publishers describe this shift as providing “more opportunities for publishing and more author involvement in the publishing team!…”
…which translates as, more work for the writer, besides actually writing.  And the new “opportunities” provided by the internet and e-publishing has also created more opportunities for piracy/theft and downloading of your work without compensation.
A writer I know, “WK,”  has published several nonfiction books on a certain technical topic. WK posted the following on social media as an explanation as to why he’d reluctantly decided that his latest book would be his last. This explanation was in response to a fan/reader who’d written to WK, praising his most recent book and asking for more books on similar topics.
I’m glad you like my books, thanks. But I’m not going to write any more. There is too much piracy of my (and many other people’s) books. Within 1 month of my last book being published, I found dozens of web sites where people could download free copies of the e-book. There’s no point in writing a book if people are just going to steal it.
If thirty-plus years ago (when I began to write [primarily] fiction for publication) moiself’s crystal ball had foretold how the publishing business would shift to the writer-does-publishers’-duties model, I would not have pursued writing for publication.
All righty, then why am I doing this, I asked moiself? Turns out I didn’t like my answers. Thus, I took a hiatus – not from not from writing, but from submitting work for publication.
( Self-publication…is not a respectable” option, IMO, for me. I will deal more with that in part three of my series.  )
On to the essay at hand.
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WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ME
Branding the Un-brandable – a Fiction Author’s Dilemma
I tried blinking several times and even considered rubbing my eyes with sandpaper, but it was too late. I recognized the alphabet, the language…I had read the article. Alas, nothing could remove the images contained on the paper before me. It was the latest edition of one of my writer’s magazines containing the latest piece of prose extolling the virtue – nay, the necessity – of writers “developing and controlling their brand.”
“When we’re shopping at the grocery store, we tend to purchase the same variety of cereal, week after week. When it comes to household goods we waste little energy in thought as we push our cart down the aisle – it seems as if our favorite brand of laundry detergent leaps into our cart on its own. When we’re on a road trip, it doesn’t matter that it has been less than an hour since breakfast – our children beg to stop for lunch when they see the logo for a familiar fast-food restaurant on the highway’s exit signs.”
A graphics reminder popped up on my computer monitor: a gender-free, ethnicity-inclusive, bipedal, Happy Face figure stretched and wriggled its limbs, signaling to me that it is time for an ergonomics break. I dutifully marched around my desk and circled my wrists for a few minutes, then returned to deleting from my email inbox yet another offer from yet another literary entity wishing to sell me yet another book and/or tutorial and/or seminar on how to use social media and/or professional and personal organizations and/or the skin off my children’s backs to transform myself into an author with an “established platform.”
The mandate to create and promote a platform for one’s self was once almost exclusively confined to nonfiction authors, who were sensibly advised to, for example, establish their academic and professional OCD research and treatment credentials before attempting to interest publishers in their book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Doorknob Fondlers. Increasingly, even fiction writers are told (read: sold) variations of the following come-on, which I have received, in both hard copy and e-formats, from both long-established and pop-up writers’ journals and newsletters:
“If you are serious about being a successful writer in the 21st Century, you must establish, maintain, market and protect your brand;
you must build a platform as a writer and a content provider.”
Content Provider. Yikes.
But for fiction writers – excuse me, I mean of course, for those of us who are “providers of fictional content” – where the emphasis is (or should be) on the stories themselves, the platforms then become…what? The authors, ourselves?
Picture, if you will, just a few of the notoriously private authors whose works somehow managed to become beloved classics or must-reads despite their authors’ lack of “platforms.” Were those writers to be launching their careers in today’s publishing environment, their books might be seen as a tough sell due to the authors’ reticence for self-promotion. The J. D. Salingers, the Harper Lees, The Thomas Pynchons, the Emily Dickinsons, the Cormac McCarthys – I try to imagine them establishing and protecting and promoting their brands, like so many literary Kardashinans.
Aside from my personal antipathy toward what I call the celebritization of writing, the emphasis on the commercial and personal marketing of authors carries with it, I believe, a backlash potential. The publishing world’s push to adopt advertising concepts once associated with shilling laundry detergent and promoting Hollywood starlets can be off-putting to those discerning readers who care much about the stories to be told and little for the notoriety and fan worship status of the storytellers. One of the most prolific readers I know (herself a published author) put it thusly:
“I hate ‘brand building’ crap.
A writer’s brand is her writing, and she shouldn’t have to put out for every social media outlet like a $20 whore on Sunset Boulevard.
I know nothing about the writers I read. I don’t care. The only time I look someone up is when I think the writing is dreadful.”
I write neither memoir nor autobiography, and my fiction rarely employs the first-person narrative. Even so, I am advised to establish an All About Me platform. This concept applied to my literary life is literally (sorry) so odious to me, I just may construct an actual platform (Olympic competition height), if only to have one from which to jump off.
Also, given what passes for noteworthiness these days, how will patient publishers and empathetic editors manage to brand the un-brandable me? The literary publicists’ failsafe archetypes don’t apply in my case. I’m a proficient writer with a substantial list of publishing credits; I can spin an interesting tale, yet there’s no mesmerizing hook upon which to hang my “As a” credentials (“As a writer of speculative haiku, Ms. Parnell, l’enfant terrible of the Pacific Northwest’s burgeoning Occupy: Poetry Slam scene….”).
Alas, I have no sexy back-story. I am not:
- the rising young star of the future, who studied under full scholarship with A Famous Author ® at the Flannery O’Hemingway Iowa Workshop and who has been touted by Publishers Weekly as one of the “Five Under 25” (make that 35…45…uh…) to watch….
- the erstwhile ___ (junkie; orphan; differently-abled parolee; gender-neutral sex addict), a survivor of ____(cancer; Catholic boarding school; Tea Party summer camp; the first documented Facebook mass un-friending) who escaped the mean streets of ___ (The Bronx; South Boston; Rodeo Drive; Lodi) after doing ___ (meth in El Paso; time in San Quentin; dinner theatre in Fort Lauderdale; the entire cast – stunt doubles included – of Oceans Eleven)….
- the charismatic and exotic outsider, whose stranger-in-a-strange-land observations open a window into the perspectives on contemporary American culture that only an expatriate ___ (Afghani Atheist; Bicultural Bolivian-Botswanan Baha’i; Celebrity Chef Apprentice) can impart….
- the ___ (reluctant; introspective; flamboyant; gluten intolerant) yet articulate spokesperson of her ___ (generation; subculture; dress size; assisted living villa)….
The who-I-am hook is likely a lost cause, publicity-wise (and words cannot fully express how fine I am with that). As for what I write, aka the content I provide, again, there are no simple classifications. Despite the self-proclaimed broad-mindedness of artists in general and the literati in particular, there are these boxes – exquisitely wrapped, variously sized, but boxes nonetheless – and people want to fit you into them.
I have written and/or published:
- a short fiction collection and over seventy short stories, but I do not write short fiction exclusively;
- a one-act play (for which I have received royalties), but I’m not a playwright;
- poems for both the adult and children’s markets, but that doesn’t make me a poet;
- a song (both music and lyrics), but that doesn’t make me a songwriter;
- essays and opinion and non-fiction articles, but I am not a journalist;
- a picture book and a juvenile novel, but I do not identify as a “children’s writer;”
- a novel, but I do not call myself a novelist….
My stories’ characters have variously committed murder and other crimes, ventured in and out of love, encountered illusory beings, and lived in the present, the past and/or the future…but I am not a mystery/crime/romance/contemporary/historical/fantasy/sci-fi author. There’s no tidy genre label – nor the ready-made audience that seems to come with such – under which to file my work. I am simply a writer of literary fiction, who quietly, persistently and patiently (I will let that last adverb sink on its own merits) concentrates on writing good stories.
And that’s my mistake, it would seem. I should set aside the notes for my next three books, and instead note how to make myself more noteworthy.
Along with or in advance of a publication contract, publishers often send writers an AQ (Author’s Questionnaire) which asks about the writer’s background (“Is there additional information you can provide about yourself, to make you more personally appealing to our readers? Any anecdotes, for example, you might share at a reading?”). When presented with an AQ I typically weasel my way through questions I deem overly personal or irrelevant to the work at hand. No more. Perhaps it is time I contact my latest book’s publisher and submit my AQ addendum:
The distinctive silhouette was at once masculine and boyish. Dapper, graying temples, firm, chiseled jaw, roguish eyes and wickedly seductive grin – his beguiling features were illuminated by the waxing moonlight.
I felt a slight tremor of anticipation as his strong hands reached for mine; I found his grip surprisingly tender and reassuringly assertive as he helped me up onto the platform. *My* platform.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin tonight’s reading by categorically denying the rumors of my affair with George Clooney.”
About the author
Robyn Parnell lives and writes in platform-free Hillsboro, Oregon.
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Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week 
Taslima Nashrin, a Bangladeshi-Swedish author, doctor, secular humanist acphysician, feminist, secular humanist activist. She has been blacklisted and banished from the Bengal regions in Bangladesh (and the Indian state of West Bengal) and received fatwas for her writings on the oppression of women and her critiques of religion.
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May we be content with not producing content;
May platforms be reserved for divers and drag queens;
May we understand that brands are for cereals, not people;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 As in, they want or even require the author to do the lion’s share of the publicity for their book – without a publisher’s PR budget and connections. And good luck finding the time to learn several new professions (including literary PR, press agent, booking and scheduling agent) while also finding time to actually write….
 Imagine going to your doctor for your annual physical, only to find that while her fee for service has not changed you are now responsible for doing your own urinalysis – which the physician’s billing office describes as “…giving you the opportunity to partner with your doctor and be more involved in your health care!”
 Author of several books, including fiction and non-fiction, self-help, and tech manuals.
 I do think that, in the case of non-fiction works, self-publishing may be – and has been – a viable alternative, for some authors.
 “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.” Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org