The Art of Self-Promotion: Part 1
Once, during a telephone interview with a newspaper, the journalist asked me what I thought of my new book.
‘Seriously?’ I said.
‘I hate it.’
‘Oh, yeah, see, whenever I write a book, I think I’m a total genius while I’m writing it. But as soon as I finish it, and read it? Well, I think it’s the worst thing ever written. So, same with this one. I finished it and I thought: this book is a disaster! It should be shredded. It will damage your eyes and your brain if you read it! And so on. That kind of thing.’
‘Huh,’ said the journalist.
I excel at self-promotion. I have a blog which I updated last in 2011. I have a website too. The other day I woke up and thought, ‘I should put a ‘countdown to publication of my new book’ on my website!’ Later that morning my publisher sent me an email: ‘Happy in-store day!‘
‘Are you kidding?!’ I replied. ‘The book is already in stores?!’
‘You bet,’ she said calmly.
I saw that my countdown would have to be a regular tumble of numbers.
I’m not on twitter. It seems sort of busy to me.
I am on Facebook but I post status updates about once a year. If something good happens to do with my books I mention that and then I’m amazed when people are nice and say ‘congratulations’. They could easily say: ‘Um, that’s great, but who are you again?’
When I do post updates they’re usually about my kid. The cute things he does. Recently, I considered posting something about myself–– I thought I’d mention that I’d had an ear infection for the entire month of February (a basketball was rammed into the side of my head, along with a bunch of little guys whose job was to put their shoulders to the basketball and shove, or else to shoot through it with flame throwers and dart guns. Seriously.) Or I thought I’d post a picture of the figs with spiced honey and mascarpone that I made one night. Or a picture of the cute Valentine that Charlie made for me (‘I didn’t actually make it for you. We had to make it for a person in our family, and you were the first person in my family I saw when I walked out of the school.’ Still. Cute!)
All of those updates would have breached the Things you should Never Post on Facebook Rules, specifically:
- Rule against talking about illness (heartless rule made by person who was feeling robust and healthy at the time, and who regretted it the next day when he/she came down with the flu).
- Rule against photos of food you have eaten or prepared (stupid rule, I love people’s photos of food).
- Rule against cute pictures of kids and pets (rule lacks aesthetic sensibility: kids and cats are a lot more photogenic than adults, with respect).
Anyway, it didn’t matter because I didn’t post any of it. That’s the other thing I do on Facebook. I consider posting things, and then I don’t. Mostly I just wander around ‘liking’ what other people say. (People are funny!)
A lot of authors do school visits to promote their books. Usually I enjoy those: I love talking to young people and hearing what they have to say. They’re nice and funny. Like people on Facebook. There was a long stretch, though, where every time I arrived at a school, a teacher would tell me that their last visiting author was Markus Zusak. They would tell me this in voices of awe and reverence. The very walls around us would thrum with wonder.
‘That must have been great!’ I’d say.
‘Oh, he had the kids mesmerised,’ they’d agree.
Pieces of my confidence would fall away. Inevitably, someone would tell me how Markus got a student from the audience to come onstage and punch him in the stomach. Apparently he used to do that all the time. ‘Punch me as hard as you can,’ he would say, and the kids would, and he wouldn’t flinch. Each time I heard this story, my mind would begin a frantic rifling through my presentation, looking, looking, looking for something, anything that might be as cool as inviting a student to punch me in the stomach. There never was. ‘You dropped something,’ the teacher would tell me, absent-mindedly, as she led me onto the stage. ‘Just the last of my confidence,’ I’d murmur, and later I would drive home from yet another school visit, fiercely resolving to work on my abdominal muscles.
A magazine once invited me to participate in a story about my ‘ten favourite things’. They would come over to my place and photograph my most treasured possessions, they said. ‘Sure,’ I said, then I hung up, walked around the apartment and realised I have nothing that could be photographed for a magazine! There is not a single antique clock that I picked up in a flea market in Paris here! Just cheap furniture I bought on eBay, pictures Charlie painted which I taped to the walls, and a lot of books. At that time, the books were stacked everywhere and crowded onto old Ikea bookcases. I got on the phone and started calling shelving companies: ‘Okay, here’s the situation. I need a wall of shelves by Tuesday. It has to be Tuesday or no deal.’ I stayed up past midnight the night before the shoot, putting all my books on the new shelves. ‘My number one favourite item’ I said, ‘is my built-in bookcase.’ (That was true. It was so shiny and new!)
The last time I did a speech was at the Queensland Literary Awards. I tripped as I walked off the stage. I came so close to falling on my face. The audience took a sharp intake of breath.
I went to the LA Times Literary Festival last year. I was on a panel with three famous, articulate writers with big personalities. One of the famous writers asked me to shift along a little. I shifted a bit. ‘A little more?’ she said, and I found myself with my chair about a metre from the table.
I couldn’t reach the microphone. The panel discussion began. It was lively and hilarious. Every now and then I thought about making a contribution, but I couldn’t reach the microphone. I couldn’t see a way around the problem. ‘I have travelled 14 hours,’ I thought sadly, ‘and I’m not going to say a word.’ Eventually, the moderator asked me a question and I leaned way, way forward , almost toppling from my chair. ‘I can’t reach the microphone,' I said. The author beside me plucked the microphone from its stand like a flower and handed it to me. ‘Yes, you can,’ she said.
I could go on.
I will go on! In ‘The Art of Self-Promotion, Part 2’, in which I intend to discuss the idea of promotion of the self.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of me and Charlie hanging with Captain Underpants at the LA Times Book Festival.