Debunking the ‘poor author’ myth

As my nearest and dearest know, I’m the most annoying person to sit near while trying to read a newspaper. I obviously haven’t gotten over my past life as a daily newspaper journalist, because more things irritate me per page than you would think possible.

So, as an experiment, I’m going to start using this blog for some media criticism.  Feel free to let me know what you think, and crit my crits (ooh that sounds kind of naughty) if you like!

This week the Washington Post ran an article headlined, “On Web, A Most Novel Approach: With Promotion Money Tight, Authors Take to Online Sites To Toot Their Own Horns.” (Thanks to Ivan Roman for bringing the article to my attention via his Facebook page.)

As a first-time author who’s been tooting my own horn online all year, I clicked on the link with interest.

But the opening anecdote completely undermines the article’s raison d’être.  (I’m not going to repeat it all here, but go browse the article if you want, then come back and find out why it registered on my annoyance-meter.)

The point of the article is that novice authors, shut out of “old-school staples of book promotion,” are turning to the Web, and the author in the lead is supposed to be an example of how successful that can be.  You, too, can become a bestseller with just a YouTube video and books sold out of the trunk of your car!

The truth is that many, if not most, newbie authors who’ve had a book come out in the last couple of years have done exactly the same things as “poor Kelly Corrigan”: homemade book trailer, self-funded tour, book parties organized by friends, etc. I had a lot of support from my publisher, and even then, I’ve done most of those things too.  I’m sure Ms. Corrigan’s book is wonderful and she worked very hard, but hand-selling like that only gets so many copies sold.

What really sold her 300,000-and-counting copies was this, tucked into the third paragraph of the story and never mentioned again:

“Her agent helped get her on one network television morning show.”

Huh. Turns out Ms. Corrigan isn’t a marginalized outsider author at all; she’s an incredibly lucky one with a great agent and a connection to network television! The media follow each other, and Ms. Corrigan must have done wonderfully on TV, so I have no doubt that that single appearance snowballed to other mass media coverage — which is still really the only way to reach hundreds of thousands of potential readers.

Coincidentally, the mass media part of the story is what the newspaper writer (being part of it) missed. In this case the media’s pack mentality was really great for the writer, so hooray for the pack!

But let’s not attribute her book’s phenomenal sales to the magic of the interweb, please.

That’s like writing about how the Beatles got famous because they worked so hard on their cute haircuts, and oh yes, they just happened to turn up on The Ed Sullivan Show at some point, too.

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