Video and Publishing

Simon and Shuster is going to post videos of its authors on the Internet in an attempt to sell more books. On the whole I think this could be very interesting. Part of me thinks, finally, some new thinking when it comes to marketing books. And then another part of me thinks, unfortunately, it still will not get around this:

“Publishing is founded on the ultimate contradiction,” said Norris of Simba. “The process of writing a book favors introverts and the process of promoting a book favors extroverts.”

It was Michael Ventura who said, “Writing is something you do alone in a room.” There is no getting around that fact. I have never forgotten that line since I read a photocopied version of his brilliant essay The Talent of the Room over a decade ago in a writing workshop.

Some writers are outgoing and great at PR. But, generally speaking, if they wanted to be in the spotlight as a person(ality), they’d go into acting, stand-up comedy, or TV news, or some other endeavor that thrives (often demands) personality-fueled celebrity. Of course, you could ask, what form of celebrity isn’t fueled by personality?

Fiction writers are not part of celebrity culture. Not in the way that actors and musicians are a part of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Interviews with writers tend to be about their books, their ideas, their inspirations, their craft, and their art. Interviews with celebrities tend to be touch on the album or movie they’re currently promoting, followed quickly by an in-depth exploration of whatever gossip is floating around them. Or it’s filled with inane questions, like when Leslie Stahl interviewed Felicity Huffman (during the release of Transamerica) on 60 Minutes:

Huffman has two little girls, but gives a surprising answer when asked if motherhood is the best experience in her life.

“No, no, and I resent that question,” Huffman says. “Because I think it puts women in an untenable position, because unless I say to you, ‘Oh, Lesley, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done with my whole life,’ I’m considered a bad mother. And just when I said no you, you went back.”

Can you imagine asking Philip Roth if he thinks he’s a “good husband”? Or whether he feels unfulfilled for not having any children of his own? Or asking Salman Rushdie if fatherhood is the best experience of his life? Or asking Arundhati Roy when she’s going to take some time out from all her activism to have a baby?

See where this is going?

Not being part of celebrity culture does have its benefits.

I applaud Simon and Shuster’s attempt and their creativity. While I think it will probably help those writers who are more outgoing people, it still won’t help the well-written book by the introvert. (Only good reviews and word-of-mouth can do that.) But thinking along these lines may eventualy bring about something for the video-challenged writer.


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