Marketing and human moments
I was having coffee Wednesday with two friends at City Feed in JP, talking about what I described as my ambivalence about marketing my forthcoming book.
"You're not ambivalent about marketing," Sam cut in. "You hate it."
In the moment, I laughed with them both and let it go. Because she had a point. But her comment isn't, strictly speaking, true. Neither, though, was my use of the word ambivalence. What I am is conflicted.
What I hate is feeling like I'm pushing product. Like I'm a salesman trying to get people to buy stuff. Because I don't think of my work that way. And because deep down I don't – honest – care much about book sales. Laugh if you want, but to me this isn't a business, it's a conversation. This writing thing, the way I try to practice it, is a way of being in the world. A means of connection between humans. Stories are an expression of humanity, an invitation to a moment of shared vulnerability, an offering. That desire to connect in a conversation about what it means to be a human is the reason I write stories, some of which stretch into books, some of which I'm fortunate enough (!) to get out into the world.
What I like – care about – and have come to recognize as necessary about what gets called marketing is this: I've come to understand there are people who enjoy my stories (my books); there are people who do view them as instances of and occasions for that fragile but vital conversation about what it means to be human; and there are other people out there (I'm optimistic enough to believe) who, if they knew about the books, would be interested in reading them. Would enjoy them.
So I participate in activities that might help let people know the book is out there. I shout (what feels like) incessantly on social media that I've got a book coming out. Along with my dogged and wonderful publicist, I beg for attention from traditional media, which often feels pathetic, demeaning (the begging), and futile. But I do it, because I've learned from experience with my first two books that if I don't do these things, people beyond my immediate circle will never know the book exists.
Did I mention I have a novel coming out October 1? That's why this is all top of mind for me right now. I feel awkward writing that sentence, because it feels like crossing the line. But I'm leaving it. And I'm telling you the book is called HEADLONG. And I'm telling you that my deepest hope is that, in addition to being a compelling read, it's also an invitation to a conversation. A connection. A human moment.
If that's marketing, then I guess I'm okay with it. In my conflicted way.
Ron MacLean is author of the story collections We Might as Well Light Something On Fire and Why the Long Face? and the novels Headlong and Blue Winnetka Skies. MacLean’s fiction has appeared widely in magazines including GQ, Narrative, Fiction International, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. He holds a Doctor of Arts from the University at Albany, SUNY, and has been a proud member of team Grub since 2004.See other articles by Ron MacLean