Will A Good Book Sell Without Promotion?

Long response to a writer friend, who complimented me on my ability to promote myself and thereby contributing to the possible success of my debut collection (not to come out before November):

«… On the promotion thing: I know what you’re saying, and it gives me pleasure to promote others whose work is worthy of promotion like your own work. However, even though I’m continually striving to rid myself of excess non-writing work and baggage (alas much of it paying well), it seems as if I have less time to write, not more. What I’m saying I suppose is that contrary to what you might expect, I will not go out of my way to promote this book. Part of me wishes simply hopes that anything worth reading will magically promote itself. Actually I believe that. Most of the promoting is really, at least for me, a way of calming myself down, trying to fend off the possibility of not succeeding, which is only all too real, of course. …»

Image: Gulliver talking to two Houyhnhnms. His book of travel stories, “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships“, sold itself despite its title and words like “Houyhnhnm” and “Glubbdubdrib”…

«The book became popular as soon as it was published (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”); since then, it has never been out of print.»

(Source: Wikipedia)

In fact, I have already begun my slow retreat from the marketing frontier: there will be no more articles or stories on any of my many outposts. This site is it. It’s the heart, the hub and the harbor. It’s the mother ship that has cut off all its extra rafts and little boats with or without motor. There will be stories from the book for sure, since there’s a total of 80 stories to choose from, and I hope to find the time to create a book trailer. I shall do this for fun though, because I’ve always liked book trailers (see this site – for a wealth of ideas not all “best”, or this cool stop motion trailer, or Riley Michael Parker’s trailer). At the moment I’m thinking about a mixture of animation and collage.

PSM V63 D409 Right sole print showing a great degree of complexity

Right sole print of my book-to-be-published showing a great degree of complexity

A good book might not “sell” without promotion in the sense of making its author rich, but I do think it will come through, it will eventually find its readers. The book (more than its author) achieves this by tapping into a field of aesthetics that has not been described by physics or another science before. (Or if it has, please let me know.) This field is a result of everything that matters to the people who live at the time of publication. Perhaps it’s this complexity of being intertwined with the lives of so many that makes it impossible to describe. The book, the good book, is both a sensor and a sense maker. It’ll pick up the likes and dislikes of its readers, and it’ll help them make sense of their time.

You may ask now: what about the bad book? What about the grayish prose of Fifty Shades of Gray, what about dandy Dan Brown? I don’t really have an answer for you. I’ve got enough to do with thinking about good books and conceiving of new, better books. Clearly these bad books are also expressing something about our time and about their readers, but it’s unlikely to be something very complex, life enriching or interesting. And that’s what I’m interested in.

Perhaps a bad book is like a sensor that sends faulty signals, a badly built device, just good enough to be used at all. Engineering knows all about that: but people will use bad bridges anyway if they stand in the right place. Every bad book should cause an avalanche of good books to replace it, to get rid of the bad taste on the discerning reader’s tongue.

What do you think?


Update: I only read this excellent manifesto, “New Rules For Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition And More“, by Anis Shivani on Huffington Post after composing and publishing this post. What Shivani recommends goes in the same direction except he says it better and more charged with critical electricity. He’s got a new book out, too: “My Tranquil War And Other Poems

4 thoughts on “Will A Good Book Sell Without Promotion?

  1. “The book, the good book, is both a sensor and a sense maker. It’ll pick up the likes and dislikes of its readers, and it’ll help them make sense of their time.” I agree wholeheartedly with this. And the author of such a book is also just trying to make sense of his/her time, or reflect on the view from his or her perch, not preach a single answer.

    • Mary, thanks for commenting: I agree with you, since making is not preaching, even though preachers might dispense meaning to their flock, but I had something more complex in mind, something that reflects the reader’s inner world without imposing an opinion on it. Perhaps a mirror that distorts in a different way for everyone who looks into it, is a better metaphor.

  2. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but maybe there is a place for bad books. I’m happy–despite my intense dislike for Dan-Brownlike books–when my students read ANTHING in English. Many of them are totally unfamiliar with “literature,” and when I brought in a few literary short stories, they were overwhelmed–in the very bad sense of the word. We practically had to dissect the stories sentence by sentence. So just as children’s books are good teaching tools, tediously simple anti.literary books might have there place as well. It goes without saying, though, they would never be successful without the help of millions of marketing dollars.

    • Yes to this spin on the need for bad books, Chris. Definitely any form of writing is also a door to a greater realm filled with good books. Not sure if the marketing dollars can explain the success of Dan Brown and his ugly minions… it seems to me as if there ought to be examples of books that have been pushed by the publishers but not been accepted by a large audience. Put differently, maybe the world needed Brown’s loitering pen for reasons too complicated to understand (even too complicated for the likes of Robert Langdon perhaps…).

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