On Saturday, I spoke at the Write to Publish conference that Portland State’s student run Ooligan Press hosted for writers trying to better understand the the publishing industry. The panel I was a part of was titled “Marketing Yourself As An Author” and from watching the faces of the audience, they took most of our messages as pretty grim news.
We told them they would largely be responsible for the promotion of their book or as my publisher told me “I can’t get your mom to buy your book; only you can.” We told them every book is a network of people, places and perspectives and that the author’s job was to find people in that network who would be moved by their work. We told them the most important one of all–publishing is a popularity contest, meaning you must know people who will buy your book and tell others to buy your book.
It was interesting then to see Neal Pollack, an author with a national profile, announce in the New York Times Book Review that he is self-publishing a short novel called Jewball soon. Sharing this news on the back page of the Review is a PR opportunity that any author would welcome for his next project, but one few have the means to secure.
The network Pollack has developed over the last twenty years gave him the access to present that piece for consideration. His existing popularity makes it another story of an established author experimenting with other business models to make money from their work.
The most important point is the idea that Pollack took responsible for the success of his next work. The New York Times didn’t call him to ask what he has been up to lately. No, he certainly pitched an editor and said “I think I have something interested to say about what has been going on in publishing and why I am choosing to try this book on my own.”
So, before you start lamenting his popularity (or what you might mistakenly perceive as his luck), start thinking instead about the steps you need to make to get that shot at writing the Essay piece for The New York Times Book Review. There might be quite a few of them, but unless you figure out what the first step is, you aren’t getting any closer to getting the gig.