Book Marketing

“Not Being Talked About”

31742378An article in Book Riot summarizing the recent spate of books on Oscar Wilde ended with a footnote.

*Two more books related to Wilde came out in 2018, Oscar’s Ghost by Laura Lee and In Praise of Disobedience: The Soul of Man Under Socialism and Other Writings, an anthology edited by Neil Bartlett. I do not know enough about them to discuss them.

The article began with the old Wilde chestnut “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

It has got me thinking about what makes a book worth talking about and what makes one worth mentioning in a footnote. It can’t be the quality or contents. You have to read a book to dismiss it for that. Is it the status of the publisher or the author? Is it the promotion budget? It’s a nut I haven’t been able to crack.

Let me just take a moment to tell you why I thought the story in Oscar’s Ghost was fascinating enough to spend a number of years on. One of the great literary feuds in history took place in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s disgrace and early death. By following the events in the bitter conflict over his prison work De Profundis you see how a writer who had a confusing public image and professional reputation in his time was transformed into the mythic figure we know today.

Put another way, it charts how Wilde came to enjoy “a wonderful posthumous life, portrayed as a tragic hero who fell victim of Britain’s anti-homosexuality laws and sentiments.” (To quote the Book Riot article.)

Also, some of the things that happened in the course of the feud are hard to believe.

Anyway, that’s why I thought it was worth writing, and that’s all I can say on why it might be worth reading.


What Book Reviews Have in Common with Dating

In many cultures there is a tradition of incorporating a deliberate flaw into a work of art. This shows humility and a recognition that only God (or the gods, as the case may be) is perfect. In Japan they celebrate the concept of finding beauty in imperfection is called wabi-sabi.

To put in a flaw on purpose seems redundant to me. I am quite capable of creating work with flaws without making a special effort, thank you very much.

Still there is something comforting in the idea that art should be imperfect.

Putting your work out in the world has all of the anxiety and vulnerability of dating.

As I have often said, a book is a relationship. It is not completed by the writer but by the reader. So of course a writer is anxious for reviews: to know how the this thing she spent so much time and energy crafting has been received.

Some relationships are better than others. Some books and readers fall in love and others just don’t hit it off.

Putting yourself out there you open yourself up to rejection. Rejection hurts. It hurts in proportion to the amount of love you invested in it.

It would be flattering to hear “you’re perfect in every way.” That rarely happens, in love or literature–or at least in the context of dating, when it does, it doesn’t last. The best case scenario is when two people find each other screwed up in ways that they are willing to accept because they like each other so much otherwise. Relationships have a way of making you aware of your flaws and foibles.

Book reviews are like that too. The best of them say “This was a worthy book but…”

There are different kinds of criticism that show up in reviews. There’s stuff you simply disagree with. It’s a matter of taste and you wouldn’t change a thing. I find I am not bothered by this sort of review.

It’s the stuff where you read and think, “You know, I could probably have done that a bit better,” that tends to sting more.

The problem with a book review is that unlike a relationship, there is no way to work on it. Once you are getting reviews the work is done. It’s printed and set.

So there it is, with all your human imperfections on full display. The existential reality hits you that this thing that you love, that you made the best you could, fails to match its Platonic ideal. It will never be as good as it was in your head.

That’s the time it helps to think about those deliberate flaws in art. It’s not supposed to be perfect. Human beings made it. This wonderfully imperfect thing is beautiful.

How Big Are Pockets in England?

Last week I obtained a copy of the UK edition of the updated Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation. Besides the spelling of “tyres” I noted a few differences in the books. Most notably the prominence, or lack thereof, of the author’s name on the British book cover.


Whereas the Americans were fine with focusing on life’s little vexations because it is entertaining, the British (who prefer Aaarggghhh to Ughhhhh!!) seem to be marketing the book (curiously to its author) as self-help.


Also note the lack of an author bio on the back of the UK edition. (Did I do something to piss them off in England?)

The last little oddity is that the books are different dimensions. On the left (as you can tell by the prominence of the author’s name) is the U.S. edition, which is taller and thinner. The UK edition is shorter but wider. Does this point to some international variance in the size of pockets?


Bowker Hates Being Corrected

A few weeks ago I was pleased to see that the Toronto Public Library was stocking my “Oscar’s Ghost” and that all of the copies were checked out. I was surprised, however, when I clicked on the author biography to hear my life summed up this way:

Laura Lee has written several books, including Bad Predictions and The Name’s Familiar.

She lives in upstate New York where the bugs constantly annoy her.

(Publisher Provided) Laura Lee is the author of the bestselling Karli Lane series as well as the upcoming Dealing With Love series. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America focusing on paranormal, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance.

Laura lives in the Pacific Northwest with her wonderful husband, two beautiful children, and three of the most poorly behaved cats in existence.

Laura’s titles include, Beautifully Broken, Deal Breakers, and Pixie Dust.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Now, if you don’t know me personally and have not followed my career, you might not immediately notice that some of these titles are mine, and some are not, and you might not be confused by the reference to a husband and children (and cats) I don’t have. You might at least find it a bit confusing that I am supposed to be living in both Upstate New York and The Pacific Northwest. (I live in the Detroit area.)

This seems to be a combination of my biography from 15 years ago at the beginning of my career with this person.  It is an easy enough mistake, but one that warranted correction. I wrote to the Toronto Public Library and they responded right away and explained that they got their author blurbs from a service, but they would contact them and let them know about the error.

Today the librarian wrote back to me to say that the blurb had been updated. “It’s not quite what I thought they would do, but it does include the information you gave us.”

So I looked up the new biography. This is what I found:

Laura Lee is based in the metro Detroit area. She is the author of 20 books (The Name’s Familiar and Bad Predictions being the least impressive). Her biggest sellers to date have been Blame it on the Rain (Harper Collins) and The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (Black Dog and Leventhal). In addition to my humorous reference titles, I’ve written two novels and a children’s book (A Child’s Introduction to Ballet). I am a regular contributor to the journal The Wildean.

(Bowker Author Biography)

I guess I annoyed them.

For the record, here are the titles I have written:
The Name’s Familiar
The Name’s Familiar II
Invited to Sound (poetry)
Bad Predictions
Arlo, Alice and Anglicans
The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (2001)
Blame it on the Rain
100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them
The Elvis Impersonation Kit
Broke is Beautiful
A Child’s Introduction to Ballet
Schadenfreude, Baby!
Angel (fiction)
Identity Theft (fiction)
Don’t Screw It Up
Around the World in 80 Cliches
Savoir Faire
Avoiding Everyday Disasters
The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation (revised edition 2017)
Oscar’s Ghost

I was also a contributor to The Best American History Quiz Book.

Do What You Love, The Audience Will Follow


“Never play to the gallery,” says David Bowie in the clip above.

I discovered something interesting when I looked at the logs for my blog. (My blog logs.) Conventional wisdom is that writers need to blog in order to build “an author platform.” The way to build such a platform is to have a consistent, recognizable topic or area of expertise.

A funny thing happened. I started this blog when I branched out into fiction as a way to distinguish my fiction writing persona from my non-fiction writing persona. Initially I wrote largely on subjects that touched on the theme of my first novel.

Eventually, however, I lost interest in those constraints as I moved on to other projects. I started to post on whatever topic caught my interest on a given day, whenever I felt as though I had something worth sharing.

A number of years ago I started reading a great deal about Oscar Wilde and his circle. This had nothing to do with any book I was writing at the time (although it has come full circle as I have sold a book on this topic and am working on it now).  From an “author platform” perspective, it made no sense to post about Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas and the like. It had nothing at all to do with my second novel, which is about personal identity, rock stars and online impersonation. If I was trying to create a Laura Lee brand the Wilde posts only muddled things.

Yet those posts are consistently popular. Now, I can’t say that this means that all of the people who googled “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” and landed on my page can be claimed as “my audience.” They came for Wilde, not Lee. I get that. But they do come, which is more than they were doing before. Maybe some read what else I’ve written and find some through-line that persuades them to stay. Now that I am actually writing a Wilde-related book it has come full circle, the “platform” was built without conscious thought or effort because I wrote about what was interesting to me.

Do what you love, the audience will follow. Or maybe they won’t. In any case, it is a more pleasant way to spend your life than doing what you don’t love.

Quote of the Day: “The Less People Read, The More Books They Buy.”

As the leading publisher in France, Jonas’s father was of the opinion that books, because of the very slump in culture, represented the future. “History shows,” he would say, “the less people read, the more books they buy.” Consequently, he but rarely read the manuscripts submitted to him and decided to publish them solely on the basis of the author’s personality or the subject’s topical interest (from this point of view, sex being the only subject always topical, the publisher had eventually gone in for specialization) and spent his time looking for novel formats and free publicity.”-Albert Camus, Exile and the Kingdom

Author Interview – Laura Lee

I was interviewed by author Ron Herron for his blog Painting with Light.

Painting With Light

Today I’m not posting about my own books, or talking about any of the ins-and-outs of indie publishing. I’m returning a favor by interviewing another Michigan author who was kind enough to tell her own blog followers about my writing adventures.

Today’s author, Laura Lee, not only plans to publish her next book as an indie, but already has quite a few traditionally published books to her credit.

Laura Lee, Author
Laura Lee, Traditional and Indie Author

Welcome to “Painting With Light,” Laura.
Thank you, Ron.

Laura, I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read any of your work. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m mostly known for non-fiction in the humorous reference category. My best seller was “The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation.” Last year I did a book with Reader’s Digest called “Don’t Screw It Up.”

Lately, I’m more focused on fiction and other projects. My first novel “Angel”

View original post 1,323 more words

A Call to Action for the Betwixt and the Between

I now have a name for my marketing problem as an author. It is the “betwixt and between” problem.

I recently received this rejection of a biography I’ve been trying to sell: ” It is well researched, and it does have the elements… But while I think the premise has merit, I am concerned the book falls betwixt and between…in its positioning.”

Betwixt and between.

Betwixt and between is where most of my books fall.

My novels tend to land squarely betwixt. Identity Theft is more literary than a romantic comedy, more narrative and accessible than experimental fiction, more humorous than a thriller and more philosophical than a comedy.

I once tried to explain my thoughts about the book’s more philosophical themes to a potential agent. He had read the first three chapters and deemed it a romantic comedy. He liked what he had read, and thought he could make the book a hit. He had strong ideas about how it should be structured and when I explained my thinking– why I wanted to go a bit betwixt and a bit between– he literally laughed out loud. “Do you think you’re (name of some artsy literary writer)?”

I said, “No.”

What I should have said is, “No, I think I’m Laura Lee.”

My first novel Angel was about a Christian minister whose worldview is challenged when he falls in love with another man. In the words of one publishing pro it was “too gay for the Christians and too Christian for the gays.”

There is a niche for the experimental and edgy. There are books that get labeled high art. Mine do not follow their conventions. They are too “accessible.” (I personally think this is a good thing.) Yet they are also more philosophical and literary than mainstream popular fiction is often expected to be.

Is “betwixt and between” really a problem– or can it be my strength? Can “betwixt and between” be my calling card, my brand?

Independent publishing and crowd funding have given the power back to you, the readers. You have the power.

It is not up to the gatekeepers any more to tell us which stories are worth hearing and which fall betwixt and between their marketing niches.

Something is happening.

We can decide for ourselves, beyond the marketing machine, what stories we value, what we want to write, read and share.

But self-publishing is not easy. There are many pitfalls along the way. Sometimes it feels like pulling a boulder up hill with a rope.

Let me tell you about two of the stumbles I have encountered using the literary crowdfunging site Pubslush. I chose Pubslush because the site said it had a niche audience of enthusiastic readers looking for new literary projects to support. In fact, I have seen no evidence of this. Although my Identity Theft campaign took off with more enthusiasm than I imagined, all of it came from people in my own social circle. Unlike Kickstarter where there really is an audience of enthusiastic people looking for projects to back, Pubslush is a bring your own crowd platform.

The second problem is that Pubslush gives authors an opportunity to chose a goal– the amount they feel they need to do the project well– and also a lower minimum goal. The idea with the minimum goal is that you don’t run into that problem with Kickstarter where you’re $50 short and lose all of the backing. With Pubslush you can say “if I get less than X it is not worth doing the project” and set that as a minimum goal. So if you reach that, you get that funding. I set a minimum that was half of what I hoped to get.

Once the minimum was hit Pubslush sent out e-mails to all the backers saying my project was successful. I had been building a regular stream of support,but the moment that happened it nearly ground to a halt. Yes, I have passed the threshold where it is worth doing– but the project is only 61% of the way towards its goal. It still has a ways go to. Don’t stop now, please!

We are creating a new world in publishing. New worlds are not created easily. But remember that you, gentle readers, have the power. You decide who will write your stories, who will succeed, who will fail.

There are only three days to go to fund Identity Theft. Only three.

Please strike a blow for all of those who fall somewhere betwixt and between.

Follow this link. Go to Pubslush and support this project.

For the cost of a book you can be part of a book’s creation.

You have the power to make it happen. Become part of the Identity Theft team.

Ego and Economics: Bad Reviews, Stalking Authors and the sense of Existential Threat

I’ve been following much of the discussion surrounding the controversial Guardian article by author Kathleen Hale. Hale became obsessed with a reviewer who had given her book a negative review and she tracked her down, drove to her house, tried to confront her and wrote about her stalking in The Guardian.

There is a good chance if you’re involved in the world of books at all, as a reader, reviewer or writer, you are already familiar with the details of this disturbing story. If you’re not, a few articles I would recommend are On the Importance of Pseudonymous Activity; The Choices of Kathleen Hale; Author Studies, Kathleen Hale, Native Authors; The Choices of Kathleen Hale.

Initially, I must admit, I wanted to write something about this case because it shares so many elements with the novel I am crowdfunding– Identity Theft and I thought there might be a marketing connection. (Identity Theft is about a worker in a rock star’s office who decides to catfish a fan which eventually leads to her being confused for a celebrity stalker.)

But today when I was reading a response story in The Guardian (Inside the World of Amazon Vie Book Reviewers by Suzanne McGee) a quote jumped out at me:

“There is no industry that combines ego and economics like book publishing, however. It is now customary for authors to regard any negative review as a vast threat to their livelihoods and future book sales.”

While it is wrong to take the actions and attitudes of a couple of badly behaving authors as representative of the whole lot of us, there is a lot of truth to this statement. Increasingly, we authors are made to feel as though our careers, indeed our very ability to survive, pay our bills, feed our families, depends upon our online reputations.

Just the other day I clipped an article on marketing for the writer that repeated the conventional wisdom. I wanted to find it again for his article, but I don’t know what I did with it. No matter, you can look at just about any blogging author’s twitter feed to find multiple examples.  The key to having a career as a writer is to form relationships with readers, to build a social community. You need to connect to readers and get them invested in you as a person. Some time ago I wrote about the changing expectations of a writer’s role in the process in an article about Amazon’s @author program for Kindle. The article I was commenting on called the new relationship between author and reader the “digital commodification of authorship that takes place by way of community and conversation.”

In any case, the Nieman article proposes that this assumption, that the author will continue to be available to the reader after completing the book, changes expectations about what a “book” is about. A book becomes a dialogue, never entirely finished and closed. It seems likely that the ways we conceive of “books” and literature will evolve because of this technology. This is an interesting development and we’ll see where it goes.

This notion, that the author will continue to be available to the reader after the book is published, was not the norm in traditional publishing.  The idea that you have to be available, sociable, likeable and connected personally to the audience is a challenging one for a field famously made up of introverts and near hermits. What we socially awkward literary types are being asked to sell is not our work but our personalities. Just when you think you’ve found the career that perfectly suits your solitary nature you’re told that the only way to have a career is to build up your social following, have more “friends” and “likes” and “followers.”

And make no mistake, this social pose is a matter of survival.

“In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors,” says The Tenured vs. Debut Author Report.

Those traditional publishing gigs, complete with professional PR people are fewer and father between. The delays between books make it impossible for a writer to keep career momentum and income flowing. The best way to actually have a living wage as a writer these days is to publish yourself, build a brand, get out there and be social.  Those reputations are built one Goodreads review at a time.  To a less stable individual, a single unflattering comment can become a threat to her very identity and ability to survive.

Debbie Reese wrote an excellent article on why authors and their works cannot be entirely separated.  It is true that your enjoyment of a book does not depend upon your love of the author as a person. Some of the artists we most admire had some of the most problematic personalities. But the identity of the author continues to be part of our legitimate literary discussion:

Teachers assign author studies. There are guides on how to do them. Publishers like Scholastic offer guides, too. In them, students are asked to do research on the author’s life, and that author’s body of work. They are asked to make connections between the author’s life and work. They are also asked to make personal connections between their own life experiences and those of the author and/or characters in the author’s books.

As long as that remains true authors will continue to worry about their online reputations (as we all do) and to feel a bit threatened when they discover something negative is being said about them or their work. The book becomes part of your public identity.

The fact is, no one controls her image or how she comes across to others. No one can guarantee that everyone will love her and think wonderful things about her. We’d all love to be able to ensure that, but we can’t. We all have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone likes us. Writers just have the fortune and misfortune of having this process (when it comes to their work) be more public. Thanks to reviews and sites like Goodreads, we get to hear what people say behind our backs in a way that people generally don’t in every day life. When you read a review you don’t like, it is probably best to treat it as a bit of overheard conversation. The reviewer was not talking to you, but to other readers.  The best thing to do for your own sanity as well as the general peace is to pretend you never heard it. If it’s unfair let other reviewers plead your case. If there is merit to it, file it away for next time you write.

Absolutely do not go on a clue hunting expedition to expose the blogger’s identity and under no circumstances should you leave dog poop in anyone’s mailbox.