Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Author as a Performer

Yesterday I did a post about the Author as Performer over on the ROR blog. It’s tough when you have to not only have to write a book that requires research, dedication and a year of your life, but then you have to promote it. This is especially hard as most authors are introverts. Why do you think they like sitting alone with their computer communing with the characters in their heads?

There’s another thing I’ve noticed. The average Australian is very uncomfortable about jumping up and down and saying Look at Me! In our country we have thing called Tall Poppy Syndrome, which is the tendency to cut off at the base, any one of our fellow Australians if they get too big for their boots.

Here’s a quote from Deep Pencil’s blog that sums it up neatly.

When Australian exports make it big overseas in the fields academia or entertainment, they often find it difficult to return home due to the huge amount of criticism levelled at them. Our ex-pats like Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Paul Hogan, Mel Gibson, Clive James, and Kylie Minogue, seem to move away and never look back - nice place to visit, but hard place to live if you are doing well.

Australians like to deflate the pretensions of those they perceive to be "flaunting" their success. We like to pull down those who attempt to distinguish themselves by ridiculing them. It's the Australian way, and if you don’t like it get out! Then we wonder why there’s a "brain drain" and a "cultural cringe".’

(Yes I know they are tulips and not poppies. I couldn't find a picture of poppies that was copyright free).

So asking an Australian author to promote their work or to ‘brand themselves’ is really asking them to go against the norm of our society. With so many sources of entertainment clamouring for readers’ attention writers have to wonder if anyone will read their books. Publishers expect us to promote our books. It is just part of the equation now days.

Maureen Johnson talks about author branding here. She says:

‘I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.’

Which is a valid point. After all, we might take a small step sideways into a cross-genre or decide to try our hands at writing in another genre entirely. Sometimes the story dictates the genre. It wants to be told a certain way and it won't let us go until we tell it.

Tansy Rayner Roberts has written a post here on the topic of author branding. According to Tansy:

‘promoting a business becomes a whole lot stickier when your business is in fact yourself. You do have a responsibility to yourself, your family, your publishers, and so on, to promote your work effectively.’

She goes on to talk about where you draw the line. How do you keep your family private?

And here Colleen Mondor talks about branding and how publishers are encouraging authors to promote themselves. She says:

‘…the world would do well to remember just how long Neil Gaiman was writing when he started his blog. He already had the fans before he went online; the blog (and twitter) were just icing on the cake for him and his readers and trying to duplicate that miracle without putting decades into writing is beyond silly.’

So what does a writer do, when their book is coming out and they hate to think of the poor little thing sitting all alone and unloved on a bookshop shelf somewhere?

I decided rather than have a physical book launch, I’d just offer copies of the book to lots of book blog reviewers. This could of course backfire, as they may not like the book. But I think reviews and how to survive them should be a post for another day.

So back to the author as performer. When my first trilogy sold I was terrified of talking in public. I asked someone what I should talk about. And they said - do your research if you are asked onto a panel, but the important thing is to be sincere, speak from the heart. So that is what I have tried to do.

When you see authors at festivals and conventions, what do you remember afterwards? Is it the ‘brand’ or is it sincerity?


Brendan said...

As a fellow Australian I am highly suspect of being sold to. Someone standing up in front of me telling me why I will like their book is going to get a very frosty welcome.

The book launches/author events that have been most successful were ones where the latest book hardly rated a mention. The author spoke about themselves, what drove them and what they were passionate about so the audience connected with a person not a product(One was so unprepared for the after launch signing I had to provide the pen. Lucky I always have my selection of Uniball medium point pens with me(She went with the Burgundy)).

The chances are if I can connect with you as a person I am going to enjoy reading your work, and even if it doesn't end up as something I would keep on my shelf, I won't have felt it a loss since I will have helped someone I appreciate/admire/respect by putting my money down at least once.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I know what you mean, Brendan.

If I feel the author is simpatico, I'll read their book.

C Kelsey said...

It really sounds like the publishing industry world wide is heavily influenced by American culture. We expect to be sold to. We expect people to do well. And then we (sometimes way too much) admire those who have done well.

We also tend to be far more forward here, and authors tend to have to adapt to that.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey,

I met US spec fic writer, David B Coe, when he was out here working for a year. He attended our national SF Con. He was lovely and not at all pushy (just thought I'd make that clear).

I asked him if it felt like he was coming from another culture, living in Australia after the US. He said there were many things the same, but every now and then people would do something or he'd see something and he'd be reminded that he was not in Kansas any more.

The Australian psyche (for want of a better word) is different from the US.

Kate said...

David Coe is absolutely correct - although they're similar on the surface, the US and Australia are two very different cultures, and the Oz mindset is quite different.

The tall poppy syndrome isn't entirely to blame, though. Achievement isn't knocked down: crowing about it is. "Knocking" - insulting and criticizing in order to bring someone/something 'down to size' is what happens when there's a perception that someone is full of himself. I'd guarantee it's a convict-era leftover: anyone who tried to bring attention to himself was either trying to curry favor with the guards (and had to be stopped because he was a traitor) or he was a fool and could endanger all of them.

An Aussie author who big-notes himself is sure to get a hostile audience: you don't talk about how great your book is, you talk about how much fun you had writing it - and you assume that any favors from someone with power over you had better be repaid, fast, because you can't trust anyone in power.

USians are much more willing to sing their own praises: I wouldn't call it good or bad. It's how the culture evolved.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, the best readings, seminars, etc., that I've been to are the ones where the author simply relaxes and talks. She talks about her book like Kate said -- how much fun she had writing it. She is self-deprecating and she is genuine. Most of all, if the author is having fun, so will the audience.

The quickest way to turn me off if I've come to hear an author is for the author to talk about how good he is, how many prizes he's won and how he has the one way all writers should work. The only time I want to know about how well-respected an author is in a field is if that author is talking about a non-fic book where expertise is needed.

Synova said...

I'm sure that Australia is different from the US, but then so is the US.

If you know what I mean.

I get culture shock every time I move. ;-)

Kate said...


Ooh, yeah! Moving from Texas to Pennsylvania was like moving internationally.

C Kelsey said...

Heh, *I* moved from San Diego to just north of Boston Mass... Wanna talk about culture shock? Whew!!!! I'm STILL dealing with it.

Synova said...

I think about "branding" like I think about my story-filing system. I either have to decide before I start how I'm going to go on, or I'm going to put together rather elaborate setups, decide they suck, and then do something completely different which means that notes and story ideas and bits and pieces are going to be hopelessly lost.

Building a brand with anything other than your name seems like a lot of effort put into something that will most certainly change... and some authors use a lot of different names, too.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


You're right about the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Must be interesting to live in the US. Is there a point where it feels like home and coming back to Australia feels alien?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I like an insight into the author. I'd rather they were on a panel where we could ask questions and chat, then line up for a signature on books.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I should have thought of that.

Even in Australia which only has a population of 20 million, the different ends of the country have old rivalries that die hard.

Kate said...


Let me get back to you on that after Aussiecon - assuming I can get past the bureaucratic ballsup and get on the flights.

I haven't been back in eight years.

Dave Freer said...

Heh. Having just had to stand up in front of people and talk about myself, I'm probably keener to volunteer for an enema (and no, this idea does NOT fill me with glee! But the two things have a similar effect on my underwear). I find Aussie's self-deprciation way of doing things easier, I think. More like the old country. Probably the worst though is when you really are a tall poppy, and short of actually telling people bluntly (and for the conversation to make any sense you need to tell them) they won't know. For example I've been on a panel in Oz where they had barely heard of me, with a couple of self-published / very small press people - nice enough folk, but entirely ignorant about the subject they were pontificating about. A dispassionate observer from the audience would have assumed they were knowledgable... it's very awkward, because I really didn't want to shout the odds about my real experience, or their lack of same. So the Australian way works well... IF everyone knows who you are.

Synova said...

Maybe it's a small town thing, where everyone really does know who you are and what you have done.