Hyper-motivated, sales-obsessed, brand-conscious novelists are nothing new

Shrewdly self-promoting authors may seem like a new phenomenon, but only because we now have instant access to the details of many of our favorite authors’ lives and work habits, even their thoughts.

In past centuries, famous authors’ working and private lives wouldn’t have been exposed, dissected, and discussed in such excruciatingly minute, factual detail until and unless their biographies or letters were published, perhaps posthumously. Today, we can read online not only the daily diaries of bestselling celebrity novelists but the blow-by-blow accounts of many, if not most, aspiring authors—an exponentially larger group. It’s not exactly like watching a biopic. It’s more like observing the making of a documentary about the making of a reality television series. Hmmm…

These days, it’s easy for new writers to get a fairly accurate perspective of the challenging business of earning a living as a book author.

Back in 2007, when transparency was still just a buzzword, Eric Konigsberg profiled crime novelist Harlan Coben for the Atlantic, describing him as someone who “approaches being a novelist the way a businessman or a lawyer—or for that matter an athlete—approaches his craft: as a series of finite and solvable problems.” Konigsberg noticed:

The roots of Coben’s work ethic seem to lie not in perfectionism, or in a relationship with an inner muse, but in his determination to rise to the top of the heap. “When I was just starting out, I hated signing in local malls, because no one was there,” he says. “It made me write so hard. I didn’t want to be there anymore. The same thing at Bouchercon”—a convention for crime novelists, their publishers, and their fans. “All the writers there were so bitter. I didn’t like being in that boat. I would just go home and write”—he curled his fists and appeared to press down, almost as though he had an imaginary jackhammer in front of him—“so much harder and harder.”

Writing for pay can turn a creative hobby or therapeutic outlet into an endeavor that bears no resemblance to a cherished daydream involving nothing more than a quiet woodland cabin furnished with desk, reading lamp, sheaves of paper, and a quill pen (or a Remington, depending on your genre). Old fantasies die painfully, but think about it. What profession doesn’t seem ridiculously alluring and glamorous when fictionalized? We can thank all those successful novelists and screenwriters for our misconceptions about real jobs that entail demanding, often dreadfully tedious work.

Konigsburg’s article is candid, revealing, and worth reading. If you’re unfamiliar with Coben, this video offers a glimpse. He’s represented, if you’re even more curious, by Lisa Erbach Vance of the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency.

2 thoughts on “Hyper-motivated, sales-obsessed, brand-conscious novelists are nothing new

  1. Robin Mizell Post author

    Now, just as they were back in 2007 and before, Polly, which means there’s no point at which to rest on your laurels. As Shaw famously said, “Satisfaction is death.”

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