by Adam Eisenstat
Authors today, whether self-published or blessed with a traditional book contract, must do at least some marketing on their own (or hire someone to do it for them). If they want a book to achieve even moderate success, they should be prepared to dip a few toes or more in the muck of commerce, beyond the pristine realm of conferences and readings.
Nonfiction writers have traditionally been more comfortable with marketing, so for them the trend toward heightened self-promotion may just represent more of the same. Fiction writers, though, especially those inhabiting the rarified kingdom of literary fiction, are another breed—one inclined to view marketing as vulgar and mercenary. To many in this tribe, self-promotion is a contaminant that poses a threat to their art, even literature itself. (See anything Jonathan Franzen has ever said on the topic for an example of this attitude.) While in principle this may be true, in practice it is potentially fatal—to the lives of their books.
This poses a dilemma: if self-promotion is a sellout/distraction, yet rejecting it precludes a wider readership or a readership period (and a writer without readers is barely alive), what is the true artist to do?
Parallel Content Delivery/Ongoing Marketing Vehicles
One approach is to fashion a strategy that conflates art and commerce, by creating content/marketing vehicles that both supplement and promote the book. This strategy is expanded literature (EL). EL can incorporate the full range of social media, including Twitter, a blog, photography (via Flickr, Facebook, etc.), YouTube—anything.
EL annotates and expands the book; and functions, in part, as a repository for the wealth of texture/background—including history, reportage, topical parallels, etc.—that cannot all fit between the covers. EL helps to make the book come alive. Also, EL gives it constant visibility, thus making the book (and its wider subject) perpetually fresh.
With an EL strategy that is smart and well-maintained (this is key), the full potential of these platforms—especially the “social” dimension—will be realized through the convergence of content, promotion, and audience interaction.
Expanded literature (EL): content/marketing vehicles that supplement & promote the book
A New Paradigm: The Convergence of Literature & Social Media (Plus Merchandising)
EL represents a new paradigm—the convergence of literature and social media. Though the book is the central element and stands on its own, the concept lends itself to a multifaceted presence. It allows/inspires ample opportunities for new platforms, new content sources, and additional streams of revenue.
Even merchandising can be incorporated, in a seamless, cost-free way, via one of the produce on-demand sites that make customizing a multitude of items (clothing, accessories, home and office products, etc.) surprisingly simple.
A three-headed entity . . . mutant spawn of literature & technology, art & commerce
It is a truism that authors today must “get their hands dirty” with marketing like never before. The economic factors and (techno)logic behind this reality are indisputable, and quite well documented. (See every single blog and Twitter feed emanating from the legions of publishing professionals.)
Expanded literature can make this truism real, in a way that allows authors to promote their work without sacrificing integrity or vitality (though Franzen might still disapprove), and maybe gain a lot more readers in the process.
Adam Eisenstat is a writer and communications strategist with an extensive background in journalism, creative writing, and marketing communications. His blog is Meta-Media.net (along with BigSkyBrooklyn.com.)
Images courtesy of Adam Eisenstat.