I’m a beggar.
No, I’m not homeless. I have a job that allows me to pay my bills and live my life mostly the way I want to live it.
But I do a fair amount of begging because, well, as of April, I’m a published novelist.
Please don’t read that as a complaint but more a fascination with the way publishing – and society at large – has changed.
It used to be that novelists were among the nobility. They wrote the words, and a publishing house did the rest. That house not only published the book but also hired people to do the publicity, set up the tours, and market the book. In other words, the publisher took care of the grubby work.
That freed the novelist to show up at signings and readings, answer questions, and move on. Tours of this nature could be grueling but not out-of-pocket. I attended a lot of readings by famous and not–so-famous authors and even the not-so-famous writers admitted that they had varying degrees of help in booking and executing these tours.
While some of that old structure still exists in the larger publishing houses, I notice that friends and acquaintances who publish through those houses are doing a lot more marketing these days than they used to. And if you publish through an indie publisher, then you become your own marketing-PR-cheerleading team (unless you have a loving partner or someone who owes you a lot of money).
Now, I’m the first to admit that novelists had it easy for a long, long time. Poets hardly got the same treatment, even when poetry was king. Musicians played a lot of honky-tonk places or busked in the streets and had to schlep their own instruments to boot. I’m sure avant-garde performance art had a bit of marketing behind it: No one wants to see your paintings? Show a canvas on the street while lighting your pants on fire.
Today, however, this sort of begging has been re-branded brilliantly so that it’s not only socially acceptable but expected. We call it crowdsourcing.
Many artists are turning to this nouveau way to underwrite their ventures, but they aren’t alone. Pretty much any endeavor which has seen its funding dry up (and that’s pretty much any job under the level of corporate officer or professional athlete) now asks others in the community — real and virtual — to help fill in the funding gap.
Just two or three generations ago, this idea would have been unthinkable, even if the technology had existed to support it.
There is a legendary story in my family about my grandfather who was so adamant about not accepting “charity” that he wouldn’t sign up to receive his social security. My mother tried to explain to him that it was his money, that he had paid into the system for 20 years and that he was just getting it back. He refused.
So, one day while she was having him sign other paperwork concerning his retirement, she slipped the form in and told him it was an insurance form (not technically a lie, as the program’s real name is Social Security Insurance). My grandfather signed it.
When the checks began to arrive, he refused to cash them and he refused to talk to my mother. Eventually, he got over it, as have we all.
What would he make of me, I wonder? I’m the grandson who has spent much of his free time since April hounding family and colleagues, life-long friends and new virtual friends to buy his book. I’m about to beg some more, asking these same kind and open-handed people to review the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or any other site, virtual or real.
A part of me likes this new, wild-west world where I get to publish (and beg) with a lot more input than writers of a bygone era got, but I also have some of my grandfather in me, some small voice that says “you know, Kenyon, there’s something unseemly and unmanly about asking people to spend their time and money for your benefit.”
That voice isn’t loud enough to stop me from doing it, but the voice is prompting me to write this next sentence: To my family and friends, those near and far-flung, I apologize if I’ve said or done anything to make you buy a book you really didn’t want to buy or to spend time reading a book you really didn’t want to read. I am very, very sorry. And even more thankful and appreciative.
But since what’s done is done, if you could see your way clear to write a review of that book, I’d be immensely grateful.