“Being a Reclusive Author in Today’s Publishing Industry”

Recently, I received the following comment from a writer:

I have two questions regarding publishing and platform. I’m hoping you can answer. Is it possible to be a highly successful published author, even best-selling author if the author wishes to remain reclusive, not wishing to do interviews or book tours, and writing under a pseudonym, hoping to keep themselves unknown and private? Is it possible to only have a blog as a platform, answering questions and updating readers through this route, rather than public engagements? Thank you for your time. I sincerely appreciate it. C. S.

Wow, C.S., you’re definitely asking what’s on everybody’s minds these days!

The most succinct answer anyone could give is: in this world, anything’s possible.

However, in today’s publishing industry, publication depends more and more upon whom you know, not what you write. So those of us who are not best friends with the buyer for Barnes & Noble or the CEO of Bertelsmann or some agent married to the Executive Director of a major fiction publisher—even with the best-written books in the world—have a very steep hill to climb.

This is why everyone in the industry tells us to sell ourselves as incessantly and enthusiastically as humanly possible. Because it’s just so incredibly easy to fall off the radar of the Powers That Be.

And they sure don’t miss us when we’re gone.

So, given that anyone can write under a pseudonym, and that’s perfectly fine. . .

  • If you’re Stephen King—so that you have a name that will sell books even if you write them backward with your left foot in the dark, which name you made decades ago when the publishing industry was a very different place—then, yes, you can be a recluse and simply hide away in your multiple mansions living your own personal life.

    You will notice, if you experiment (and King did), that writing under a pseudonym instantly demotes you to the realm of the Little People Like Us.

    So you probably won’t write a lot under pseudonyms. . .unless perhaps Stephen King is your pseudonym.

  • Or if you’re Annie Dillard or Anne Lamott—so that, again, you have a recognizable nonfiction name, which again was made decades ago when the publishing industry was a very different place, and you teach writing for a living, even though your name is not particularly recognizable in the fiction field—then, again, yes, you can refuse to sell yourself and simply concentrate upon teaching. And your nonfiction will sell, even though your fiction may fall a little flat.
  • Or if you’re any one of the scores of midlist authors who publish for sheer joy—while you work a regular job for your living—then, yes, you can probably be picky about your appearances and book tours, so long as you don’t expect to continue publishing if your lack of exposure eventually results in your sales falling so far that you get bumped right off the Publication Train.

    After all, you were never relying on publication to keep you alive anyway.

  • Or if you’re me, and you don’t care whether or not you publish your fiction—you just happen to have decades of professional writing experience under your belt, an overwhelming lifelong passion for the art and craft, and enough things to say about it that maybe aren’t being said by others out there (and there are a heck of a lot of others these days, boy, howdy, not all of them hesitant to re-hash your original ideas as their own), as well as a living partner with a really good income—then, yes, it’s true, you can stay home in your rocking chair by the fire all day every day, paying your mortgage through your partner’s income.

However—

  • If you’re hoping to break into the midlist, and
  • your name is not already known to tens of thousands of potential readers, and
  • your online persona is not already a unique, major presence in the online fiction community (I’m afraid I wouldn’t try to sell my fiction through my blog, and I get around 12,000 between 12,000 and 22,000 views every month), and
  • you’re one of those talented, committed, experienced, and simply fortunate enough to have both an agent and a publishing contract, and your publisher offers to pay for a book tour. . .

then you should probably count your lucky stars and get yourself out there on the road making your name known to tens of thousands of potential readers.

It would also not be a bad idea to encourage them to remember that name by reading your blog and Twitter and Facebook and Google+, putting you onto StumbleUpon and Reddit and Digg, etc, etc, etc.

Also, you’ll need to have things to say about this work that aren’t already being said by others on their blogs. If it’s not both fascinating and unique, and you’re not a full-bore death-ray-focused take-no-prisoners self-marketer, you’ll be instantly washed away in the raging torrent that is the online fiction community.

There really are that many aspiring writers out there. All those tens of thousands you see online and in the forums and on Amazon, working and struggling desperately with all their hearts to break into the industry?

They’re your competition.

For example:

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, spent six years building her audience, working like a fiend night and day and sometimes even days on end without sleep until she made herself physically ill and wound up in the hospital, running ad-hoc charities through her blog and finding ways to make friends with celebrities, until she had a horde of literally hundreds of thousands willing to follow her anywhere, including off a cliff.

And even Jenny has spent most of the past year on book tour, taking her face and name constantly all around the country while her husband stays home with their daughter, in order to get her book on the best-seller list and keep it there.

Now—is this situation fair to writers?

Of course not.

Is this a reasonable way to run an industry: by forcing those whose greatest talents lie in the creative arts to run for miles in the tight shoes of marketers and salespeople?

Of course not.

But is this simply what we have to deal with at this particular time in the history of publishing?

Yes.

Sadly, I’m afraid it is.

 

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Victoria Mixon

About Victoria Mixon

A. Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and freelance independent editor who has worked in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for over thirty years. She can be reached through email, Twitter and Victoria’s Advice Column. Mixon has been quoted for her expertise in fiction in the Huffington Post. She has taught for Writer’s Digest and been invited to teach at the San Francisco Writers Conference 2016.