There’s a little voice in my head that keeps going ‘WHO CARES?’ once every second sentence. I put it in capitals because it doesn’t whisper it. It pulls its hair out and yells it good and proper. It does so every time I indulge in what I call ‘vanity-scribblings’: writing a blog, filling out an online profile, typing out a Facebook update, designing a book ad – just about anything that can be put under the heading of ‘marketing’ or ‘promotion’. (It never utters a word when I write fiction.)
A couple of weeks ago I went on my honeymoon to an excellent resort in Goa. I wanted to write on my Facebook wall about it, but just as I placed the cursor at the beginning of the text box, even before I’d begun, the voice began to go. I tried shutting it up by singing over it, and I doggedly went on for a sentence or two. Then came sentence three. Then sentence four. When I stopped to read what I’d written I saw that I was writing down the song I was singing. I gave up.
There’s no escaping it. I suck at promotion. And like I do for all my faults, I blame my parents. My father has always believed in word-of-mouth being the best marketing tool, and true to word he built his formidable practice as a doctor and his reputation without ever spending so much as a rupee for promotion. When I became a published writer he told me: “Son, take care of the writing. Your readers will see to the rest.”
All these years, when I was writing as a part-time hobby, I told myself that I simply did not have time to promote my work. The fact that I sucked at it was just a happy coincidence, no more. Once I go full-time, I said, I will do oh-so-many things to market myself. But when I finally did quit and took the plunge into full-time writing, I saw that I crammed my timetable with writing activities and tasks. Where was the ‘promotion time’, I asked myself. “Where is the promotion time,” my wife asked me.
I was just about to tell her that I didn’t have time for it, and she gave me ‘the look’ and I withered. I suspect this blog counts as promotion, but everyone else around my seems to be doing so much more: Twitter, Facebook, multiple pages for their books, multiple blog posts a day. It’s a wonder they get any writing done, I tell you.
One of the other things that I hate about promotion is that it’s hard to measure it. And for this obsession with measuring stuff I blame my engineering and math degree. (It’s never my fault, in case you haven’t yet caught on.) Someone smarter than me once said that they’re surely wasting 50% of their marketing budget, only that they didn’t know which 50%. For someone who makes timetables and agonizes over schedules, that is just unacceptable. For me, an hour spending writing fiction is always, always, better because at the end of the hour I have a concrete, mathematical number of words to show for it. I spend an hour on Facebook promoting my book (assuming I know how to do that); what have I got other than an hour which I spent not writing?
But it’s the age of the megaphone and the stool, you see. Everyone’s got one, and if you don’t use yours, no one will know that you exist. Hell, no one’s got time to stop and listen to the guys on the stool shouting away into their megaphones, so what chance have you got if you just sit by your desk and type away quietly? I suppose you could do that if you’re already famous and wealthy, but until then at least, wouldn’t you rather play the game?
I’ve decided that I should, whether I like it or not. I’ve decided to wear earplugs to drown out the ‘who cares’ voice. I’ve just today begun making an Author page for myself on Facebook. Next week I may even join Twitter. Though I have absolutely no idea what I would write on either of those things, I’m told that being on them is enough to be cool, to start with. I just hope I do not end up being one of those authors who spew inane vomit all over their Facebook pages every hour of the day. (I could give you some names here but I do want to be politically correct.)
Wish me luck. I will, of course, link this page to that when it’s all done, if that sort of thing is possible.