Authors as publicity bods…

It’s sort of the way it’s done now, isn’t it? 

You, an author, publish your book and the very next thing is your out doing signings or talks about writing.  Doesn’t much matter what your book’s about–the appearances are de rigeur. 

So you dress yourself in what you imagine the public would like to believe authors dress like–a bit on the slovenly or scruffy side of vaguely arty (yes, the boots and breeches stay home)–and turn up to do your bit.

All well and good.

And I should say, one meets some genuinely superb people this way.  Fascinately, engaging, intellectually active people.  Which is a delight.

But…

(You knew there was a but coming…)

There’s always one.  One who’s watched every documentary–no matter how naff–on your subject, and they know best and will not be gainsaid. 

And they are there for the distinct purpose, not of listening to you.  No, not that.  They are there for the distinct purpose of demonstrating to anyone who is forced to listen by virtue of courtesy just how much they know. 

And they will argue with anything.  Absolutely ANYTHING. 

You say it, they will argue with it.

It can be something as boringly incontrovertable as “the upper ranks of the French navy were not as badly decimated by the Terror as the ranks of the French army”.  Fine.  Terrific. 

But this individual will see this not very provocative statement as a neon red rag to a particularly malevolent bull.

And charge in.

Now, let me just say, I loathe confrontation.  Detest and despise it.  (Which may be a clue to my affinity with horses–the ultimate ‘fleeing’ animal.)

I would do just about anything to avoid a confrontation, an argument, a let’s see who’s best and who knows more, a competition.   And I don’t care what the subject is.  I don’t care if the individual is spouting absolute drivel about things upon which I’m a bit of an expert. 

I will head off in the opposite direction the second they open their gobs.  Because these sorts of people have to be right.  They have to be.  Doesn’t matter how much you know, how much research you’ve done, how many degrees you hold, they know best.

Wonderful.  I’m delighted for them.

But to me, it’s just not worth it.  Which is now starting to present a problem, do you see? 

Because now, as a published and publishing author, I have to turn up and either sign books.  Or, heaven help me, burble something meaningful about the early nineteenth century or research or that kind of thing.  And as I say, in the main, it’s good and I meet tremendous people. 

And having been annoyed myself when people have muscled in on speakers I have very much wished to listen to, I reckon I need to think of a way to terminate these incipient disputes with the greatest of diplomacy and tact and without alienating the individual who’s determined to demonstrate their knowledge and acumen to the wondering world.  

So, from this angle, it looks to me as if I should concentrate a bit more on the riding and less on the authorship…What d’you think?  

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30 comments on “Authors as publicity bods…

  1. I enjoyed this. My genre is physician bluegrass fiction, so most people don’t feel qualified to speak as an expert in my field. However there is one in every crowd who has never diagnosed a heart attack and can’t play the mandolin who thinks they are there to teach evryone else.

    Like you, when I listen to a speaker who is an expert outside of my area I am there to learn. If I go a lecture on quantum physics and don’t hear what they have to say when I leave I only know what I knew when I got there, which is not much.

    Dr. B

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I especially listen if the speaker is an expert in my area. How else will I learn more?

      But when they come, specifically it seems, to argue with me, I wonder, what are you doing here? Or perhaps more to the point, what am I doing here?

      You may be interested to know–I doublecheck all my woundings, bruisings, fight scenes and deaths with a tame neurosurgeon. And when he speaks, I not only listen, I take notes.

  2. LG says:

    Sounds perfectly horrid. It is a pity that it’s seemingly not possible to be intriguingly reclusive any more. I’d be tempted employ a marksman… or an actor. Don’t let a sprinkling of prats drive you out of it, though. The rest of us have receptive ears.

  3. Lord Dunno says:

    I wish most of those people had been decimated by the terror too.

  4. cavalrytales says:

    You do wish them ill…honestly. Same as me. You wish some Spanish guerilla would suddenly materialise and emasculate them slowly whilst they’re nailed upside-down to a barn door with their hair on fire.
    Because they’re t*ssers and not worth a millisecond of your time.
    Forget ’em. Smile sweetly, grit your teeth and say ‘You’re obviously well read…now f*** off and leave me alone.’
    Well – you can’t really say the last part unless you’re six-foot ten and built like a brick outhouse. Or your minder is. Regrettably, I’m not, and my ‘minder’ much prefers tummy-tickling to barking and biting.
    So I just do the smiling sweetly bit…

    • M M Bennetts says:

      No, I just wish I had a clone, or a cardboard me, so that they could go on and on and on, and I could nip off down the pub or go for a cup of tea.

      Because the other bad thing about these events is how thirsty you get…and, just when you’ve made good your escape, got through the queue at Nero’s or wherever it is, sat down in your seat, just about to take that first sip…someone from the event appears at your elbow to say, “There are a couple of people who’ve just bought the book and would like you to sign, can you come now?” So you take a loving, last look at that cup of liquid, and go…It happened to me not once, not twice but THREE times in one afternoon.

  5. cavalrytales says:

    PS. Er…don’t quite know how to put this but…absolutely the ONLY reason I frequent this site is for the horsey pics.

    Any chance of a new one?

  6. Piotr says:

    It’s always good to read that I wasn’t the only one who experienced that, and I had been but a simple tutor dealing with first and second-year social work students at our local university here.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      There’s really nothing to say to that but, “Bless you, my child.”

      Mine was a corporate lawyer with a keen interest in history who clearly would have been happier to have been taking on N.A.M. Roger, David Starkey and Simon Schama…together.

      • Piotr says:

        I remember one time, at very beginning of the year with a first year class, one of the topics was on state sponsored social care provision, or something some such. One of my students, a rugby head (or jock as our American friends know them) raised his hand and told me that I was an idiot. Ok, true.

        I was halfway through writing my first draft for my masters thesis, and had been feeling a little idiotic, but no way was a first year student going to tell me I’m stupid.

        I remember the conversation as if it happened this morning.

        So, I asked. “So, why exactly am I being idiotic about? The fact that I got sucked into doing a Masters because the Head of Department thought it ‘a bright idea’?”

        He said. “This whole state services crap. It’s all selective anyway, and people fall through the cracks… and it’s not helping anyway. If you receive financial aide and earn too much, you get punished.”

        I thought about it, thinking that the rugby head was on to something here, and was going to get into an intellectual debate. So, I asked. “And how do you intend to solve that problem?”

        He looked at me, puffed up his chest and said proudly. “Private practice.”

        I had to actually think, and wondered if he read the set of readings that were set for this class. If he did, he would have read that social work private practice was picky, selective with what fields these private practitioners worked in, and there was very little funding for privately provided services (unless it was tied to specific state sponsored projects). In short, it would cost too much. His answer was unfortunately off centre.

        I gave him an option to reaffirm his answer with backing from something, thinking I must have missed something while going over the readings myself the night before. Anyway, he stood by his statement.

        So, I replied. “So tell me, will you be expecting your clients to pay?”

        “Nope,” he said

        I frowned. “Why not?”

        “That’s the Government’s job,” was his reply.

        “But you’re not working with the Government, but ordinary people–many of whom have no money to speak of,” I said. “If you would have done your readings instead of googling Wikipedia, you would have known that.”

        This occurred about 2 years ago. Last I heard from him, he ended up being accepted into Law School.

  7. Is it even possible to be a reclusive, pacifistic writer in this age of social media?

  8. Rebecca Crandell says:

    Yes, MM. This happens. It’s exactly why I’m not sure I really WANT to publish my books. I have been the recipient of these people, who seem to assume I haven’t done any research or checked any facts, and that they, only they, know things. I couldn’t possibly know anything in their minds, for some reason. I can’t tell you how offensive this is to me. If you figure out a way to shut them up, would you please share it with me so that I may take the plunge? I am extremely reclusive and I don’t know what to do about it. Reb PS thanks for writing it down.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Well, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs, I’ve had to work on the reclusive thing myself. And modern means of book promotion don’t leave much room for the ‘run away’ option.

      As for the whole hostile questioning thing, I do try to maintain a sense of humour about it, a sense of modesty too–because there is and will always be so much I don’t know. But equally, having been in the audience when it’s happened to others, I also feel I need to find some way to stop it dead, because it really annoys me when it happens to someone I’ve travelled a distance to hear or paid to hear speak and then their presentation is curtailed.

      • Rebecca Crandell says:

        I’ll have to search through your other posts to find your thoughts on the reclusive issue. It’s a problem. Humour and modesty: I guess that’s really the only way to handle such things, because anything else will simply embroil one in a drawn-out discussion and derail the purpose of the reading/talk. Courtesy, humour, modesty–it’s hard to fight with those qualities.

    • Piotr says:

      Rebecca, I think it’s more about not getting confrontational about such things. In my days as a university tutor I had my share of people who knew more than me, or thought it at least. Depending on the mood I was in, I merely asked them to show me where they got their facts from. Or, I simply smiled, nodded and told that that they were allowed their opinion.

      • Rebecca Crandell says:

        Yes, I can see this, with the polite addition of “Can we get back to what we were discussing now?” Ha ha. I like your website, Piotr.

  9. Rebecca Crandell says:

    I just remembered attending a talk by Orsen Scott Card once. Someone in the audience began almost heckling him about his subject matter, accusing him of writing things he shouldn’t be writing because he is mormon, and the things he was writing were subjects the church wouldn’t approve of. He hardly even blinked. Just said he wasn’t going to waste his time discussing such things and moved on. It was tense for a few minutes but the offended audience member finally left. I think there was applause. Ha.

  10. Piotr says:

    I do have a strategy to deal with such people. I’m sure you’ve heard the strategy of visualise the audience in their birthday suits, right? With people who decide to get into a high and mighty debate with you, I suggest you visualise them as circus clowns or dressed up as Barney the Dinosaur.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I’m afraid I start seeing their potential as characters in a book…and I start watching the way they form their words, listening closely to their syntax and idioms and my brain starts playing with phrases to describe them physically. So they’re truly imprinted on my mind…

      (I probably shouldn’t be allowed out…)

  11. Phillipa says:

    Well, M, being a fiction writer I don’t come across these debaters that often, apart from my own sibling, a garden tragic of epic proportions, who insists I have the flowering times of certain plants in my book incorrect.I stand corrected. I enjoy meeting people at book signings usually, I like to mingle with my readers, but there is one type that make my heart sink … the person who tells you about their unpublished manuscript – a personal memoir about their sex addiction – that’s been with the publisher for two whole weeks and what should they do about this tardiness. I do not know why some people think published authors can magically help the unpublished get there as well. I would if I could, but it just isn’t like that!

    • M M Bennetts says:

      You got a sex addict? Wow! That sounds like a minor character in a book–how can you resist? My worst unpublished author was a family history obsessive.

      But neither do I know how to stop that flow…

      And like you, the majority of people I meet are absolutely splendid.

  12. Piotr says:

    Thankee for liking my website, it’s a work in progress. Much like my life really, one long winded work in progress ^_^ Now, if only my own novel would be a cooperative work in progress and write itself, I’d be one happy chappy. But alas, I must go blow things up… errr… I meant that I must go write. Yes. Write. Right.

    But I need to look at what else you posted…

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Oooh, blowing things up: my favourite!

      • Piotr says:

        I’m sure you remember my writing attempt, which unfortunately went flat as a pancake. The idea had been a good one, but in the wrong genre unfortunately. Haven’t given up, and have opted to bring things down to Earth. Now, all I need to do is convincingly write the bad guys and not make them look like cupboard cutouts.

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