Monday, April 20, 2009

Promotional hat half-on, half-off

I'm sure I'm not the only writer to have a bit of a split personality when it comes to the business of promotion, which increasingly nowadays it is necessary for writers to do for themselves. Maybe it's because I published a couple of novels in the days when there was a clause in the contract requiring the author to leave all publicity to the publisher and not to interfere (a situation which could often work out really badly for the author, actually, if the publisher wasn't totally committed to your book above all others - and which indeed could make you think you'd rather do it yourself). Maybe it's because I had a fairly lengthy career as a radio playwright, a situation in which all you need to do is sit back and write the plays while a mighty national corporation, as par for the course, gets your work out to millions. Perhaps it's to do with the fact that I was brought up not to blow my own trumpet. In any case, promoting my own work sometimes makes me squirm and paradoxically fills me with doubt about the work itself: more than anything, how can I know that it's any good, if the attention it receives isn't purely for its merit, but because I've been cheerleading it on?

Of course, the truth is that without a promotional campaign, people don't get to find out about the work in the first place, leave alone judge it, and promotional campaigns cost money and time: with a smaller publisher especially it's absolutely necessary for the author to do much of the legwork.

So when I opened The Guardian this morning and saw an article about the call for a magpie cull by the Songbird Survival Trust, I immediately thought, 'Wow, that chimes with the title of my (forthcoming) novel (Too Many Magpies)!' and then, with a simultaneous lift and a slightly sinking heart: 'Oh, so maybe I should blog about it!'

Well, here I am blogging about it. The reason for the suggested cull is that magpies prey on the nests of smaller songbirds whose existence is threatened. The author, Chris Packham, who is strongly against the whole notion, puts it all down to a traditional prejudice against the magpie as a sinister bird, and claims that in areas where there are more magpies, there are typically more smaller species too, creating a balance. It's an interesting argument - and a counterintuitive one, I'd say: you should hear the screams of the blackbirds round here all day long as they try to head the magpies away from their nests - and the emptied-out eggshells on the paths! Maybe it's really unfair of me, but it's that traditional intuition I make use of in the novel: magpies pop up in the novel, lone and sinister or in strangely large gangs, too large to be encompassed by the traditional rhyme, 'One for sorrow etc'...

But of course the novel's not really about magpies, but about a woman's fears for her children in an unpredictably changing world, and the charismatic stranger who seems to have special powers...

(How does that sound, and can you believe it, since I've got my promotional hat on?)

4 comments:

BarbaraS said...

Sometimes it's called serendipity, and sometimes it seems weird. But there's more than a grain of truth in these things sometimes...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Mmm, actually feels weird, Barbara, but then the novel is all about weirdness...

Charles Lambert said...

It's tough, but someone's got to do it, Elizabeth! (Promotion, I mean.)

I'm looking forward very much to the novel. Do you remember the kids' show Magpie in the 60s? The hip alternative to Blue Peter? Well, I say hip...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I do remember Magpie, Charles!