Monday, August 21, 2006


As I mentioned earlier, after my whining about my Amazon rankings, I’ve begun to feel twinges of concern. It's not that I'm not proud of my work or that I'd ever put it down (okay, maybe I would, but I've tried not to do that in front of people). It's the "semblance of sucess" that I worry about. A lot of good marketing is about making it seem like your book is selling like hotcakes, that your fans are rabid and you are just the hottest thing out there, even if you're not. Many marketing gurus see it as prophetic actions, using overstatement as a blessed commandment.

But, in one the books that I loved as a child, Jenny Sam and the Invisible Hildegarde, one of the main characters says,
“…there are two kinds of pride. One is false pride, and it makes you care about the wrong thing, makes you dress better than you can afford to, and pretend to be something you’re not. The other makes you grateful for what comes and too proud to pretend.”

And I think that is what I wrestle with when it comes to marketing. I don’t want to pretend to be something that I’m not. I want to be proud of the work I’ve done, proud enough to be honest of its shortcomings and its failures.

But this does not sell great quantities of books. So, someday, perhaps I will have to learn to swallow my pride.


Anna Alter said...

This is such a complex and intesting subject...

I think it is true that if you insist on positive thinking about your work you will manifest it in some way. Its the same way with public speaking- imitating confidence can create it, its like practicing the skill of positive thinking.

But, as you are getting at Grace, there is a line between this and saying things that just aren't true.

Maybe the only good solution is to be extremely creative and original with your marketing, to advertise yourself in a way that stands out not because it is infused with exagerations, but because it is different and funny and unique.

I know, easier said than done. But I hope you don't swallow your pride. I don't think its worth it.

Agyw said...

Grace, I have a hard time with subterfuge and arrogance (though I bet there are people, especially family members who would accuse me of both, lol). I hate being full of fear, it's a lousy way to live, and I give in to THAT more often than not. But on the flip side, there are many that think that what we do is full of arrogance and extremely brave. I tend to agree with that as well. I mean, the most success (and I gauge that with reaction to my work, for good or bad) I've found MYSELF totally engaged in the making of it. The dichotomy, why would anyone else invest in something I don't invest myself in? I do believe it shows.

I also KNOW a lot of people, the joys as well as the desperation of their lives. I bring THEIR feelings, and how I FEEL about them to my work. In THAT, I really feel what I'm doing is important. Good? That's for someone else to decide. But any time you validate a human or this world and it's myriad gifts and challenges, I believe that's important.

Perhaps I'm naive about somethings (and I do stay deliberately obtuse and hopeful about others), but I think it's not as difficult as many would make it. There's ways of building all those small differences into the success of your book, and doing things that are natural to you, or sometimes just changing the way you LOOK at something, can make a challenge more bearable. Talking in front of people, for instance.

Teaching was a wonderful way for me to get use to that. At first it was difficult, but realizing the people were there because they wanted what I could share with them and we had FUN. More often than not, I'd get ever so much more out of it than my students. I think of booksignings and school visits that way as well.Kids LOVE to draw, and most haven't been guilted out of it yet. Taking what's unique about your books, they make the correlation about what's unique about them. You're validating their creative side, and perhaps in some ways THEM. Seeing even one kid relate to your book validates YOU. Win-win.

I guess what it is, seeing your books Grace (and yours is only those I'm most familiar with in your group of talented ladies, though I do have Meghan's George Upside Down), they work on so many levels.

There is that pride thing, but I think the line you're thinking of might be CARING, of a full heart. Pride is to the exclusion of others. Caring is believing in your creation, yourself and sharing that.

And the funny thing, if people agree with you, THAT grows. That's real marketing. The school of thought that most people are stupid, and can be easily led, precludes the failure so many irritants in our life that doesn't "stick". It's your enthusiasm, and work that SELLS, not some false sense of advertising. Really.

I think that those runaway successes were first successes, and the marketting efforts only made them bigger (for the most part). Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus would have hit, with or without the connections. It might have been a slower build, but it's BRILLIANT., Cindy Lord wrote about Greg Maguire's notion that writing is a "C" trying to be an "O", and succeeds, when the reader provides the arc to complete the circle is, IMO DEAD ON. Mo's book is brilliant because the arc is 50%.

Okay enough of a ramble. I have to go finish my pages to complete my goals of today.

I guess I'm not trying to pooh-pooh your fears and concerns, I just don't think that's the issue for you. You wouldn't allow that kind of dishonesty; you and your work is sincere. I don't think it's pride, you don't strike me as a prideful person, it's more of finding out compatible ways to show you care for your work and your readership.

Bleh, I hate when I sound so full of it, but I do believe what I'm saying, grrr.

Nancy said...

Grace, I think the question is where do you cross the line into "pretending to be something you are not." I sense that maybe you err on the side of drawing the line sooner than you might.

While I wouldn't suggest you go out there and market your work as "life-altering" and get blurbs that claim your work will "change the lives of all children and make them grow up to be better humans and better world citizens"... still, if you believe your work is good, and will bring even one person joy, then you should not just talk about it, you should sing about it, shout about it, and by all means promote it!

You are not offering crack in the form of candy. If you do believe your work is good, then your self-promotion at WORST means someone will be exposed to good art that won't quite thrill them as much as you claim. But for most people, your self-promotion means they will get to experience something great they might otherwise have missed.

Grace Lin said...

Thanks all for your comments. I really appreciate them!

I guess it's when people are inundated with such inane things like Paris Hilton saying about her album, "I, like, cry, when I listen to it, it's so good." (; I just cringe and want to run as far, far away from that as possible.

But, she's selling lots 'o records.

Agyw said...

Grace, but Paris is RIGHT! I cry when I listen to her music too! Course for a completely, like, different reason, like. hehehe

I think most people recognize hyperbole. In Paris (or some of the more famous celebrity authors) it's kind of like that dancing bear, phenom, don't you think? Or when you were a kid and you saw your teacher at the grocery store. Don't underestimate the curiosity factor.

Hope Vestergaard said...

I have read the posts on this subject with interest because I have struggled with the "fabulosity factor," too. Squeaky wheels get grease. People who call themselves experts are often considered experts, without question. It's annoying that modesty/moderation can be a handicap. Our society is such a celebrity driven culture.

Also? I LOVED Jenny and the Invisible Hildegarde! I had the same edition.

(Hi, Agy!)

alvinaling said...

I've been contemplating on how to comment on this one, too. Grace and I were talking a while back about a certain book that L,B published that she has been seeing everywhere and thought must be selling like hotcakes. And even though the sales are solid, they weren't perhaps as high as the perception was. And that's not a bad thing, necessarily, because yes, maybe the perception that it is more successful than it actually is will pursuade other people to buy it. It's a crap shoot, really. PW publishes a list every year of the books that have sold over a certain number, and I know that there's a big different between net sales and gross sales. I have no idea what Madonna's books have actually sold, but I'll bet that there were a ton of returns and the bottom line wasn't as high as the perception was. And look at some of the books on the bestseller list--some books go on the list for just one week, and then drop off. This could be because there was an author tour of the reporting bookstores for that week where they sold a much higher than normal amount, and the hope is that once a book makes it onto the list, it will perpetuate itself and keep selling, but this isn't always the case. But of course publishers will still put "NYTimes Bestseller" on the jacket, because this perception of success is important.

But it's not a lie, either!

I don't have a good answer for this--but I think people like to know the truth. There are nice ways to spin the truth. And really, success is all relative. I say, speak the truth, but be humble.

Agyw said...

Absolutely agreed Alvina (HEY HOPE!this is a great blog!).

There are things that marketting can do to gild the lily. I think some of it is perception. For instance in Madonna's place. They EXPECTED MILLIONS. and maybe they eventually got to that. With the help of first caliber art, tie-ins with the GAP, national appearances and heavy promotion by other celebrities (I'd love it if Oprah had a REAL kid's author/illustrators show, and not just Madonna and Maria and Carl, IMO she perpetuates that class myth). But, and it's a big one, I bet if you look at the record, they were always disappointing in sales, in terms of WHO she should have reached and steadily dropped off.

There are things people can do to build on what they do. The real benefit of having a backlist of books, is once a reader "discovers" you, they want ALL your books. But the present day market makes it nearly impossible to build a midlist author. Even to build on talent, thank Goodness for things like Chautauqua!

On a celebrity level, it's like the difference between Brad, Ben and Tom. Brad, rather then buy into the inevitable marketing, zagged to use his considerable attention-draw to highlight causes and people he believes in. Ben recused himself, and goodness knows what Tom's doing, more than likely going through withdrawal pangs, and making the descent from "public grace" all the quicker. Sometimes it's all in the wrist, baby. What YOU do affects the machine, especially if it's an intrinsic machine.

I still maintain, though the majority of books get a nominal amount of marketing. It being left to the creators of the work, so there's a great deal of wiggle room on how you "sell" the work. If you're like me, you hate to sell your own work. The difference between Agy at fifty and Agy at twenty/thirty. I wouldn't have done it now. Now I see there are ways to do it, to maintain the integrity of who I am and what I do, and allow me to do what I love and feel I should be doing. (before I'd do five jobs to do what I love and never have enough time to develop anything but my quirkiness and lots of neat relationships, but not my work). Does that make sense?

For the record,(HAR!) I'd much rather have a middlin' kind of advance than small/none or huge. The pressure to pay back on the huge one can be almost a self-fulfilling failure, and small or none, well, I NEED people to believe in me as well as to believe in myself. In this mammon-driven society, that is one of the main gauges. After that It's gravy.

This is a great discussion Grace, and I understand your discomfort with the hype. You've met a few wonderful artists/authors in your time so far, would you say THEY bought the hype? Or just worked around it (accepting the things one cannot change)?

Thanks for the new wrinkles (grey ones,that is, lol!)PS... I wonder when I'm going to have to stand on my head, singing the German drinking song and typing the word verification prompt! Oh cruel world!)