The International Writers Magazine:Comment
Such Thing as Bad Publicity?
New Authors can benefit from Critics and Detractors
least once a week, I do my fame check'.
A writing professor
once gave us this example. What if Charles Dickens had written the best
novel in the universe, and then put it away in a drawer?
The answer obviously was that we would never have heard of him. And,
the lesson the professor wanted us to learn was that the writers work
doesnt end when we complete the final chapter. We have to continue
with next step, which is getting published.
But, unfortunately, the professor should have continued with the example.
What if, after he Charles Dickens published his work, no one read it?
That is the position many new authors find themselves in. When they
began writing, they believed that the odds were so severely stacked
against them, being published was so unlikely, that they had no plans
beyond this seemingly impossible dream.
If you ask a promising athlete, What is your dream, in life?
He will answer, with no hesitation, I want to win a gold medal
in the Olympics. But, if you ask him the next question, he will
probably stutter. The Olympics will be held on a Tuesday. What
are you planning to do on Wednesday?
Behavioral psychologists, particularly working with athletes and business
people, have long taught us that we set our own limits, the glass ceiling,
which we cant overcome. Success or failure is completely determined
by what we are thinking. Because I have been both, a salesman and an
athlete, I have been trained to visualize my success. In my mind, there
is a picture of a very long, difficult road, ending at a distant finish-line,
where my books would be published.
If you have been living by a similar visualization, my suggestion would
be, to extend that visualization beyond having a book published. After
you cross that finish line, another very long and bumpy road begins,
leading to your book becoming a financial success.
The way you get people to buy your book is by getting people to talk
about your book. Conventional ways of doing this include, asking newspapers
and magazines to write reviews, donating copies to libraries and schools,
doing talks and book signings, and buying media ad space. Of course
you can increase your book sales by publishing articles about related
subjects. Once you have a reputation for being an expert in your field,
people will buy your books. New ways of getting people to talk about
your books is to go on internet forums and chat rooms, and start a conversation
about your book.
At least once a week, I do my fame check. I put my name into all of
the internet search engines and see what people are saying about me.
The strongest indicators are when you find reviews and chats which were
done independent of any action by you.
We all love getting good reviews. They are a boost to the ego, and help
us along the long path of constant rejection, which is the life of the
professional writer. But what about the bad reviews? What if you go
in a chat room and find out that someone has panned your book? It can
be disheartening. But, as writers we are leaving ourselves open to criticism.
Other professions can hide their feelings. A policeman may disagree
with the laws he is forced to enforce. A teacher may oppose a school
policy. A business executive may think his boss is a jerk. But, they
would never say this in public, because they would lose their job. At
the risk of sounding cynical, most people can live a life of denial
and then, switch their outer face, when the wind of public opinion changes
direction. But, writers lack this option. Our job is all about expressing
our feelings and opinions. If we try to hide our true self, our writing
will suffer. And, regardless of what opinions you have written on paper,
your true feelings will show through.
People will always have opinions. And no matter how good you are, at
least 10% of the people will dislike you. Believe it or not, but somewhere,
there is a bitter man, who hates Mother Teresa, because he feels she
was just too selfish.
So, how does a writer deal with negative reviews? The only way we can
survive in this business, without resorting to substance abuse or suicide
(i.e. Jack London, Jack Kerouack, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson
we must learn to turn adversity into opportunity. Bad publicity may
be bad, but it is publicity.
You get paid when people by your book. And, you get the same money if
they hated it or loved it. Obviously, we like hearing praise on our
writing, and word of mouth advertising is often the best way to sell
books. There are so many books available in bookstores and online, we
often chose the ones recommended by a friend. Sales statistics for other
types of products and services suggest that if people are satisfied
with a product, they will tell two people. If they are dissatisfied
they will tell ten.
Only a small percentage of people who liked a book or article will write
a letter to the editor. But people who hated it always write. And worst
of all, a lot of people with too much time on their hands are bitter
They might be sick, injured, unemployed, or incarcerated, and have nothing
to fill their day, beyond writing hateful letters of complaints to editors
and authors. It is normal human behavior that we spend more time talking
about things we dont like, than talking about things we like.
A satisfied customer might say, I ate at that new Thai restaurant
last night, and I liked it. The food was good. The prices were fair.
And the waiters gave excellent service. But, the dissatisfied
customer will say, You will not believe what happened to me last
night. I tried out that new Thai restaurant, and, from the minute I
walked in, everything went wrong. The waiter
The dissatisfied customer will launch into a tirade, spinning a narrative
tale, with conflict, plots, sub-plots, and maybe even space aliens.
Hemingway, on his best day, couldnt tell a story as well as a
dissatisfied customer. The satisfied customer, on the other hand, only
talked about the restaurant for two seconds.
After the satisfied person gives his short review, the listener says,
very noncommittally, Ill have to try that place. After
the dissatisfied customer finishes his lengthy and entertaining saga,
the listener says, because he believes he is expected to, I better
stay away from that place. But in the back of his mind, he is
thinking, It couldnt be that bad. Id better go find
out for myself. Or, maybe he is thinking about the dissatisfied
customer, That guy is such a complainer. If he didnt like
it, its probably good.
You see the worst movie of your life, and call a friend. I hated
the new Vanna White movie. The friend says, But, I told
you it was bad, why did you go see? You give some feeble excuse
like. I wanted to see for myself. In popular culture, and
this extends to books, there is a certain shock factor which helps sell
books. Most of us werent interested in reading a book, with the
title, Satanic Verses, until we heard that the author had to
go into hiding, because of death threats. Then, it became a best seller.
In South east Asia, where I live and work, There is a book about Cambodia,
called Off the Rails in Phnom Penh. Almost immediately after
publication, the book was debunked, as a mixture of exaggerations and
And, since the author conducted much of his research in brothels, and
while buying and taking drugs, the book raises a number of moral questions.
If you mention this book in a group of ex-pats, anywhere in Indochina,
most will say they hated it. But more importantly, nearly 100% of them
will say that they have read it. And the ones who havent read
it, will say something like, I have been meaning to read that,
to see why everyone hated it so much. Bad publicity I such good
advertising, the author should pay me for this article.
Someone once said that you could judge a man by his enemies. If someone
important or famous hates your book, this is almost a prescription for
success. Chalton Heston probably didnt give favorable reviews
to Michael Moores Bowling for Colombine. I
enjoyed The Ten Commandments as much as the next
guy, but I still paid $12 to watch the movie.
The truth is, I dont think it does. Most Kerouack fans know of
the famous review by Truman capote. After he read 'On the Road',
he said Thats not writing, thats just typing.
But, I dont know of a single person who cites this quote as a
reason for not reading On the Road. If Truman Capote didnt
like it, I wont read it.
In my field, of adventure travel writing, one of the most famous literary
rivalries of all time was between Eric Newby and explorer Wilfred Thesiger.
Thesiger was a brilliant man, hardened by years of privation, exploring
the deserts of Africa and Central Asia. During a brief meeting in the
Hindu Kush, he once called travel writer, Eric Newby, a pansy, for sleeping
on an inflatable mattress. The story of this silly insult has been retold
so many times, it will probably outlive any of the great works written
by either man. When Thesiger died, last year, I went on line, gathering
as many of his obituaries as possible. At least half of them mentioned
the fact that he had crossed Africas Empty Quarter more than once,
and called Eric Newby a pansy.
Both men are heroes to me. And, once again, I dont believe that
this insult put anyone off of reading Eric Newby. As writers, our jobs
is to entertain, to inform, and to provoke critical thought. If someone
famous thought enough about you to hate you, you should feel flattered.
And, if they went the extra mile, and wrote a scathing criticism of
your work, glow in the spotlight. Fame and financial success will not
be far off.
Adventure writer Antonio Graceffo is originally from Brooklyn, New York.
He has a reputation as an aggressive, judgmental, and provocative author,
who writes humorous and insulting books about South East Asia. Widely
panned, his books are available at Amazon.com. He presently lives in
Cambodia, but will be fleeing the country before the publication of
his controversial book, Letters from the Penh. (Letters from
the Penh will be available on Amazon.com in 2006)
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