How The Job of Perpetual Publicity Keeps Writers From Writing

pile of iPhonesPerpetual publicity is a new, overwhelming job that may be leading  to an epidemic of writer’s block, and most American writers have little or no idea what to do about it.  In the past, newly released books were publicized by what is now called “event-based publicity.” This meant that an author spent two or three years writing a book and about four to six months publicizing it immediately after its release. The best part of this model was that it left writers a lot of quiet, undisturbed time to write.

All that has changed profoundly. In the past few years thanks to the digital revolution and the explosive growth of social media, we have moved from the era of “event-based publicity” to the era of “perpetual publicity.” This means that since no book ever goes out of print, there is never a time when authors who want their books read can justify retreating into their studies and severing contact with the outside world.

To make matters even more complicated, traditional print publishers are doing less publicity for their authors these days. Even when they do assign publicists to a recently released book, those publicists only work for a short time on the old event-based model even though the need for publicity is now perpetual.  In effect, authors are now expected to be their own publicists 24/7, and perpetual publicity is not a job many authors are good at. People who write books are often people who treasure long bouts of silence where imagination can flourish.

Recently a well-known writer friend of mine, justifiably famous for the beauty, complexity, and originality of his novels, complained that he had turned into an “answerer of emails.”  “That’s all I do these days,” he said. “Sit at my computer and hit “Reply,” or guest blog, or Tweet, or update my website, or post something new on my Facebook Fan Page. I not only don’t have time to write my novels; I don’t even have time to think.”

Even writers who are completely comfortable with social media and enjoy all the interaction admit that perpetual publicity is a major distraction since it’s so much easier to answer email or blog or update a Facebook page than fill a blank screen with words.

As time passes, will writers adjust to this new state of affairs? Will they learn how to balance the demands of perpetual publicity with creativity? Will they someday come to embrace it as the price they have to pay for having their work perpetually available?  It’s too soon to tell.

Come back soon to The Writer’s Journey Blog for more discussion about how the Digital Revolution is changing Writers’ Lives.

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