Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

Essays on Literature and Criticism

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By Krozser's logic shouldn't writers also then be designers and typesetters? At least it's "creative". I mean, if they can't even be arsed to take a direct role in determining what their books look like, how on earth can they expect to sell any?


The author whose meticulously updated webpage, whose self-orchestrated tour, whose plucky barrage of letters to every book review editor in the country, combine to elevate her book above the others, is a particularly tenacious urban myth, with perhaps a few exceptions to prove the rule. Such activity can't hurt (though I think it probably tends to enhance the pernicious sense that authors are competitors, rather than colleagues), but in my experience it mostly serves to alleviate anxiety and to maintain the sense of control over one's book that begins to dissipate when the last set of corrected galleys is returned to the publisher.


Authors who put themselves out there do usually have more success in getting people to read their books, for better or worse. Readings tend to put 5-30 books into people's hands. Marketing can include writing essays and reviews, making personal connections with other authors – it isn't just websites and magazine ads. But as contrary examples, Ezra Pound was great at 'marketing' and so was James Joyce.

The best-selling books of the past were largely not the books we revere, and publishers have always been poor judges of literary merit.

Billy Liar

Kassia Krozser's post seems to be about authors who are not yet famous. I can understand all the efforts such authors may find it necessary to make in order to get published and sold.
What I find harder to understand is why authors who are already very well established are still willing to take part in the literary media circus: talks, signings, appearances on shows... In some cases they lead such busy public lives I can't imagine where they find the time to do any writing. One might suspect they "outsource" the work, but... honni soit qui mal y pense.

Jim H.

Thanks for yet another thought-provoking post that strikes deep into my psyche as an unpublished novelist. (Any literary agents out there?) The facts are the facts. The market is king. It's sad but true. When sales and marketing are the primary values of the publishing industry, it makes sense that we see a leveling out—an averaging—of quality. Commodification of literature ensues. Genre work proliferates and prospers because of popularity. Difficult works, challenging ideas suffer off in the corner somewhere. This whole "wisdom of the crowd"/"the market has spoken" phenomenon has been fascinating to me for sometime. Infuriating, too. It's something I've been trying to wrap my head around for the last couple weeks over at

Jim H.

Kassia Krozser

Dan -- you knew I'd delight in this, didn't you? I love that we have such diametric world-views. I started a long comment this morning (meetings killed my momentum), but figured if a comment exceeds five paragraphs, it's probably not a comment. Doesn't look like I can add the link.

And, yes, I am really am from Venus. Had the driver's license to prove it for many years...

Life on Venus

Steven Augustine

Market yourself all you like: you won't make a "career" from writing literary fiction; that's an extremely nostalgic fantasy. Stick to worrying about improving the Art, however, and you may end up with results that were worth the time you put into the project.


Good post, Dan, and I agree that in this new age of publication that the ardor of the author must match in both desire to write as much as publishing fame, and that includes marketing. Forget fortune; it never was, in all these centuries, anything more than pie in the sky for almost every writer.

I really like the way Steven Augustine has put his bit of advice.

Jeff VanderMeer

I'm breaking my new rule/guideline of not commenting on blog entries because I find this thinking to be fascinating in its Republican, binary vibe. The idea in this modern world that one cannot both promote one's work effectively and also produce thoughtful, progressive (in the sense of technique), and, yes, *deep* fiction is ridiculous. Writers have always been from varying shades of two camps: organized and disorganized. The disorganized will always look upon the world as a kind of unfinished puzzle that they can't quite get a handle on, and that includes PR. Organized writers will flourish in this environment. None of which has to do with talent, in either way.

It is imperative for writers whose work IS more experimental and less commercial to counterbalance that disadvantage by being proactive in doing PR (which is different from marketing, btw).

But it doesn't compromise your art unless you decide to let it do so.


Dan Green

"None of which has to do with talent, in either way."

In some cases it does. Some talented people would rather cultivate that talent exclusively and not be buredened with the PR. Should those people be penalized because they're especially focused or because they're "disorganized"? Only the organized need apply? Is that a good way to judge "talent"?


Jeff, I find this is a rather weird dichtomy: organised/disorganised. It's perfectly possible to be capable of organising and managing - my CV would attest to this - yet choose not to engage in PR. My time - my years - are limited, and after years of international experience, I prefer to spend whatever remains to me in writing. But I suppose I'm the odd man out - I genuinely don't care about number of readers or number of sales.

Always, always these discussions end up focused, sadly, on a numbers game.


So, do you think there should be a general strike of writers until publishers get back on the stick?

It's good to criticize the new status quo -- publishers have really cut back on the amount of work they are willing to do, and they expect a lot more from writers, and a lot sooner than they used to. It's good not to accept this quietly, although I have no idea what can be done. Do you?

Dan Green

A first step would be to refuse to accept that marketing is part of the writer's job description.

Jeff VanderMeer

No--I don't think you should have to engage in PR whether organized or not. (One thing people don't realize is that most academics are actually horribly *disorganized* compared to professionals in the computer industry, for example.) But I do think that when you, Dan, use "marketing" when you mean "PR" and make other mistakes of this nature it indicates an ignorance about what you're talking about. I also don't like the implied diss to anyone who does engage in doing PR. Further, if you don't decide to engage in PR--and let's face it, doing a reading is a kind of PR, so...--you cannot complain about your book not getting the attention you desire.

I don't even think it's a question of neglect on the part of publisher publicists. It's that they are so overburdened with so many books to promote per month that they need assistance. The other thing to remember is...if such publicists try to be proactive and an author comes back with "I don't want to do that," well, like professionals in any arena, it'll make them less energetic about you and what they're selling for you. That's only natural.

Dan, I enjoy your posts about literature most of the time. But every time you step into the arena of details about the publishing world you don't convince me because I'm not convinced you really understand the nuts-and-bolts of the publishing industry. Also, you seem to want to reduce the publishing industry to this monolithic Death Star populated by unfeeling robots who just hate writers and writing. I mean, that's the vibe you give off. But, like anything, the publishing industry is composed of thousand and thousands of human beings, all of whom have their own viewpoints and approaches. If I applied your stereotypes about people in publishing to my fiction, I'd have something shallow with too many cliches and generalizations to count. Yet you think it's perfectly fine to apply such cliches and generalizations to *real life*.

Anyway, not to be argumentative, but...



Steven Augustine


I'm sincerely curious: how many writers of Literary Fiction would you estimate earn a *genuine* living, year in and year out, doing it?

Dan Green

"every time you step into the arena of details about the publishing world"

I didn't step into the arena of details. I made a general point in reply to another general point about the extent to which writers should be obligated to enter into the business side of publishing. There are surely many writers who don't want to be forced to do this, and I don't see why they should be.


@ Jeff: Since you're criticising Dan for reductive argumentation, how about your own?

'(One thing people don't realize is that most academics are actually horribly *disorganized* compared to professionals in the computer industry, for example.)'

I thought we were talking about writers, not academics - different though admittedly - at least in part - overlapping categories. And your claim may be true - though not at my last university post at an international institute - I think it needs 1) some evidence; 2) a deal more differentiation (For example, are maths academics more or less organised than their English lit colleagues? Which criteria do you use to define organised work patterns? etc.)

Schopenhauer's bloody knuckles

If you think writers are obliged to do marking and PR you disqualify yourself as far as artistic and intellectual matters are concerned.

If you are simply trying to make "bling" so you can buy a wife with fake tots, take cliche trips to provence, and go to fashionable parties then you would be better served by getting a JD or MBA. The great writer's have had something to say and were driven by ideas, not money or some drive to be esteemed by their peers (who the hell is Shakespeare's peer, or Petrarch, or Plato, or Descartes anyways? Only the dead behind them and the genius who have yet to be born; not contemporaries).

"Also, you seem to want to reduce the publishing industry to this monolithic Death Star populated by unfeeling robots who just hate writers and writing."

The problem is that they are *business* flatheads trying to judge art. Going back to my previous statement, only Schopenhauer can look in a critical manner at Leopardi, or Nietzsche Plato, or Chaucer Ovid, not some buisness kid on a couch in NYC; they're simply not a part of the conversation. You could shove every great writer down their throats from the past and they would publish none of it because the uniform response would be "I cant sell this." Thus, they look for the next stupid book on dogs, or book by Really Crappy Author Who Writes Really Simple Books. Unfortunatley, some views are wrong, utterly devoid of value, and inimical to intellectual contributions: you find these views around every publishing company in new york, and in the heads of the great unwashed (that somehow keep finding publishing jobs).

And being a part time marketer emphatically does compromise your writing. I realize the importance of critical distance and time away from writing, but i also believe in a finite level of creative energy, and creative energy used to cook up some hack marketing scheme so you can promote yourself is time you cannot think about intellectual issues.


I agree pretty much with Steven and Lee. I write as a hobby; I do have a JD and other degrees and MBA coursework which have enabled me to make my living other than my literary fiction. Sometimes I enjoy doing publicity which is also entertaining and amusing, like my Craigslist ads which have kindly been made fun of by Gawker. But as I wrote Scott Esposito yesterday, neither Gawker mentions or good reviews in newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer will sell my books. I wouldn't buy my own books, either. But I don't buy them; I write them. I'm just as happy to send everyone a PDF of my books as to sell a copy. It's all about having fun. That is what hobbies are for. Otherwise, it's just another crappy job.

Steven Augustine

Richard (nicely exuberant comment):

I know it's a dirty word, but there's another reason to write, other than for "fun" or a "hobby": Art.

I think we find ourselves in a quasi-Spartan, Schizo-Materialist Age (the less everyone has, the more materialistic they seem to become) that considers money *the* (bottom) dividing-line between all things serious or not. But there *are* deep pleasures that can't be considered, properly, as "entertainments" and high among these (as you know), on the Aesthetic (Ascetic?) side, are the reading/writing of carefully-worked literature, the value of which cannot be rated by the market. But does "fun" really define anything at the heart of the process, either?

Some Art earns money and some Art doesn't, but, even in such rare cases that genuine Art bleeds cash, no Artist with her/his mind on the bottom line will get at the often-uncomfortable Truths that Art intervenes to express, for fear of not being able to sell such a "product". But isn't it just as big a creative danger, not taking Art *seriously*? Now, I can't really believe you stare at a sentence for hours, sometimes, willing it to live, just for "fun".

It's always safer to invoke the dirty word "Art" from behind a shield of irony, or with the kind of knowingness about the material world and its processes that will prove one isn't a fool, isn't it? But there's a certain fearlessness in embracing the word and a joy in defying the scolds and the herded fearful.

Robert Nagle

There is a difference between not spending adequate time to market your stuff and just being stupid. Read my piece on writerly stupidities and ask yourself how often writers (or even bloggers) make these fundamental mistakes.

Personally I would love to spend more time on marketing/self-promotion, but it always gets relegated to back-burner duties. it's hard enough blogging 2 or 3 times a day!

Robert Nagle

egad, I meant to say 2 or 3 times a week!


Writers are usually introverts. Let's face it, an extrovert would go mad shut up in a room alone all day to earn a living! Marketing is as much a specialist skill as writing and I often wonder what the publishers' marketing personnel think of the fact that authors are expected to do all their own marketing. I would feel as though my skills were being downright denigrated. (Or do publishers no longer have marketing specialists?)

Writers have to be not only marketers as well as writers but also public speakers! So that's THREE skills they have to learn. And two of them are utterly terrifying if you're the sort of person who couldn't sell an ice block to someone dying of thirst in a desert.

The way of the future seems to be self-publishing. From where I'm sitting it looks as though success in this arena comes more to those who are good at marketing and talking than they are at writing.

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