The Dignity of Money


Posted by in September's Magazine

If you’re a reader you may never have heard of authors being talked of in terms of ‘platforms’ or ‘brands’. But, if you’re a writer like me, there’s a good chance you have been hearing about nothing else. Without a platform, it seems we writers may as well slit our throats. What is it? Good question. The experts say it’s the myriad ways we writers stay ‘visible’ and remind the world that we are alive and kicking. It’s that stuff to do with holding author events at libraries and bookshops, being active on social media, writing for magazines, talking on the radio and, if you are extremely lucky, being on TV.

Now one may think this sounds very much like self-promotion, but the same experts would say you are wrong. An author’s platform is, they say, about making gentle waves to draw attention to ourselves and our unique message – that last bit is the bit to do with branding. I used to agree with the experts because, like all good writers, I strive to write with integrity and absolutely didn’t want to be identified with anyone who could stoop so low as to self-promote. Self-promoters, as we all know, are attention seekers, they big themselves up, they are deceitful, for them it is all about the sales and the money. Where’s a writer’s integrity in that?

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Georges Simenon
However, after spending a couple of years developing my ‘platform’ I have come to the following two conclusions: developing an author platform is the rebranded and repackaged name for self-promotion; self-promotion is not new and nothing to be ashamed of, indeed some of the greatest writers have embraced it. Like who, you ask? Well, let me name just a few.

In 1927 Georges Simenon the author of the Maigret novels agreed, for the princely some of 100,000 francs, to write a novel while suspended in a cage outside the Moulin Rouge nightclub for 72 hours. The public could shout out themes and names for characters and could even offer suggestions for a title for the novel. It was promoted as a ‘record novel: record speed, record endurance and record talent’. It didn’t happen in the end but that didn’t stop people from talking about it as if it had. Who else? Nobel Prize winning Ernest Hemingway appeared in adverts for Ballantine Ale, as did John Steinbeck and CS Forester (of African Queen fame). Mark Twain advertised Campbell’s tinned tomato soup (I kid you not!) and Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner promoted headache powders.

Virginia Woolf, despite stating she wasn’t interested in her appearance, went on a ‘Beautiful Woman’ style shopping expedition with London Vogue’s fashion editor in order to help improve her image. As she became more famous she took more care over her appearance and developed the term ‘frock-consciousness’. Furthermore, when one Logan CPearsall Smith criticised Woolf for writing for a low brow magazine like Vogue for money, she defended her actions in a letter to a friend saying, ‘Ladies’ clothes and aristocrats playing golf don’t affect my style; What Logan wants is prestige: what I want is money …Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for’.

One of the oldest records of self-promotion dates as far back as 440 BC when the writer Herodotus paid for one of his own book tours around the Aegean. In the 12th century a certain Gerald of Wales invited people to his house for a meal and then forced them listen to him read from his latest work for three days! Even the great American poet Walt Whitman felt the need to write anonymous reviews about himself: ‘An American bard at last! Large, proud, affectionate, eating, drinking and breeding, his costume manly and free, his face sunburnt and bearded’.

Walt, however, was an amateur compared to our very own John Creasey, king of crime writers, who, when starting out, wrote hundreds of his own reviews under different names. The best self-promoter, however, has to be 18th century writer Grimod de la Reyniere, who invited his friends to a ‘funeral supper’ that he held to promote his new book Reflections On Pleasure. When the friends got to his house, he locked them in a room and hurled abuse at them while others watched from a balcony above. When the visitors were finally released they ran around telling everyone that La Reyniere was mad and everyone promptly bought his book.

Author platform
So, regardless of what you call it, self-promotion, author platform, branding, bigging ourselves up, making waves or ripples, when push comes to shove all is fair in love and war and writing. As author Stendhal said in his biography Memoirs of an Egotist: ‘Great success is not possible without a certain amount of shamelessness, and even of out-and-out charlatanism’.

And while I’m not looking for great success let me shamelessly, yet quietly, tell you that the ebook of my latest crime novel, The Shoeshine Killer, is out now at Amazon. It’s a great read (a snip at £1.99!) and the only book you’ll read this year which mentions line dancing policemen and women.

Twitter: @MWheelaghan

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