JK Rowling has said, I imagined being a famous writer would be like being Jane Austen, being able to sit at home in the parsonage and your books would be very famous… I didn’t think they’d rake through my bins. I didn’t expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses.
JD Salinger and Harper Lee were famously reclusive. Never seen in public, they just quietly wrote novels that became iconic in the 20th century and ended up on every school syllabus. Dan Brown too was reclusive before his plagiarism trial brought him out of the woodwork; now his face is familiar.
Today, authors engage in a Kindle-sales feeding frenzy, blogging their sales figures and Amazon rankings, and spreading in equal measure envy, despair and a mania to replicate their success amongst all the flocks of self promoting self publishing ebook authors. I realise that indie authors are striking back against the publishing establishment, and many enjoy the work of promotion. I applaud them for it. But my instincts tell me this isn’t what authors were meant to do. Authors were meant to write, and to do what JK Rowling imagined – sit in the parsonage like Jane Austen. Then they handed their finished manuscript over to a publisher who did all the dirty work of marketing, promotion, sales techniques and strategies, and all the devices and desires of publicity.
I recognise this is a totally unrealistic picture, not in tune with today’s world at all. And I’m well aware that the relationship between authors and publishers has long had its difficulties. The rural poet John Clare (1793-1864) had troubled dealings with “booksellers” who were then the equivalent to today’s publishers. He wrote in his Journal: I would advise young authors not to be upon too close friendships with booksellers…their friendships are always built upon speculations of profit like a farmer showing his sample…if a book suits then they write a fine friendly letter to the author…if not they neglect to write till the author is impatient and then comes a note declining to publish mixed with a seasoning of petulance in exchange for his anxiety. And I do know I really ought to let down my golden hair from this small room in a tower where I write these words.
Authors are often introverts, shy, retiring. Now they cannot be allowed the luxury of being an INFP on the Myers Briggs Personality Type scale. Accuse me of languishing in my ivory tower if you will. But allow me to post a promotional video (made by my daughter) beneath these words and thus negate the point I am making. And cherish the lost world of the reclusive author.