Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Wait . . . but . . .

There’s a couple of things I have been turning over and over in my mind without finding my way to clear understanding.

So I guess you are invited to make this blog post a clearness committee and shine your fog lights on in.

The two issues are ~
a) Occupying Wall Street
b) Promotion of published books

Here follow the conundra.

Wall Street
A few of my friends, and one in particular, posts faithfully on Facebook about the occupation of Wall Street and other cities.  From these posts and links I have learned about the astonishing number of people involved in this groundswell of public response to greed and corruption in the higher echelons of government and corporate life, and about the interesting and sometimes surprising nature of the police response – they have not always come out of this well.  In the UK too, a similar sense of dissatisfaction and dismay pervades our consciousness as we watch politicians, bankers and big businessmen continue to skim off the increasingly thin layer of cream from the society of which they are a part.

My own view from the watchtower on this issue began in the early 1980s when Christian prophets spoke urgently of things that made little sense at the time but a lot now – about collapse of banking and social systems and being prepared for that.  I took the prophecies to heart and responded in my own way by working as and when I could to ensure that I acquired a habit of living very simply and shedding as many debts as possible, with a view to safeguarding freedom and flexibility for myself and my family.  Alerted by the prophets, I watched; and what I believe I have seen is a steady overgrowth of the kingdom of Mammon spreading like a slime mould until it has become so extensive that it has started to choke the life out of our society.  Knowing that Jesus said one cannot serve God and Mammon, there is a straight choice, they are mutually exclusive, I perceive the solutions to be what in old-fashioned terms is called ‘repentance’ – an about-face away from self-indulgence, self-centredness and selfishness, towards service, helping each other and living the freedom life of Gospel simplicity (love-centred frugality), practising wise boundaries as well as peace and kindness.  The way out of the mess we’re in is simple and basic: sharing and helping the weakest must replace grabbing and getting.   As far as I know, there is no other way out: the symptoms are fiscal but the sickness is spiritual.

So I have sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement’s concerns.  I agree with them that there is a problem, and that as usual the poorest and weakest are hurting most while the most able and comfortable seek to feather their nests handsomely.

My puzzlement is that I cannot see how the Occupation of Wall Street is going to help.  What are its objectives?  What is the expected outcome?  How is it modelling a better alternative?  In one of the videos a post on Facebook linked to, I saw a man interviewed about how he had tried, in protest against banking corruption, to withdraw all his savings from the Bank of America, in company with a number of friends intent on the same thing.  Alarmed, the bank refused him and his friends entry, and the video followed predictable lines of polemic about being a free country and his money etc, etc. 

Suppose for a minute that the bank had allowed the man in, and he and his friends had withdrawn all their money.  Suppose, fired with enthusiasm, a significant proportion of the hordes on the street had followed suit.  Then what? 

The recent looting riots in English cities followed a similar puzzling pattern.  Those interviewed mainly said that they were sick of the corruption of the rich and powerful and wanted to demonstrate that they could do what they liked and no-one could stop them.   I heard of a cartoon in the wake of the riots that showed a couple of people going to the post office to draw their benefit money, then realising they wouldn’t be getting any because they’d burnt down the post office.

Surely the way to reform society is not to sit on the street and shout but to have a clear alternative plan and set about the slow, arduous task of implementing it.  The lifestyle of the Old Order Amish and Mennonites and of communities in monastic life could point the way for us.

So my first conundrum is that, while I agree our social habits have brought about our undoing, I fail to see how occupying Wall Street addresses the ills of our national and international life in the same way that I fail to see how shouting “YELLOW!” would answer the question of someone who asked “Which road will take me to the station?”

Can anybody shed further light?

Moving on


Promotion of published books
My literary agent has frequently impressed upon all of us whom he represents, that we the authors must take responsibility for the marketing and promotion of our own work.  Publishers commission or select, edit, evaluate likely success, prepare for publication, handle production, assist us in going through related formal and legal hoops, set in place some initial publicity – and then it’s over to us to build our platform, talk up our work, and generally get it out there.

Being essentially no good at this aspect of professional writing but moderately intelligent and keen to learn, I have watched and thought and watched some more – and I am getting more puzzled not less.

The accepted wisdom is that a writer must network without cessation – using every available avenue open to them – Facebook, Twitter, every writer’s page they can find, every blog they can haunt; whatever it takes to promote the product of their published work.  Get articles in as many magazines as possible, get on the radio, the TV – get heard, get seen, PROMOTE!

I am not great at this.  The perceived need for self-promotion was, I confess to you, my motive in starting this blog and in acquiring a Facebook page.  But as well as wishing to promote my cause as a writer, I am interested in you as a reader – and as a thinker and writer in your own turn.  I go on Facebook because I’m supposed to, as a published writer, but what I do there is try to promote the cause of goodness and truth, speak for the oppressed and forgotten, and be a good friend to the individuals I meet there.  On this blog I share with you my wondering and praying, my grief and joy and perplexity, offering you a window into my soul and my life.    But my conscience has been goaded by the urging of literary agents on the internet, who speak as one voice in advising us to network, network, network - use the free publicity of friends and acquaintances both wild and cultivated in the endless pursuit of self-promotion.

In faithfulness to my agent and publisher, I have to try to do better.  Doing my best at writing is not enough.  So I have looked carefully at the example of others who are able and successful at self-promotion, and what I have seen has left me profoundly puzzled. 

Writer A is in every magazine talking up the fact that she is a writer, reviewing other people’s writing and regaling us with the progress of her own.  She is admirable at putting herself about, but seems short of anything interesting to say.  As far as I can make out, she has not actually successfully completed her book.  But, by golly, when she has we shall know about it!

Writer B is a scribing veteran, author of a considerable body of work.  He posts mercilessly on every achievement, not waiting to win a prize to let us know he is on the short list, reporting every accolade (sometimes in duplicate).  A staunch friend to all fellow-writers, he is lavish in his praise for the work and achievements of any who seek his support.  So lavish, in fact, that when I see his opinion on someone’s work in print, I disregard it; it’s just another form of networking, harnessing the gratitude of other writers in the cause of self-promotion.  I began to frequent a writers’ page, thinking it might be an interesting place to be, but quickly ceased to go there; Writer B and those like him flooded it with self-promoting posts about their achievements until it became nothing but a column of small-ads, boring and wearing.  Each one stood up and shouted his wares until all that we had was cacophony, and nobody left to listen.

Writer C is a shrewd businessman.  He never appears online except to promote himself and his work.  I can’t tell you any more about him, because my initial interest evaporated.  I don’t really see myself as a punter, but he obviously does.

Writer D is a bit more canny.  She writes about her life as well as her books, she is endearing and funny and lively, and she takes the trouble to 'like' our comments on her Facebook posts.  But association with her is a one-way flow; she is there for self-promotion, and you can take it or leave it.  Increasingly, I leave it.

Writer E appears to be more relational still.  She offers many creative give-aways and writes in a very personal, intimate style, speaking of those who frequent her blog as a community, encouraging her readers to add her blog button to their blogs as they unite in the satisfying fellowship of . . . er . . . well . . . of promoting her, really . . .  She is not available for contact though; replies are not forthcoming.  I know this because, impressed by her success, I asked if we might seek a commendation from her for a book of mine.  My indefatigable publishers did what they could, but Writer E was too busy writing about how precious and valuable we all are to even take the time to turn us down.  Hey, who can blame her? A woman has only so many hours in one day - and self-promotion is very, very greedy of time.

20 years ago, before we all got so savvy about this, I wrote a trilogy of novels called The Hawk & the Dove. My US publisher, Crossway, kept it in print all these years.  This gave it the time it needed for word of mouth to promote it.  Even to the present day people are still discovering it for the first time.  Just while I was writing this blog post an email came in from a lady who wanted to thank me for writing it, because she had just discovered it, read it in 2 days, and it had blessed her.  If you look for reviews of it online, you will want to read it for yourself, because everyone says it’s a wonderful, amazing, life-changing series of books.  I would venture to suggest that this is because the right people read it.  I wrote it to try and express certain Gospel truths as best I could, and the Lord  in His goodness made the connections – it found its way into the right hands, where it could bring blessing and speak to hearts that needed what it had to offer.

This summer, the first of some novels continuing the series was published, The Hardest Thing To Do.   Twenty years is a long time, and marketing practice has changed a lot since the first trilogy came out.  This time the book has not been left to wend its way into the hands of readers.  My publisher is brilliant, and my publicist there has worked her socks off ensuring that it gets read and gets reviewed.   Crossway is every writer’s dream publisher, and the promotion they offer goes way beyond what most publishing houses offer.  Best of all I love the way they respect the text, seeing each manuscript as a book not as a product.   As a result, their catalogue reflects honest thought and real meaning – the works on their shelves are not shallow. But their support and hard work as publicists is just fantastic.  If you Google ‘The Hardest Thing To Do’, you’ll see what I mean.  They have got it out there beyond my wildest dreams.

So last night, I had a look at some reviews, and this gave me pause for thought.   Those who wanted to read the book – because it intrigued them or a friend recommended it or they knew the original series or had heard of it – really, really love it.  They find it powerful, transforming, satisfying.  If you look at the reviews on Amazon, which are placed by readers who felt moved to say something about it, you will come away thinking, ‘This must be a good book’.

But in the great wave of reviews there are also many readers who find it mediocre – dull, pointless, impossible to finish.   Of course, this will inevitably be so; there are even people who think Shakespeare is boring.  But it did make me stop and think.  I wondered, might it not have been better to let this grow the old, slow way?  To place it into the hands of those we knew would love it, and just wait for them to tell their friends, let work of mouth do the trick again?  Might it not be better to have a smaller body of overwhelmingly positive reviews than a larger body of mixed reviews?  Or doesn’t it matter what people are saying as long as they are saying something?

In the last few weeks I have been really struggling with this question of self-promotion.   I have some more novels planned to take the Hawk & the Dove series to ten volumes, if my publisher feels enough confidence in the series to travel that far with me, but I am not confident that I have the ability to promote as the modern market-place requires.  I feel a strong instinctive preference for the hidden way of doing what I believe I was sent here to do, walking honestly and quietly in a path of simplicity, giving the best of myself to the sowing and trusting the Lord for the harvest.

And, bearing in mind Ecclesiastes 9:10~ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest ~ I want to apply myself to doing day by day, hour by hour, the work of God according to the light that is in me.  I would rather not turn my soul into a trampling stock-exchange of shouting voices.

This poem is what I mean.

I feel both nervous and ashamed about this – that I might be letting down my publisher and my agent.  Yet when I look at the tireless efforts of writers who work the social media to the max, their approach leaves me cold, and turns me off reading their work completely.

What to do?

So, friends – your wisdom and insight on the matters of occupying Wall Street and self-promotion of published work are sought and awaited.

AFTERTHOUGHT - my laptop wallpaper at the present time includes a quotation from James D Miles:
"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."


Anonymous said...

Being a self-published Mennonite author, I understand the dilemma of the pressure in needing publicity and promotion. ugh
I've not joined Facebook for a host of reasons, but this summer I seriously give it consideration because I need the publicity. I still haven't taken the plunge precisely because I don't like publicity.
Keep talking! Maybe I'll find a tip from you. =)

Alice Y. said...

Indeed, I think that is a good criterion for a judgement of character.
I’ve not yet been given words about Occupy Wall Street to write to you. But I have something about occupations.
The age of cheap oil is over and the vast energy subsidy that cheap oil represented is drying up. Survival for human beings in the industrial world means a movement away from the indulgences permitted by the subsidy. It is advisable to begin a trade which is necessary for life – probably food production or something closely related to it.
This is hard, it is a big ask, and most of us (myself included) feel woefully inadequate to the challenge. I believe our beloved has not brought us this far to leave us. There is a message of liberation, and an invitation to us – as ever it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

I think we are being asked – can we give up the live of relative ease in the industrial world which the oil boom made possible? Can we rejoin the rest of the world, and take our place in an economy of needs, in which we must write in most ordinary circumstances for love and not for money? At least it would be wise to begin a sideline in a food production trade. This is an invitation to show the world what a liberating life looks like. You are already a long way along the road of liberation - what is the next step?

I know this is probably the last thing you wanted or expected to hear, but I am risking writing from what I understand so far, because you have asked. I am certain that our beloved God is shining the light of truth on us all, and that all works out to God's glory - God bless, Pen.

Pen Wilcock said...

I love this blog. I just love it! I never have the least idea who will come along or what they will post, but it's always worth hearing and always makes me think!

About Facebook, tisagifttoreceive; I have found it does help with publicity, but not immensely. One gets out as much as one puts in. Something that has been a source of unease for me is that using Facebook as a free publicity machine smuggles in an implication of becoming something of a people-pleaser. When one feels called to speak against the crowd, one faces the unpalatable likelihood that one's free publicity machine is just about to implode.

Alice Y - hiya :0)
Gosh, how interesting! I have no idea how I would begin to do that. In our household we have been working on minimising our outgoings by modification of lifestyle in response to peak oil, and we have planted up our garden for fruit & veggies. But, involvement with food production? I am not sure how I'd do that! I'll certainly think about it. And I love the way your comment has drawn my focus away from its initial perspective towards a more holistic vision. I still would like to finish up the series of books I am writing, if the publisher is willing - after that, I think it will be time for the caravan to roll on. I think I could certainly invest some time and energy into sourcing more wild food for our household, even if not trading in food as a commodity. And I think I could do some useful work to increase my peak oil response . . . hmm . . . stuff to think about . . . thanks!

Nearly Martha said...

I also love this blog and have sent for your books on the strength of it if that is an encouragement. It is difficult. A lack of self promotion is often the default position and seems to be the spiritual one. You sort of think that God would help promote it? But I know that I missed a chance earlier this year when I won a writing competition and didn't use it to promote my blog because I felt uncomfortable doing so. Now the chance has gone and I must admit I do regret the missed opportunity. I think maybe I might have to "get over myself" as the young people say and push myself a little more. You are right though. It isn't easy!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi, Nearly Martha :0) Glad you like it here. Let me know how you get on with the books! Good to hear from you.

Roberta Desalle said...

Ember, Here are two articles that I thought you might like to read on the Blog "NakedCa pitalism". I know nothing about the Blog itself, but to my thinking, these two articles have a good description of OWS (as it is called over here).

Matt Stoller: #OccupyWallStreet Is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest Sep 29, 2011 ... By Matt Stoller, the former Senior Policy Advisor to Rep. Alan Grayson and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can reach him at stoller (at) ...
Matt Stoller: The Anti-Politics of #OccupyWallStreet « naked capitalism
5 days ago ... By Matt Stoller

Penny Reeve said...

I hate self promotion as well. I am on facebook for two reasons - to keep in touch with people I met over the course of my missionary upbringing, and to remind people that my books exist. It is social but also very certainly media (something I don't always feel comfortable about).
What I do love is talking with children about my books! I can do that sort of event as frequently as invited and still enjoy it. But children aren't buyers! So it's a tricky line.
I'm not sure what I think about the whole publicity thing, but the tactic I take at present is to do what fits with the values and emphasis of my life. If a regular blog doesn't fit then I don't do it. I'm not even sure that all this "marketing" the experts tell us to do really pays off (perhaps it depends on the type of book?).
I find word of mouth is still the best seller for me, for speaking engagements and book sales. And I think that's the way I'd prefer my books to be sold.
Thanks for writing about these issues, Pen. It is a quiet thoughtful voice in a noisy bossy room.

Ganeida said...

Ember: I confess, having seen what is to come, I am a bit fatalistic in that I do what I can to grow my own, live simply, share what we can but after that it is in God's hands. I can't get fraught about it or I would be incapacitated.

The other is taken care of in Proverbs27:2

As a reader I disregard almost all reviews, promotions etc because they so rarely tell the truth nowdays. That is all.

AbiSomeone said...

Sweet Ember,

I do not have energy to address the Wall Street crowds ... but I do want to give you my wee opinion concerning self-promotion: your work is a gift from God and it is best received when it is the Spirit who does the promotion.

I know that this does not make your publisher feel better, but I will tell you that those on Facebook who spend most of their energy talking about their books (or their blogs) end up turning off their followers.

Be the precious sister that you are to we who are your journey-mates ... and continue to listen to our Father as you ask for direction ... and everything will work out according to Father's will -- and that may or may not be according to your publisher's will, but you will be more at peace with yourself.

Patience is a virtue that is vanishing ... and that is one protest work sitting through!

Blessings to you ...

AbiSomeone said...

...I will say, however, that my friend, Michael Kruse, is worth pondering -- he knows his stuff and is wonderfully well read!


...and now it is good night!

Pen Wilcock said...


Much food for thought here, friends - thank you!

Roberta, I will look up those articles you have linked for us and read them, later this morning.

Penny - yes, I have also concluded word of mouth brings the most satisfying results.

Ganeida, I'm absolutely with you in what you say there. I believe also that both in the Gospel and in daily observable reality there is something important about community, and that this is at the heart of what God wants us to learn. In the rather frightened articles one reads occasionally, urging us to stock pile food, get in seed, acquire land, so that our family will be all right when others are not, the writers seems to overlook that in such an event the ones who were not OK would simply loot the stuff of the ones that were. To be provident is only sensible, but on a very real level we cannot abstract ourselves from the rest of humanity; we really are all in this together.

Abi - yes; my belief is that the work has to be of the Spirit in the first place, and then the best next step is to trust Him to make it know, not try to hustle him along. Of course I realise a publishing house is a business and the numbers have to work for them, but I love what my publisher Crossway does in taking on only projects they believe in and then giving them time and space for the Lord's work.

Alice Y. said...

What great comments you get, Pen. Blessings to everyone.

I don't know if you would find this analysis of the 99percent blog (associated with Occupy) useful or interesting. Martin Kelley pointed it out on his blog: http://baselinescenario.com/2011/10/10/straight-out-of-antiquity/
I think the whole thing is worth reading, and it includes this excerpt:
"Konczal cites David Graeber and Moses Finley for the idea that premodern popular demands focused on canceling debts and redistributing land. "

It is hard to see the way out of consumer-industrial society. I sometimes find visions of what a just and merciful future might look like - I think we can all become producers, at a scale we can begin where we are - we can take a part in supplying the needs of others, at less cost to our fellow creatures and the earth. People can grow mushrooms, medicinal and culinary herbs, plant windowsill gardens for winter greens and tender summer crops, and produce locally-adapted seed of some varieties of food and other useful plants for other growers - just a few examples of potential sideline businesses at micro scale.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Alice! x

Fourwheeler said...

I do so agree that self-promotion, while the only option in many situations, is very difficult. I self-published (via Lulu.com) a collection of short articles a couple of years ago. I had no idea how to go about publicity, and being a shy person, was very diffident about it. I bought 120 copies, which I thought I might be able to sell through my own church and a few others nearby. I still have over a third of them stashed away unsold. My inclination is to abandon the whole idea of writing right there, but it seems such a cop-out.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. I don't know why they didn't fly, Fourwheeler, but for sure no-one will read them sitting in a box in your shed. Whether you write further or not, it makes sense to put what you have done so far into people's hands. I suggest you just cut your losses and give the remaining copies away.