January 1, 1970My "debut novel" (how's that for making me feel eighteen again?), Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, is being released tomorrow. In this age of the life lived online, I have this nagging feeling there's something I'm supposed to say, something I should do to mark this momentous (to me) occasion. How can I expect potential readers to notice me and, more important, seek out my book, if I just sit quietly and let the moment pass?
Sometimes anonymity or a pseudonym are essential. Think of the original Flashman, written by George MacDonald Fraser and first published in 1969. I've heard that some early readers genuinely believed this darkly satirical work to be the memoir of a cad, coward and blackguard who lived through every major British campaign from the Afghan wars of the 1840s to the Boer War. Fraser wouldn't have helped his cause if he'd tried to make more of a splash than his antiheroic creation.
And of course, many women writers of the past simply couldn't be published under their own (feminine) names. Currer Bell is Charlotte Bronte's now-familiar male alter ego, and Jane Austen and Frances Burney published their first works anonymously.
But we live in strange times. Readership for traditional novels is down. Everybody and her sister is blogging, writing, posting, making videos. New authors are supposed to publicize themselves; it's practically a required clause in the contract. Even a big publisher like HarperCollins can't work miracles for every new, unknown author. So: Get the word out! Send email blasts! Don't have a MySpace page? What are you, crazy? Update your website for crying out loud! And blog! blog! blog!
The one danger in all this is that the diligent publicist/writer will alienate just about everyone after the fifth or sixth blast. I received a wonderful "reply" to one of my blog posts announcing yet another good review: "At this very moment," one exasperated reader wrote, "I think I'd particularly enjoy a romance [like Phyllida] ... But I certainly wouldn't read it if I knew you wrote it."
Well, there's the rub. I did write it. I wrote the book and I wrote the blog and the website content and the emails and...
What can I say except: I've loved every minute of it. I wrote what I wanted to write, what gave me great pleasure, what I wanted to read. Tomorrow--in a few hours--it will be on sale in bookstores for everyone to read. I hope that some of you will find in this humorous, romantic story of the spirited, beautiful authoress, her glamorous bisexual husband and his honorable gay boyfriend the same joy I had in creating it.
Note: this message was originally posted on April 28, the genuine "eve" of publication, but was inadvertantly written over.