I believe most writers want to think good writing and interesting characters and plots rise to the top, capturing the attention of more readers. However, I’m not sure that is always true or even frequently true. Best-sellers have a quality that makes them stand out so publishing houses give them still more publicity. But what about midlist authors or authors trying to start a career?
Authors need to promote their own work but forums and email lists suggest writers are not sure what works, if anything. We’re bombarded with ads from womb to tomb, ads that pander to our fears and anxieties, and our desire to be part of an in-group. I don’t think authors working on blatant self-promotion for their works want to be that blatant.
Reputable publicity companies often charge high fees. Do the results from their publicity justify the expense? There are publicity hounds or propagandists who have convinced millions of people for years to believe what the propagandists wanted them to believe. Top ranking Nazis perpetuated the myth that Germans of the day belonged to a superior race, were entitled to conquer the world, and should destroy anyone who stood in their way. Vast numbers of regular people swallowed this myth. Courses I’ve taken that covered this period suggested that the publicists of the day knew people’s fears and desires and fed into these. If gentle persuasion failed (why don’t you believe us when we tell you you’re better than anyone else), there were threats and torture. Fall in line or suffer the consequences, was the cry of storm troopers.
What about the manipulations of bullies at school and in the workplace? These bullies may not be as intelligent as their followers. How does the school in-group convince others that the in-group is superior to all other groups and you’re a zero if you don’t belong? I don’t think bullies and manipulators are more astute at judging character than other people but they know fears and weaknesses and exploit these. Manipulators don’t have a moral issue with deceiving others and disrespecting individual opinions.
Maybe I’m paranoid but I think many ads lie to us. Ads might pander to our need to be patriotic. Packaging is red, white, and blue. I had a supervisor who claimed superior American loyalty by advocating hot dogs and hamburgers for those under her supervision (she could have been eating caviar and quail eggs for all I knew) and implied her dedication to the Boston Red Sox proved her soul was American to the core. I know this might be difficult for citizens of Boston to understand but there are vast numbers of patriotic Americans who do not support the Boston Red Sox.
Maybe we need to have our acne cured before a big date. There’s a lotion for that. Maybe we need to lose 60 lbs by Christmas. There’s a pill for that.
I’m not suggesting authors are into tricks and lies to promote their books but the world of publicity is not a glowing example of honesty. Now that we have the internet, I often check out products before I buy. How often is a product promoted as a wonderful new advance by retail stores and companies, and then customer reviews say something like, “don’t waste your money on this piece of crap?”
How to maintain professional integrity, that is the question, and how to make publicity work when readers and the published word are changing so fast?