David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

On Self-Promotion

I’m seeing a lot of people picking on Cory Doctorow for being a self-promotional whore, and it’s irritating the piss out of me. Here, go read this interview with Cory on The Onion A.V. Club. Now scroll to the bottom of the page and start reading the comments thread. You’ll find lots of stuff like this, from a commenter named Shanker:

Cory Doctorow\'s \'Little Brother\'Look, it’s very simple: BoingBoing is (often) great, and Cory Doctorow might be a great guy, but post after post after post after post after motherfucking post of his goddamn book readings just really get fucking old after awhile. Why they can’t just put these in a special “promotion posts” folder, rather than cluttering up the main page with the same report over and over is beyond me…

[S]ome of us are bored to fucking tears having to see his diarrheic advertisements on BoingBoing all the time–like with any advertisement deluge, you risk annoying the shit out of your customer base.

That’s just one example, but a representative one.

Putting aside the merits of Cory’s new book Little Brother (which I haven’t read) and putting aside any particular complaints people have about the man’s personality (which I can’t attest to, having only met him once briefly) and putting aside his controversial views on copyright (which I often disagree with) — the whole thing seems to come down to the fact that Cory’s got a big megaphone, and he’s using it. And why shouldn’t he?

Listen, folks. That twentieth century paradigm of advertising and promotion? You know, the paradigm where the content sits on one side of the page, and the advertisements sit on the other side of the page, and there’s a nice clear line separating the two? That paradigm’s dead.

We live in an Information Age, as Boomer journalists are fond of reminding us. It’s not about selling widgets in exchange for greenbacks you can put in your pocket anymore. It’s about pushing ideas into the deep end of the swimming pool of public discourse and letting them swim. If you’ve got great ideas and you spread them around effectively, you’re gaining currency. So there’s no more hard separation; the idea and the promotion of the idea have become in many ways one and the same thing.

Sure, you’ll still find plenty of old school advertising around. You’ll find it on BoingBoing, off in the right column, separated by a nice clear line. (See pic below, slightly Photoshopped so the ads are above the fold.) You’ll find it in magazines and newspapers (but not books, though I don’t see why not). You’ll find it on television.

Boing Boing Screen CapBut sticking a glossy picture in a box separated by a nice clear line isn’t the way to move ideas. (And it wasn’t always very effective at pushing product either.) (And I suppose I’m guilty here of combining direct sales advertising and marketing, which are two very different things.) Which is why you see Doctorow’s editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden talking up Little Brother on his Making Light blog (and why you frequently see my editor, Lou Anders, talking me up on his Bowing to the Future blog). Which is why you see ARCs of Little Brother in the hands of not only reviewers and blurbers, but bloggers and tastemakers and potential customers. And which is why you frequently see Doctorow talking about issues raised in his books in his columns in Locus and the Guardian and such.

If you’re one of those people who claim to despise blatant advertising and promotion, complaining about authors like Cory Doctorow discussing their own work in a public forum is a waste of energy. Because this form of promotion is, in fact, the most honest, straightforward, and transparent form of promotion there is.

I’ve got a much smaller megaphone than Cory’s (snicker all you want, I’m talking about audience size, you losers), but I’m pretty sure the same thing is true for me as for Doctorow as for any serious author who blogs. We’re not promoting our stuff on our blogs because we’re hoping to sucker people into buying worthless product. We’re promoting it because we believe in it. Because if you’re interested in the things we say off the cuff on our blogs, you’ll definitely be interested in the carefully crafted and polished things we have to say in our books.

The blogs and the books are two sides of the same coin. So stop whining about excessive self-promotion. It’s a fact of life in the twenty-first century you’re just going to have to get used to.

Comments RSS Feed

  1. Bob Nolin on June 19, 2008 at 5:09 pm  Chain link

    Dave –

    Your points about the death of traditional marketing are right on. No problem there. But I have to say that the very in-your-faceness of Doctorow has really turned me off. The impression I get, right or wrong, is that here is a guy who is all about using the system. He knows how to play the game. Good for him. Does it make me want to read his work? No. I don’t like to feel manipulated, and so the result is I’ve formed a very negative impression of him. Like a skeevy car salesman.

    Is this because he’s a writer, and writers shouldn’t behave like this? Perhaps. We hold writers up to a higher standard. They’re up there with doctors and classical musicians. We don’t expect such folks to be out there hawking their wares. It lowers our opinion of them.

    I realize that that perception hampers your ability to earn a living, but people do think that way. This could explain at least some of the virulent postings.

  2. Bob Nolin on June 19, 2008 at 5:11 pm  Chain link

    One more thing – I don’t feel that YOU are a skeevy car salesman. There is a right way to do this, and you are a good example of doing it right. Which is why I subscribe to your blog, and not Doctorow’s.

  3. King Rat on June 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm  Chain link

    I don’t have a problem with the placement of Cory Doctorow’s promotional material/advertisements. I might have a problem with his frequency however. (I don’t, because I don’t read BoingBoing, though.) Even then I wouldn’t have a moral problem with it. I might object because it reduces the signal to noise ratio for my reading. If anything get’s too repetitive and frequent, I may drop it. Depends on how much useful information there is to me. Doctorow’s use of his megaphone too often in that way will drive off readers.

    The local Seattle Times recently did something with their RSS feeds where every time they make a minor change to a story, it shows as a new item. So I saw many stories 3 or 4 times a day, with no utility for me at the margin (to use a set of terms pushed by Tyler Cowen). This is, I believe, what the commenters at BoingBoing have a problem with. There’s no utility for them to see postings about readings they won’t be able to attend, or the 23rd interview of the week which is the same information but a different order as the previous 22 interviews.

  4. Laur on June 20, 2008 at 7:28 am  Chain link

    I’ve read Little Brother (which I recommend), and I read BoingBoing from an RSS feed, and what I can attest is that, while there were a lot of Little Brother related posts, not all of them were of the “buyitnow” persuasion. The gadgets and tech used by Cory in the book got their very own Instructables section, and all of them popped on BB, because it’s tech and gadgety and cool and Cory used them in his book, so what better topics were there? Besides, it’s not like anyone is _making_ you read this stuff, I can skip things that don’t interest me at the touch of a button, which is what most of you can surely do as well.

    On the other hand, his books are available online for free, so it’s your time he’s asking for, not (necessarily) your money. Although in my case he definitely ended up with both.

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