Should you market yourself or your book?

New York Times best selling author Mark MacDonald on a television talk show.
New York Times best selling author Mark MacDonald on a television talk show.

I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of the superstar author before, when I asked whether, as a writer, it’s better to market your ‘self’ or your books. It called for a discussion of brand and platform, but I’m sick of those words… so let’s just talk in plain English, okay?

This week the crime writer Lee Child took part in a high profile interview as part of BBC Radio 4’s coverage of World Book Night. And John Grisham appeared on the BBC TV Newsnight program in November, a prime time British TV slot. Opportunities like this aren’t open to every author. Even if we could buy that kind of exposure, we’d need a marketing budget of millions. Most of us ordinary mortals don’t have that option… which depending, on your feelings about fame, could be a good or a bad thing.

Libby Fischer Hellmann
Libby Fischer Hellmann

A matter of privacy

But it does beg the question of just how far an author has to go to satisfy his or her audience’s curiosity. Some authors love making public appearances on TV and radio talk shows, giving interviews to the media and plastering their lives all over the internet. Others prefer to stay more or less anonymous. And private.

The same goes for readers. Some fans love knowing the ins and outs of their favorite writers’ lives, feelings, motivations, obsessions, preoccupations  and dysfunctions. Others don’t care. They’re just interested in story and the books those authors write.

So what should authors emphasize?

Some writers follow one star from the outset: 100% crime writer, 100% romcom or 100% historical drama. Unfortunately, my journey wasn’t so simple—I kept changing direction. At first I wrote an amateur sleuth series, then a Private Investigator series. Then I moved on to stand-alone historical thrillers. I was lucky to find a way to encompass them all, with “compulsively readable thrillers.”

FINALHLebookEven then, I basically tripped over it. A dear friend (thank you Tania Tirraroro) used the phrase while helping me write a book description for Havana Lost. It took me about a month of staring at those words six times a day before I realized she’d defined my writing.

Up until that point, I always emphasized individual books. I still do. Even after my tenth novel, I focus on my characters, my plots, the craft of fiction, the degree of misdirection, the motivation for the book, my use of suspense. As far as personal information, I might talk my journey as a writer, and I might include a few humorous or self-deprecating anecdotes that make me a “real person” in my readers’ eyes.

I won’t divulge too much information about myself or my family. I never talk about the money I’m making (or not making). I often talk about other authors’ books that have made an impression on me, periods of history to which I’m drawn, stories I wish I’d written, events that have made an impression on me.  I’m very open about my ideas on writing (everyone needs to learn craft), great crime fiction (To Kill A Mockingbird and James Cain can’t be beat), and how many books I read in a year (too few these days.) But don’t expect me to talk politics or religion or my love life (such as it is).

Which is probably why I’m not and likely never will be a superstar. But that’s okay.

What do you think?

Are you the kind of reader who’s interested in the author of your favorite books on a personal basis, or don’t you care who or what they are?  Why do you feel that way?  And if you’re a writer, where on the spectrum do you want to be?

Please click the book cover image to read more about Libby Fischer Hellman and her novels.

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