Thursday, July 26, 2007

What do you guys think?

For those of you who are unaware there has been this strange debate going on in the romance writing world about these two young female authors who dressed in costume for a conference. The costumes were akin to school girl outfits and were worn to promote their latest works. (anyone interested in the debate itself can check out Pub Rants [scroll down to the July 18th entry]- where you will get yet more links on the topic.)

This debate has sort of fizzled recently, I'm a bit behind on the times, but I was thinking a bit more about it and wondering why the authors got such ire directed towards them. A lot of arguments centred around a 'lack of professionalism', and then the debate turned towards the reputation that romance novelists have within the industry, of the general stereotype of what a romance novelist is.

But I couldn't help but wonder if some of the anger was sparked by the fact that the young women in question were both rather pretty and had no qualms using said prettiness to promote their works. I don't think that this anger I'm referring to was directed even at them, (some people commented that it was awful the publishers making them do this, which so was not what happened) but rather at the fact that it seems like nowadays, even in the writing world, looks matter.

I'm an actor. And so I know what it feels like to be constantly judged on your appearance. In fact one of the things that I thought was so cool about submitting to literary agents as opposed to acting agents was that I didn't need to send a picture. That my letter was in fact an audition, an example of the quality of my writing, as opposed to my headshot which basically just told a prospective agent what I kind of looked like but said nothing to my acting ability (yes you send a CV as well, which can give some impression as to what you can do, but you still haven't actually done it in front of them). It was so freeing. It didn't matter that I had brown hair. Or that I wasn't skinny enough. Or fat enough. All that mattered was how I wrote.

And that I am sure is the draw to many many authors.

But things are changing, not hugely, but with the internet, and youtube and the world becoming far more visually oriented, an author these days has to appeal to many different kinds of media. The whole concept of author promotion gets many authors upset. I can kind of understand this. There was a time an author could be a recluse, in fact often the reason a person became an author was because they were such a thing. But now more and more is being demanded of an author, the amount of self-promotion, the 'thinking outside the box". Now add onto to that the pressure to look good! We know that looking good is the most important thing for any individual in society, the highest level of achievement to strive towards. So why should authors be left out of the mix?

Now all this is just a commentary, not even an editorial really. I personally do not take any issue with what those romance author women did, I think they look cute! I also think that if you have something going for you, use it! The reason certain non-fiction authors (who are not celebrities) have great success a platform. Well fiction writers have to find something that will sell their works too you know! I also always strongly believe in promoting yourself, especially if you are comfortable in doing such a thing. And if anyone wants any suggestions in that area may I link you to the fab JA Konrath who just seems to know all the right things to do.

My point is simply, with regards to that romance debate, I just think that possibly the fuss was maybe about something bigger. To quote myself from the comments section over at that Pub Rants post: "[I wonder if] in the end many people in looking at [the authors] may be seeing something symptomatic of a general trend in society, and it gets people more riled up."

I dunno.

What do you think?


Dawn said...

I hadn't heard about this debate but don't see anything wrong with what they did. We all want to sell books. That's what it comes down to.

If I was an attractive young thing I would certainly flaunt my image all over the place if it helped me sell more books. I'm not, so I don't. Instead, I flaunt Saffron Delaney's image all over the place because she is an attractive young thing!

Mary Danielson said...

I've been following this debate since it first began after the RWA conference...and I agree completely with you. I think a lot of the complaints about the two authors are really stemming from something bigger happening in the publishing world - especially the romance genre. Most of the authors who complained about Marianne M. and Liz M. are from the decidedly "old-school" camp of Romance, whereas these two represent the up-and-coming younger generation. It must be threatening to realize that after being so successful in this business for quite awhile, in one case decades, what is expected of authors is drastically changing.

There was never a need to take such steps for the publicity of their own books, but, quite frankly, the market has gotten tougher! The established writers see this kind of promotion as giving in to the stereotype of Romance, but L&M are just doing what they must to get the word out about their books. Plus, I think the younger generation of Romance readers cares less about fighting the stereotype - they know their books aren't just fluff, so why defend? All in all, with the costumes and now this debate, Marianne and Liz have gotten exactly what they wanted: publicity to their target market! Hooray for them!

ps- Great blog! I wandered over from Absolute Write, but this is great..and I can't wait to order Alex & the Ironic Gentleman - it looks fabulous.

spyscribbler said...

This debate really fizzled out my post-RWA enthusiasm. I'm sorry, but those outfits were hardly outrageous. They just looked quirky and stylish, like cool women at their age can. If I was thin enough to pull it off, I'd be wearing the same outfit, book to promote or not!

Books are, first and foremost, entertainment. That's not a putdown; it's a noble pursuit, and we can effect profoundly through entertainment, even make them think about their life, their choices, society, and politics.

But they're entertainment. Wear whatever the heck you want to express, if it will help express you OR your book.

J M McDermott said...

I won't be digging through the RWA posts to see if someone else mentioned this, but I am reminded about the importance of cover design.

Yes, my book will stand or fall on its own merits.

However, part of the merits will be grabbing people's attention and interest and standing out from the crowd on the bookshelves.

What's so different from trying to make the back cover stand out, too?

I've met quite a few romance writers, and they don't look anything like their promo photos. Anyone who ever got their hair done and had a wall of make-up and perhaps some air-brushing...

vanity of vanities, and chase after the wind, all of it.

Unless, of course, it would help ME sell one more book. Then it isn't vanity, but is an important part of my writer-ly tools.

LindaBudz said...

My take (and I don't know much about the romance writing world, so I could be off base) was that some of the conference goers felt as though romance writers have a hard time being taken seriously in the literary world and so they found the costumes problematic.

During my day job, I work for a trade association in an industry that has ... well ... image issues. There is one trade association (our competitor) that takes the PR thing so seriously, they can never just relax or (heaven forfend!) laugh at themselves. Our association, on the other hand, embraces who our members are and embraces the good, the bad and the ugly about what they do (though not in the sense of putting up with a lack of ethics, of course).

Life is too short. If you can't have a little fun with who you are and what you do, what's the point?

Derek Molata said...

Yup, I agree with you. There was absolutely nothing wrong with what they did, and really I found the entire debate laughable.

That being said, did you hear all of the talk after the 2007 Sunburst Auction at Ad Astra?

Now those girls sure stirred the debate pot. :P

Adrienne said...

dawn - I think both author and subject for Ripples on the Lake are pretty darn hot personallY!

mary - exactly, things are changing! And I do think there is a revolution going on in the world of romance, and I think it's great! (thanks for the compliment on the blog and my book!)

spyscribbler - nicely put!

JMM - ah say what you will, photoshop will ever be my friend!

linda - I loved your last sentence! So perfect.

derek - ooh yes, I heard about them! Naughty minxes!

Jim Melvin said...

There's no doubt that looks play a larger role than they used to. But for the most part, it's more innocent than this kind of thing usually is. It's simply easier to sell good-looking people to the public, both in person and in photos. And since selling has never been so difficult, publishers will take any advantage they can get. Of course, this is all just my opinion!

Heidi the Hick said...

Maybe this kind of opens up a whole new debate, but couldn't being a recluse be a kind of publicity? Like Lemony Snicket only REAL????

I'm still a long way from worrying over my author photo (although I dream misty eyed about it) but I hav eto admit that I struggle over how much to give away. Will a photo of me give up any privacy I want to keep? Does it matter? Should I be photographed with one hand over my face??

Lke you said, promotion is a big deal in the book world now. This is a culture that kind of demands celebrity. I wonder how an author could to that if she really just wanted to hang around in her home and write???

David L. McAfee said...

This debate is news to me, but I personally don't take issue with what the authors did. Why would I? I'm not so immersed in my views of what people should and should not be that I would presume to tell anyone (other than my 12-year-old daughter, and that's not about what kind of clothes she can wear as much as it is about what kind of clothes I am willing to buy) what they can or cannot wear. Seems kinda silly to me. Even "professional" attire is subjective to some extent. And why would a writer, who spends most of his or her time delving into fantasy, feel the need to leave this important aspect of their personality out of their wardrobe? I wouldn't, and don't.

Kanani said...

Hadn't been paying attention to all that's going on.

Look, it's a long hard slog sometimes to get a book done.

If someone is lucky enough to sell it and they want to promote it in a way that isn't breaking the law or defaming someone else the go ahead.

But I hardly see any merit chastising those two. It's very petty, and it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is going to have to do this.

I read on another writer's blog where they claimed to not be blogging for self promotion. Another one who said she hated those who watched the numbers on their counters.

Excuse me? Isn't all public exhibit of one's work or ideas for self promotion? Be it an art show, an interview... or a blog.... yeah, you follow me.

Self promotion isn't a bad thing. It might have some ugly connotations, but by and large we're not talking TMZ or Paris Hilton, here. It might be unfamiliar territory for those who still have a vision that their brilliance will be like a shining jewel drawing people to them instinctively, but really... they're going to have to change.