If you’re a fame-free author too, or have one for a friend, you’ll know what I mean. We authors without big, rich publishers are a needy lot. And however shy or apologetic we are, we end up making demands, asking favours or, at the very least, expecting friends to sympathise with our many woes. Here are some of the annoying ways an author cries for help, along with our excuses.
- Buy my book? Please? Subtext: without sales to friends, small authors will be demoralised beyond repair within a week of publication. And remaindered before long.
- Review my book? This is cheaper for the friend but more difficult. It will probably involve reading the book. A dilemma may then follow if the friend doesn’t really enjoy or rate the author’s book, especially if she cherishes honesty or her credibility as a critical reader along with the friendship. On the other hand the friend may not feel comfortable with review writing even if she loves the book, because it feels like an academic discipline outside her experience. Footnote: A third problem may arise if the author’s friend who fails to deliver the requested review ever becomes an author herself. She will become aware of the tit for tat, Like for Like, back-scratching amongst authors and regret her silence.
- Vote for me? There are many competitions these days decided by audience vote and the friend and author may be agreed on the silliness of such a way of evaluating literature, but if a book is entered for any prize the author will feel bound to enlist the friend’s support. An excited friend may be happy to engage in online and real-world campaigning the first time, or for the first day or two. After that it becomes obvious that the winner of the silly award will be the canniest, most relentless user of social media, not the best writer. Both author and friend feel conned.
- Come to my signing or book event? This is a real guilt trip for the friend who can’t or would rather not attend, because the small author is anxious that no one will turn up and she will look… small. And never be allowed back to the bookshop or library. The thought of the author bravely addressing the manager and the dog walker he dragged in off the street will spoil the friend’s cosy evening on the sofa with Sherlock or Bake Off.
- Illustrate my book? This is a lower risk demand, and many friends of authors escape it, usually by being unable to draw. But the truth about small publishers is that they have no money to pay Quentin (or any other) Blake to provide illustrations. (Shamelessly, some may ask the author to pay for a few pictures, which probably means they’ve already asked the author to pay towards the book.) So a friend who happens to be an artist may be asked to ‘collaborate’ on an ‘exciting project’ with little remuneration for her efforts – on the basis that the author expects minimal remuneration herself!
So you can see that one way or another, the author’s friend can find herself busy with an unpaid job – much like the author. Why, you may wonder, would the friend put up with it?
Maybe because the friend respects the author’s passion and commitment in (almost) the same way she respects Katherine Grainger’s or Laura Trott’s. Maybe because she does read the author’s work and likes it, values it, believes in it. Possibly because she’s an artist or musician and needs to ask similar favours. Or perhaps because she doesn’t trust the corporatisation of the arts, the branding of books as products, the marketing machine that puts sequels, series and merchandise before originality and fails to credit the ghost writer who crafted the celebrity’s bestseller. After all, she knows the small author is her own person. She knows she didn’t cheat.
I’ve avoided the personal here but if you’re a friend of mine and have ever answered yes to any of these requests for any of the reasons above, thank you. THANK YOU.