Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

In the Age of Frenzied Book Marketing, Can the Author Choose to Stay Invisible?

People have seriously wondered that, as an author, I’m willing to both sell my books and also offer them for free… 

Elena Ferrante

Image Courtesy of jonathan phillip ~

You can read about how giving books away can help an author sell more; but, you should also read about any author’s realistic expectations for book sales

So, is it any more of a wonderment that an author would choose to be invisible—not be involved in marketing events—not let folks know who they are?

The media claims that author Elena Ferrante maintains anonymity.

However, an interview with Elena on the The New York Times site has her saying this:

“…I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence. More than 20 years ago I felt the burden of exposing myself in public. I wanted to detach myself from the finished story. I wanted the books to assert themselves without my patronage.”

There’s also an article on the London Review Bookshop site that quotes a letter from Elena to her publisher, just before the release of her debut novel, Troubling Love, which says, in part:

“…dear Sandra, I will say to you clearly: if Troubling Love does not have, in itself, thread enough to weave, well, it means that you and I were mistaken; if, on the other hand, it does, the thread will be woven where it can be, and we will have only to thank the readers for their patience in taking it by the end and pulling.

“Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.”

It is said that “Elena Ferrante” is a pen name; yet, she said (in The New York Times), “…the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence.”

So, she apparently feels a pen name is a “sign” for an author; yet, it is true, she’s stayed out of the promotional circus

Yet, an interview in The Guardian has her being asked the question, “Do you ever feel that your anonymity limits your ability to shape the debate inspired by the books?”, and the author doesn’t deny anonymity.

Perhaps “…I didn’t choose anonymity…” (in The New York Times) isn’t a denial by the author that she’s anonymous but merely a stressing of her “absence”

Here’s her answer to The Guardian‘s question:

“No, my work stops at publication. If the books don’t contain in themselves their reasons for being – questions and answers – it means I was wrong to have them published. At most, I may write when I am disturbed by something. I have recently discovered the pleasure of finding written answers to written questions such as yours. Twenty years ago, it was more difficult for me; I’d try but eventually give up. Now I see it as a useful opportunity: your questions help me to reflect.”

She only does interviews by responding to written questions—she wants to be “absent”

One of my dictionaries says this for “anonymous”: “Having no known name , identity or known source”.

And this for “absent”: “Not being in a specified place”.

So, are “absent” and “anonymous” all that far apart?

And, is the author I’m writing about—the one who’s anonymous (but, didn’t “choose” it) and absent from the visible stage of the Book World—just using a gimmick to create more sales?

This response to the questioning in an interview on The Paris Review site seems to me to turn what some might believe is gimmicky marketing into a profound statement about the act of writing and the “interface” between the author and the reader:

“I’ll try to state it from the reader’s point of view, which was summarized well by Meghan O’Rourke in the Guardian. O’Rourke wrote that the reader’s relationship to a writer who chooses to separate herself, radically, from her own book ‘is like that which we have with a fictional character. We think we know her, but what we know are her sentences, the patterns of her mind, the path of her imagination.’ It may seem like a small thing, but to me it’s big. It has become natural to think of the author as a particular individual who exists, inevitably, outside the text—so that if we want to know more about what we’re reading we should address that individual, or find out everything about his more or less banal life. Remove that individual from the public eye and, as O’Rourke says, we discover that the text contains more than we imagine. It has taken possession of the person who writes. If we want to find that person, she’s right there, revealing a self that even she may not truly know. When one offers oneself to the public purely and simply through an act of writing—which is all that really counts—this anonymity turns into part of the story or the verse, part of the fiction. “

So, even if an author doesn’t remain absent or anonymous, they’re still revealing, in their book, more of themselves then they might imagine

What do you think?
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6 responses to “In the Age of Frenzied Book Marketing, Can the Author Choose to Stay Invisible?

  1. LionAroundWriting April 1, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I can understand the want to remain out of the marketing process.
    But, if she tried that today, she wouldnt sell much. Maybe over time if word got around her books were great her fan base would grow.
    I imagine most agents/publishers also baulk at virtual anonymity and thereby reject someones manuscript based on that.


    • Alexander M Zoltai April 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Maybe authors who want to stay “invisible” should submit to her publisher or Self-publish?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane Watson April 1, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    I think this opens up a very interesting debate about – which is important? The book or the author? You would think that the book is the product here but often it seems, in this age of celebrity worship, that publishers promote the author as though they were the artefact to be ‘read’… I think that a book should be judged on whether the work is well written and appeals to the reader, not whether the author is glamorous or fascinating. Alas, the cult of the author is well and truly alive today.

    The most powerful marketing tool for authors is, I would suggest, ‘word of mouth’. I believe that it is this viral phenomenon that publishers are really trying to plug into when they promote a book. And they often fail because they don’t really know how to promote something which can’t have its hair and nails done that day or hold a microphone and answer questions. ‘Word of mouth’ on a book takes a while to take flight and nowadays bookshops, do not carry a book for longer than a few weeks if it is not immediately selling. They use the ‘sale or return’ clause in their agreement with the publishers to send back a book, often just at the stage that the book may be beginning to impact the reading community. So I think the publishers throw up their hands and say : OK let’s promote the author…

    And I believe it is this attitude that ‘Elena Ferrante’ is fighting against. She does not see herself as a product and won’t be made into one. It is her book that she is offering, not herself. We do not know how she looks, how she speaks, if she really is an Italian born in Naples…Would it change your opinion of the worth of her books if you found out that she is a dairy farmer living in Wisconsin? Why?

    I do think that sometimes traditional publishers can get new books into new places and into gatherings that are often inaccessible to the newly self published author, ( although experienced self publishers may be good at this too) simply because the traditional publisher is large and has clout. ‘Elena’ is utilising this market power of her publisher but on her own terms – the rest she is turning her back on. I find this very interesting and I do not necessarily think it is a marketing ploy because when i first read reviews of this book the reviewers did not mention this…

    ‘Elena’ may also be aware of something – a lot of publicity that promotes ‘the author and their book’ is a waste of time…and simply wears the author out when they could have been at home, writing.

    I applaud ‘Elena’. She’s standing up for writers, and their right to let their books speak for themselves.


  3. Alexander M Zoltai April 1, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Wonderful response, Jane!

    As far as the Author or Book choice, I think Self-Publishing has helped enthrone the author even more than the Trads ever did

    The bookshop return practice is one of the old ways that self-publishing has done an end-run around—self-published books stay published as long as the author wants

    I know that your previous publisher had you do something that did you and your book no good at all

    Yes, let’s all raise the roof for “Elena”! :-)


  4. dgkaye April 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Wonderful article. I wish I could remain anonymous and let my books do the talking, lol. Great concept though. :)


    • Alexander M Zoltai April 10, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Yes, see really sounds amazing…

      Liked by 1 person

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