Happy new year to you all – may 2017 be a sight better than 2016.
When people say that in order to succeed (or even survive) in any public endeavour you need to be thick-skinned, I assumed that they meant in order to be able to withstand criticism. I count writing for publication as a public endeavour – the clue is in the word “publication” – and so I gave myself and my skin a good talking-to. But it turns out that the most difficult thing to withstand is not criticism, but silence. That Oscar Wilde really knew his onions when he said that “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”.
I’m not particularly upset about not being noticed – I’ve made my peace on that score. After all, with millions of books being published every year, I can quite understand how the majority of the world’s readers fail to spot my Plankish one. But what does depress me is being ignored after I have made contact with someone. I know, I know: we’re all ferociously busy these days, but if someone contacts you out of the blue with a reasonably-worded communication and plainly isn’t a moonling (that’s Regency slang for a simpleton), is it more than the work of a minute to reply with a polite “thanks, but no thanks”? I am reasonably well-known in my day job, and several times a week I get these sorts of approaches, from students looking for guidance and from software developers looking for input, and I always but always reply – because I remember when I was a student looking for guidance.
But in recent months I have sent review requests – to reviewers who state clearly that they are accepting submissions in Plank genres – and article requests (remember the airline magazine – I even sent them a whole sample article) and other marketing suggestions, and the silence, as they say, is deafening.
This is on my mind because I have heard of an interesting initiative, designed to promote reading by leaving books on the Tube in London. (I think it started on the subway in America.) It’s called Books on the Underground, and although they have a particular day on which they make a concerted push, you (as a publisher or even an author) can do it independently whenever you like. You get their stickers – which, in essence, say “Please take this free book, enjoy it and then leave it for someone else” – to put on your books, and then leave them on the Tube. I like the idea very much, I have been sent a dozen stickers, but I’m just not quite sure that I can bring myself to abandon Sam on the Tube, perhaps to end up in cleaners’ bin bags at the end of the day. And although the stickers encourage readers to Tweet about their finds, and of course to review the books, I’m not sure I am quite strong enough to invite more silence. My husband says that instead I should spot passengers who are reading similar books, and actually offer them a free books – thus increasing my chances of Sam ending up in the right hands (and perhaps my own chances of being thumped). What think you?