Wait . . . but . . .

There’s a couple of things I have been turning over and over in my mind without finding my way to clear understanding.

So I guess you are invited to make this blog post a clearness committee and shine your fog lights on in.

The two issues are ~
a) Occupying Wall Street
b) Promotion of published books

Here follow the conundra.

Wall Street
A few of my friends, and one in particular, posts faithfully on Facebook about the occupation of Wall Street and other cities.  From these posts and links I have learned about the astonishing number of people involved in this groundswell of public response to greed and corruption in the higher echelons of government and corporate life, and about the interesting and sometimes surprising nature of the police response – they have not always come out of this well.  In the UK too, a similar sense of dissatisfaction and dismay pervades our consciousness as we watch politicians, bankers and big businessmen continue to skim off the increasingly thin layer of cream from the society of which they are a part.

My own view from the watchtower on this issue began in the early 1980s when Christian prophets spoke urgently of things that made little sense at the time but a lot now – about collapse of banking and social systems and being prepared for that.  I took the prophecies to heart and responded in my own way by working as and when I could to ensure that I acquired a habit of living very simply and shedding as many debts as possible, with a view to safeguarding freedom and flexibility for myself and my family.  Alerted by the prophets, I watched; and what I believe I have seen is a steady overgrowth of the kingdom of Mammon spreading like a slime mould until it has become so extensive that it has started to choke the life out of our society.  Knowing that Jesus said one cannot serve God and Mammon, there is a straight choice, they are mutually exclusive, I perceive the solutions to be what in old-fashioned terms is called ‘repentance’ – an about-face away from self-indulgence, self-centredness and selfishness, towards service, helping each other and living the freedom life of Gospel simplicity (love-centred frugality), practising wise boundaries as well as peace and kindness.  The way out of the mess we’re in is simple and basic: sharing and helping the weakest must replace grabbing and getting.   As far as I know, there is no other way out: the symptoms are fiscal but the sickness is spiritual.

So I have sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement’s concerns.  I agree with them that there is a problem, and that as usual the poorest and weakest are hurting most while the most able and comfortable seek to feather their nests handsomely.

My puzzlement is that I cannot see how the Occupation of Wall Street is going to help.  What are its objectives?  What is the expected outcome?  How is it modelling a better alternative?  In one of the videos a post on Facebook linked to, I saw a man interviewed about how he had tried, in protest against banking corruption, to withdraw all his savings from the Bank of America, in company with a number of friends intent on the same thing.  Alarmed, the bank refused him and his friends entry, and the video followed predictable lines of polemic about being a free country and his money etc, etc. 

Suppose for a minute that the bank had allowed the man in, and he and his friends had withdrawn all their money.  Suppose, fired with enthusiasm, a significant proportion of the hordes on the street had followed suit.  Then what? 

The recent looting riots in English cities followed a similar puzzling pattern.  Those interviewed mainly said that they were sick of the corruption of the rich and powerful and wanted to demonstrate that they could do what they liked and no-one could stop them.   I heard of a cartoon in the wake of the riots that showed a couple of people going to the post office to draw their benefit money, then realising they wouldn’t be getting any because they’d burnt down the post office.

Surely the way to reform society is not to sit on the street and shout but to have a clear alternative plan and set about the slow, arduous task of implementing it.  The lifestyle of the Old Order Amish and Mennonites and of communities in monastic life could point the way for us.

So my first conundrum is that, while I agree our social habits have brought about our undoing, I fail to see how occupying Wall Street addresses the ills of our national and international life in the same way that I fail to see how shouting “YELLOW!” would answer the question of someone who asked “Which road will take me to the station?”

Can anybody shed further light?

Moving on


Promotion of published books
My literary agent has frequently impressed upon all of us whom he represents, that we the authors must take responsibility for the marketing and promotion of our own work.  Publishers commission or select, edit, evaluate likely success, prepare for publication, handle production, assist us in going through related formal and legal hoops, set in place some initial publicity – and then it’s over to us to build our platform, talk up our work, and generally get it out there.

Being essentially no good at this aspect of professional writing but moderately intelligent and keen to learn, I have watched and thought and watched some more – and I am getting more puzzled not less.

The accepted wisdom is that a writer must network without cessation – using every available avenue open to them – Facebook, Twitter, every writer’s page they can find, every blog they can haunt; whatever it takes to promote the product of their published work.  Get articles in as many magazines as possible, get on the radio, the TV – get heard, get seen, PROMOTE!

I am not great at this.  The perceived need for self-promotion was, I confess to you, my motive in starting this blog and in acquiring a Facebook page.  But as well as wishing to promote my cause as a writer, I am interested in you as a reader – and as a thinker and writer in your own turn.  I go on Facebook because I’m supposed to, as a published writer, but what I do there is try to promote the cause of goodness and truth, speak for the oppressed and forgotten, and be a good friend to the individuals I meet there.  On this blog I share with you my wondering and praying, my grief and joy and perplexity, offering you a window into my soul and my life.    But my conscience has been goaded by the urging of literary agents on the internet, who speak as one voice in advising us to network, network, network - use the free publicity of friends and acquaintances both wild and cultivated in the endless pursuit of self-promotion.

In faithfulness to my agent and publisher, I have to try to do better.  Doing my best at writing is not enough.  So I have looked carefully at the example of others who are able and successful at self-promotion, and what I have seen has left me profoundly puzzled. 

Writer A is in every magazine talking up the fact that she is a writer, reviewing other people’s writing and regaling us with the progress of her own.  She is admirable at putting herself about, but seems short of anything interesting to say.  As far as I can make out, she has not actually successfully completed her book.  But, by golly, when she has we shall know about it!

Writer B is a scribing veteran, author of a considerable body of work.  He posts mercilessly on every achievement, not waiting to win a prize to let us know he is on the short list, reporting every accolade (sometimes in duplicate).  A staunch friend to all fellow-writers, he is lavish in his praise for the work and achievements of any who seek his support.  So lavish, in fact, that when I see his opinion on someone’s work in print, I disregard it; it’s just another form of networking, harnessing the gratitude of other writers in the cause of self-promotion.  I began to frequent a writers’ page, thinking it might be an interesting place to be, but quickly ceased to go there; Writer B and those like him flooded it with self-promoting posts about their achievements until it became nothing but a column of small-ads, boring and wearing.  Each one stood up and shouted his wares until all that we had was cacophony, and nobody left to listen.

Writer C is a shrewd businessman.  He never appears online except to promote himself and his work.  I can’t tell you any more about him, because my initial interest evaporated.  I don’t really see myself as a punter, but he obviously does.

Writer D is a bit more canny.  She writes about her life as well as her books, she is endearing and funny and lively, and she takes the trouble to 'like' our comments on her Facebook posts.  But association with her is a one-way flow; she is there for self-promotion, and you can take it or leave it.  Increasingly, I leave it.

Writer E appears to be more relational still.  She offers many creative give-aways and writes in a very personal, intimate style, speaking of those who frequent her blog as a community, encouraging her readers to add her blog button to their blogs as they unite in the satisfying fellowship of . . . er . . . well . . . of promoting her, really . . .  She is not available for contact though; replies are not forthcoming.  I know this because, impressed by her success, I asked if we might seek a commendation from her for a book of mine.  My indefatigable publishers did what they could, but Writer E was too busy writing about how precious and valuable we all are to even take the time to turn us down.  Hey, who can blame her? A woman has only so many hours in one day - and self-promotion is very, very greedy of time.

20 years ago, before we all got so savvy about this, I wrote a trilogy of novels called The Hawk & the Dove. My US publisher, Crossway, kept it in print all these years.  This gave it the time it needed for word of mouth to promote it.  Even to the present day people are still discovering it for the first time.  Just while I was writing this blog post an email came in from a lady who wanted to thank me for writing it, because she had just discovered it, read it in 2 days, and it had blessed her.  If you look for reviews of it online, you will want to read it for yourself, because everyone says it’s a wonderful, amazing, life-changing series of books.  I would venture to suggest that this is because the right people read it.  I wrote it to try and express certain Gospel truths as best I could, and the Lord  in His goodness made the connections – it found its way into the right hands, where it could bring blessing and speak to hearts that needed what it had to offer.

This summer, the first of some novels continuing the series was published, The Hardest Thing To Do.   Twenty years is a long time, and marketing practice has changed a lot since the first trilogy came out.  This time the book has not been left to wend its way into the hands of readers.  My publisher is brilliant, and my publicist there has worked her socks off ensuring that it gets read and gets reviewed.   Crossway is every writer’s dream publisher, and the promotion they offer goes way beyond what most publishing houses offer.  Best of all I love the way they respect the text, seeing each manuscript as a book not as a product.   As a result, their catalogue reflects honest thought and real meaning – the works on their shelves are not shallow. But their support and hard work as publicists is just fantastic.  If you Google ‘The Hardest Thing To Do’, you’ll see what I mean.  They have got it out there beyond my wildest dreams.

So last night, I had a look at some reviews, and this gave me pause for thought.   Those who wanted to read the book – because it intrigued them or a friend recommended it or they knew the original series or had heard of it – really, really love it.  They find it powerful, transforming, satisfying.  If you look at the reviews on Amazon, which are placed by readers who felt moved to say something about it, you will come away thinking, ‘This must be a good book’.

But in the great wave of reviews there are also many readers who find it mediocre – dull, pointless, impossible to finish.   Of course, this will inevitably be so; there are even people who think Shakespeare is boring.  But it did make me stop and think.  I wondered, might it not have been better to let this grow the old, slow way?  To place it into the hands of those we knew would love it, and just wait for them to tell their friends, let work of mouth do the trick again?  Might it not be better to have a smaller body of overwhelmingly positive reviews than a larger body of mixed reviews?  Or doesn’t it matter what people are saying as long as they are saying something?

In the last few weeks I have been really struggling with this question of self-promotion.   I have some more novels planned to take the Hawk & the Dove series to ten volumes, if my publisher feels enough confidence in the series to travel that far with me, but I am not confident that I have the ability to promote as the modern market-place requires.  I feel a strong instinctive preference for the hidden way of doing what I believe I was sent here to do, walking honestly and quietly in a path of simplicity, giving the best of myself to the sowing and trusting the Lord for the harvest.

And, bearing in mind Ecclesiastes 9:10~ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest ~ I want to apply myself to doing day by day, hour by hour, the work of God according to the light that is in me.  I would rather not turn my soul into a trampling stock-exchange of shouting voices.

This poem is what I mean.

I feel both nervous and ashamed about this – that I might be letting down my publisher and my agent.  Yet when I look at the tireless efforts of writers who work the social media to the max, their approach leaves me cold, and turns me off reading their work completely.

What to do?

So, friends – your wisdom and insight on the matters of occupying Wall Street and self-promotion of published work are sought and awaited.

AFTERTHOUGHT - my laptop wallpaper at the present time includes a quotation from James D Miles:
"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him."