Ask the Publicists: An Author’s Survival Kit for Dark Times
A Monthly Advice Column from Broadside PR
Q: I’m a member of the alt-right and I’d like to self-publish my memoir. Can you help me?
A: Hmmm. By “alt-right” do you mean what we think you mean? Then:
Q: Oops I didn’t vote. Can you–
Q: The world is a mess. How can I expect people to care about my book?
The world is a mess. It is completely rational to question whether anyone will care about your work in a time like this, but the truth is literature is more important now than ever. Books connect us, enlighten us, increase our sense of empathy, and expose us to people and places from around the globe. They serve as a temporary escape from, or a deep dive into, our painful world. They can explain the manifold reasons (zillions of them) why the world is so confusing, as well as show us moments of breathtaking beauty. They can offer a needed guide or an escape route. They make us laugh, gasp, marvel, sob, worry, feel reinvigorated. All books are necessary: novels, short stories, humor, graphic literature, memoir, science, psychology, history, picture books, your book(s). Literature is like the air we breathe: vital.
So, how can you expect people to care about your book? Right now, we suggest flipping the question to ask: How can I support literature, reading, and authors universally? In helping others, others will help you.
An Author’s Survival Kit in Ten Steps
1) Read and purchase diverse literature
Read work by people not like you. Getting outside of your own subjective worldview will vastly improve your mind and expand your heart. Seek out work by diverse writers to experience the world through the eyes of others: read books by people of color, people of a different faith, Indigenous Americans, LGBTQ authors, people with disabilities, writers from other countries. According to the Diversity Baseline Survey released last year by Lee & Low Books, a whopping 79 percent of the publishing industry is white, and the total number of diverse books published each year, over the past 20 years, has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding 10 percent. Writing, publishing, editing, promoting, reviewing, reading, championing books by diverse authors is more important now than ever.
2) Read and purchase literature in translation
Reading books translated from other countries provides a crucial window on how other people live—what is important to them, what motivates them politically or spiritually. Most importantly, it offers empathy, and reminds us how big our world is. Also, with thanks to Idra Novey who recently mentioned this Eliot Weinberger quote: “Translation flourishes when there is a national inferiority complex or national embarrassment.” There was a boom in translated work during the Vietnam War and the Bush years, for example—perhaps we’ll see a flourishing of literature in translation now. Take a look at what Chad Post is publishing at Open Letter Books or posting on his blog, Three Percent. Seek out books and authors published by New Directions, Archipelago, Graywolf Press, Deep Vellum, New Vessel, Dalkey Archive Press, Europa Editions, and others.
3) Support free speech and literary/journalism/political causes
The literary community is all of us: donate to causes that help strengthen those who need it most and that strengthen our journalistic media. If you can’t donate money, donate time: investigate what these organizations are up to and see how to become involved, even if it means only spreading the word about their work to your friends or on social media. Here are a few organizations we love and ones who are doing important work, especially lately: PEN, the International Center for Journalists, ProPublica, Book Aid International, the African Library Project, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, The NAACP, the Marshall Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Planned Parenthood, Native American Rights Fund, Lambda Legal, Environmental Defense Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Resources Defense Council, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the Trevor Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
4) Support your local and national media
If you don’t already, subscribe to your local daily newspaper. Print or digital is fine. Subscribe to the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times… Their articles go out on wire services and now inform vast swaths of our country and the world. Support National Public Radio, your local public radio and television stations. We need journalism and the freedom of the press now more than ever. ProPublica and the ACLU continue to do critical work—you can donate or sign up for their news alerts.
5) Support literary journals/publications
Subscribe, read, share: Poets & Writers, the Paris Review, Tin House, A Public Space, Callaloo, Bellevue Literary Review, American Poetry Review, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Guernica, Bomb, and many others. You can find countless more examples on the shelves of your local bookstore and library.
6) Set up readings and writing workshops within your local community
Arrange panel events with fellow authors at your local bookstore/library/college/coffee shop and tackle contemporary issues. Become a mentor or teacher for people in need, specifically children and immigrants. Girls Write Now and 826 are just two of the excellent organizations you can play an active role in—investigate other like-minded non-profits in your area.
7) Continue writing
These are uncertain, scary times. Don’t give up on the extraordinary power of the written word. Stick to your routine: it will anchor you through storms large and small. It’s important that we continue creating art—such a life-affirming, radical act in the face of oppression—just as it’s important we document the changing world around us.
8) Share what you’re reading
We sometimes forget that not many people in our great country read books regularly. Inspire others with your reading choices. Talk about what you read, share it on social media, explain why and how books matter to you. Pitch reviews of forthcoming books you’re passionate about to a book editor near you. Start conversations about books.
9) Visit and shop your local independent bookstore
Bookstores are on the frontlines in the fight for freedom of speech. But they’re also essential community centers run by passionate readers. Talk to a bookseller about what they’re reading, what books or authors they’re excited about—they’re unheralded local resources and can help you discover entire new worlds. As our friends at Independent Bookstore Day say, indie bookstores are “entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent. In a world of tweets and algorithms and pageless digital downloads, bookstores are not a dying anachronism. They are living, breathing organisms that continue to grow and expand. In fact, there are more of them this year than there were last year. And they are at your service.”
You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Eat healthily. Exercise. Meditate. Hydrate. Connect with others. Read a poem. Walk away from the computer. Go for a walk. Resist wallowing in despair.
Is there an organization or idea we’ve left out that you want to call attention to? Please add it in the comments below. We’re stronger together. Thanks!
Kimberly Burns, Whitney Peeling, and Michael Taeckens are the co-founders of Broadside PR. They work regularly with publishers and authors to launch exceptional works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as with literary organizations and prizes to strengthen the value of the written word. If you have a question you’d like Broadside PR to consider for our next column, please send it to us via email: ahoy@BroadsidePR.com