Dr Hugh Willbourn
#38 Hey look at meeeeee!
Today I must start to market my new book. I don't find the task appealing. Get all over social media. Tweet. Gather followers. Follow other people. Post on Instagram every three days. Go back on Facebook. Interact. Provoke. Feed the trolls. Focus on your USPs. Become the Go-To Man.
It all makes sense, but it feels wrong. And why do I have such an aversion to self-promotion?
A successful author must be pushy, egocentric and relentless. In effect two jobs are required. The first is to write your book. The second is the work of becoming famous. A lot of astute characters have collapsed these two jobs into one – hence the proliferation of books selling “How to be a successful / famous / entrepreneurial guru / marketeer / coach / leader / influencer / etc.” The marketing tail wags the product dog. Along with the other travails of marketing we have to fight our way through a crowd of hucksters of hyperbole.
Most successful authors have spent years building their brand. Many start as journalists and build a profile there. I have spent years digging and learning and researching and living. For years I wrote very little of my own stuff, because I had very little to say. Now I have something substantial to say but I am late to the game of self-promotion.
Self-promotion requires pandering to the Gatekeepers of Fame and their criteria are celebrity, sensationalism, simplicity, titillation and me-too-but-different. All mainstream media are desperate for content, but they all want you to be famous already.
Agents and publishers have three questions;
From Agents: Why should I listen to you?
From Publishers: Where would you fit on my list?
From both: How many followers do you have?
You have to sell your book on its benefits. Repeat them consistently in all your copy and every interview. Many benefits come with my book, but they vary according to each reader. An essential element is that it cannot be explained in three bullet points, which is inconvenient.
Online marketing is largely a numbers game of covert coercion which relies on your unthinking curiosity. Marketing funnels are built to entice you with quizzes, tantalise you with tempting giveaways and lure you to buy – just a little, little purchase at first … But I don’t want that. I don’t want your unthinking anything. I want your thoughtfulness.
The distortions of media and marketing are themselves a downstream consequence of the problems I address in my book. It is not surprising that I don’t fit neatly into their boxes.
To make matters more difficult, although my book is entertaining it also is a challenge. It is fashionable nowadays to write books that do your thinking for you – that offer you neatly packaged insights and clever analyses. I don’t do that. I illuminate a few fragments of philosophy but mostly I tell stories and I leave it to you to join the dots, if dots you see. There's a good reason for that. A story is a story, it can’t be reduced to bullet points, or dots, and even I, the author, cannot command its meaning. Nor can I do your understanding for you. What you get out of the book will be more than you put in. But you do have to put something in.
In a gesture of procrastination and avoiding marketing I went to a different café last week. As I sat down, a man at the adjacent table greeted me – a fellow parent from the school gate. He wanted to show me something. He brought over his laptop which was running an AI chatbot programme. I can’t remember which one.
“It’s wonderful,” he said, “ask it anything.”
“Ok,” I replied.
I typed in, “Tell me some creative ways to market my new book.”
It took about three seconds to type out its advice: post on social media, get followers, cross-post, follow influencers, interact … everything the internet has already shown me, presented politely and fluently. AI Chat is a concierge version of a search engine.
“Be more creative,” I asked it.
In two more seconds it came up with more suggestions with which I was already familiar.
“This bot won’t create anything new,” I said to my new friend. “It will scoop up ideas from all over the net and it does that very well, but the closest it will get to novelty is a new juxtaposition of ideas that already exist.”
“I showed it to my daughter,” he said, “but I don’t want her to use it to write, only to research. We have our computer in the living room so I can see what she is doing.”
“You know,” I carried on, suddenly energised, “this chat bot is doing us a great favour. It perfectly illustrates the difference between knowledge and understanding. This thing will collect, collate and refine knowledge from all over the net. It will deliver unlimited amounts of knowledge. But it doesn’t understand anything.
You could follow its advice without understanding anything either. Many people will do exactly that. In fact many people already amass knowledge and opinion and follow the most popular propositions. They understand almost nothing, yet believe they know more than enough. They could not be more wrong.
Understanding is an activity. If you wish to live sensibly you must do it. To understand is to see clearly into, around, beyond and before what is present. It is to hear the tones and overtones in the speech and sounds around us. It is to sense emotions in play, associations and correlations and commitments. It is to feel vectors of energy, their nodes and vulnerabilities, their directions and the deeper currents beneath them and even more than that ... It is to see what has happened and what is likely to happen, and how likely, and what makes it more or less likely.
Understanding is a task without end and without limit – and it takes work.”
Well to be honest that is not exactly what I said. I can’t remember my specific words, but that was the gist of what I was saying.
My new friend listened looking mildly surprised but he got it. I doubt he expected to have a philosophical disquisition over the café table. Then we showed each other photos of our children.
I enjoyed our meeting and the thoughts that the AI bot provoked. I realised that my little extemporisation arose from the work that underlies my book.
“This,” I thought, “this is how I want to market my book. I want to meet people and share our concerns and ideas and insights and stories."
I hope you enjoy that sort of activity too. The book will give you plenty of material for that sort of discussion. You can have unpredictable and enjoyable conversations and serendipitous personal connections. If you see someone else reading the book, ask them what they think about it, what they got out of it. It is likely to be very different from what you first saw.
The book is called, The Bug in our Thinking and the way to fix it.
It is coming soon. The easiest way to get it - hard copy or ebook - will be via this website. Please buy it and read it and then talk about it with friendly strangers and share the thoughts and wonderings which are not in the book but which somehow are set free in your mind. Tell a few stories. Change the world, one coffee at a time.
Now I must get over my aversion and get back to marketing. Me, Me, Me! Buy my wonderful book: The Bug in our Thinking and the way to fix it ! Discount for quantity! Buy, Buy, Buy!
P.S. I apologise for the eager naivety in my last post. I wrote that I would publish the book in February but I grossly underestimated the complexity of the job. It will be out in the second half of May. I also wrote that the book would have “stories” in the title. It won’t. They got relegated to the subtitle, then they fell out altogether. It does however have a lot of stories on the inside.