Deb: Blame the Mountain

Astute early-birds might notice that I’m late with my usual 7 a.m. blogpost. I’m blaming that on the mountain, the Great One, which had the audacity to wake me yesterday looking as you see it above. With that view outside your tent, how’s a person supposed to get the sleep needed to be an active, productive, and marketable writer these days?

Blaming serves writers well. Soon after I started hanging around with people who wrote, I noticed they were good at spreading the blame when their books didn’t sell. The cover was bad. The marketing budget was low. The editor wasn’t behind it – or worse, had moved on to another company, leaving the book orphaned. The reviewers were cranky. The booksellers didn’t appreciate it. The public didn’t get it. After my first book hit the market, I got good at the blame game myself.

That was 13 years ago, and while the blaming goes on, technology has upended the targets. If your book isn’t getting the attention it deserves, fingers will likely point back at you, its humble author. Are you blogging? Tweeting? Facebooking? Using SEO (for the uninitiated:search engine optimization) to drive traffic to your flashy website? If the answer to any of these is no, the blame falls on you. Your crime: failure to adequately brand yourself in a highly competitive market.

I first learned about branding in the nine years I spent selling real estate (I doubt this makes for an adequate brand, but let’s say this writer’s income was nowhere close to sufficient for helping children through college). You’re not selling houses; you’re selling yourself. That’s the mantra for Realtors. It was easy enough to brand myself in that market. I picked three ways I figured I stood out from the crowd – honesty, integrity, service – and made that my slogan. I got lots of business. In one year, I made more money than a lot of us will in a lifetime of writing.

Exiting real estate for writing, I figured I’d seen the last of branding myself. I’d create. Discover. Seek truth. Sure, I’d have to help market my books. But I wouldn’t have to be branded.

Except that these days, it seems, everyone has to be branded. “The New Information Economy is upping the ante by supplanting the besieged private self with the market’s very soul,” writes Chris Lehmann (branded also as my brother) in “Rich People Things: I’m with the Brand.” There are plenty of reasons why publishing demands authors brand, and consumerism can’t be denied: what we all want is to sell books, right? Not to mention that the new information economy does have its merits: case in point, Chris’s next book, Rich People Things, is a spin-off of the column he’s done for The Awl, a website.  And look at me, driving traffic to his brand with my little blog post, with its nice hypertext links (Chris:  we’re adding this to the tab that began with the little matter of my missing allowance).

Keeping up with the branding can be a tough thing. Get up early to see a mountain, and you’re late posting your blog. That’s without getting into how little time and creative energy you have left for real writing when you’re done promoting the real writer you’re supposed to be.

I’m consoling myself with the fact that even the mountain has problems with branding. We want to call it Denali. Politics has kept it McKinley. Except when you look like that first thing in the morning, who the heck cares?

For those who might not look great in the morning but who want to market their books without supplanting themselves or their souls, we offer Dana Stabenow’s 3-hour clinic Promoting Your Book in Your Pajamas, November 17, 6-9 p.m.  Register online at

1 thought on “Deb: Blame the Mountain”

  1. Deb,

    You're right about that: "Who the hell cares?" After several books, none of which even earned back their modest advances against royalties, I've decided not to, anymore. I've promoted and networked and cajoled and wheedled, only to find that there will always be factors beyond our control, deciding the "success" of a book. So, instead, I now simply enjoy a book's publication without obsessively checking its Amazon ranking and focus more on magazine articles that, per hour invested, yield much better financial returns.

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