Literary agent Nathan Bransford, as he’s wont to do, has posted a fascinating take on his blog about one of the prevalent myths of publishing: that novelists can write books, turn them over to the publisher and start writing again. No promotion or marketing responsibilities. Just coax out the literary brilliance, baby.

Bransford’s conclusion: Some can do it, among them Thomas Pynchon, the inspiration for the blog post. But not many, and certainly very few among those who are trying to find a footing in the business.

The key bit from Bransford:

Every author is a product of their time and had to deal with the realities and constraints of their publishing industry. Hemingway found his way to publication in part because he knew the right people (namely F. Scott Fitzgerald), and his success owed a great deal to his larger than life stature, a literary self-promotional archetype dating back to Byron and beyond. Herman Melville became famous because he wrote travelogues about far flung locales during a time when technology and trade was opening up the world, then crashed and burned when he tried to write novels about silly things like white whales, which didn’t even sell through its 3,000 print run.

Bransford’s well-reasoned musings set me to thinking about the unique challenges and opportunities for authors now. Social media and gadgetry have fundamentally changed the methods in which we communicate with each other and, in many cases, the way we form our language. (ROTFLMAO!) These aren’t exactly revelations; if you’re reading this now, you’re no doubt aware of these transformations. For me, as a new novelist, the Web comes with all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of hesitations. With such seemingly limitless ways in which to promote one’s self and one’s work, which do you choose? How hard do you push? Where is the line between effectively aggressive and annoyingly nettlesome?

I don’t know, exactly. But I have some ideas.

Yesterday, I set up a fan page for myself on Facebook. (You should totally visit it, by the way.) It was every bit as self-centered as it sounds, and I cringed as I sent out invitations to all 600-some of my Facebook friends, inviting them to become my fan. (The embarrassment was even worse when someone told me that the message came across as “Craig Lancaster wants you to be a fan of Craig Lancaster.” Oy!)

Still, I did so knowing that the advantage of such a page was not in allowing me to talk to people who might be interested in my book, but in clearing the way for us to talk with each other. That’s the power of social media; it’s not the amplification of the message (though that’s a nice side benefit) but the establishment of a connection.

To understand this value, you need only look at the appeal of other areas where the barriers between fans and artists or athletes have come down. NASCAR figured out a long time ago that it could engender a loyal following by making its stars accessible to the legions who pack speedways to see them. Joe Pernice earned a fan for life in me when my note to his business office in praise of a song was answered by Joe himself. Bransford himself has a huge following. Yes, many hope that he’ll someday add them to his roster of authors. But the bigger factor is that he discusses things of import to them and opens up a conversation.

Here, then, are some guiding principles I try to stick to as I go around beating my chest on social networks:

  • DO promote news, reviews and interviews. These are professional achievements and things that readers and potential readers alike will be interested in.
  • DO NOT bang the same old drum, day after day after day. I’m not selling T-shirts on the corner. Not yet, anyway.
  • DO try to engage the people who have been nice enough to express an interest in the work.
  • DO NOT come on too strong with any of them. (Naturally, this concept can be lost on someone who lacks the self-awareness to know what “too strong” means.)
  • DO look for legitimate opportunities to plug the work.
  • DO NOT hijack friends’ Facebook/MySpace pages for the aforementioned plugging.
  • DO try to come up with innovative ways to let readers interact with the work. Check out my friend T.L. Hines’ site for some excellent examples of this. He offers a free book download to people who have sent in a picture for his montage, and he has turned readers into characters in books. All very, very cool.
  • DO NOT let screwball promotional ideas usurp the excellence of the work being offered.

What say you?

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