Saturday, February 4, 2012

What a Circus!

I was feeling a little bit like Otto, the amateur clown, yesterday as I participated in the  OLA mass book launch! This is my pencil drawing I was doing this week for p. 75 of Hometown Otto.

I was part of CANSCAIP's mass book launch at the Ontario Librarians Conference in Toronto yesterday, promoting my book Big City Otto. 35 authors (with a smattering of illustrators) got up on a noisy little stage in the corner of a cavernous hall down at the Metro Convention Centre, and competed to have their voices heard over the noise, bustle and collective yammering of a book trade in upheaval.

The whole event left me feeling a bit bewildered. Not that I'm pointing fingers at the wonderful CANSCAIP staff and volunteers that made this event possible - it was a noble attempt to give authors a chance to try to get word out about their books. And we were all willing participants! 

But it did get me thinking about the duality of the creator's life, the making and selling of books, and how that balance seems to be sliding more and more towards the point where we have to become hucksters for our own creative output. There was a time when this was the publisher's job and I've been in the biz long enough to remember that. But as book sales dwindle and the way the word gets out around books changes on a daily basis, authors and, to a lesser extent, illustrators have had the responsibility for the success of their book fall more and more upon their own shoulders. Or perhaps shouldered it themselves out of a sense of desperation.

A lot of it centres around publishers pushing their creators to establish a presence on the web, through Facebook and Twitter, networking and connecting with fans and the industry. A great deal of time and effort goes into this communication and much of it ends up, in my opinion, to going out to a closed loop of like-minded individuals. 

Some are well up for the task of self promotion, but many are being asked to do something they are simply not hard-wired to do. Many creators, due to the introspective and solitary nature of their work, are, quite frankly, lousy at it, and shouldn't be feeling they have to do this. It is why there is a publishing industry in the first place - because it has been a long-recognized fact that the people who create books are not those best-suited to sell them. But whether publishers expect this of them or not, the people who make the books children read are being driven to wanton acts of self-promotion in a desperate bid to get their books "out there".

From a personal perspective I was struck with this odd duality that seems to be expected of us these days. The contrast between what I see as my real work - creating books - and this other odd job, selling them. Most of my days (and I'm lucky, because I still make the major amount of my dwindling income by sitting at my drawing board) involve working away, pencil in hand, in some sort of alternate universe populated by an elephant in a trench coat or — as you can see by the attached pencil drawing — a clown costume. The hours slip by as my mind inhabits a space out of time, and nothing intrudes upon this peaceful act of creation other than the need for an occasional bite to eat or cup of tea. This is my job.

And then, occasionally, it is punctuated by this frenetic attempt to let the world know about this book you have poured your heart and soul into, where the ego gets put on the line and the hard reality of learning that no one will ever care as much about your work as you do comes crashing in around your ears in a deafening cacophony of insecurity and not particularly useful self-questioning. 

In the cold hard light of day, once more sequestered in your solitary world, the question arises - how is this productive and why would you choose to identify with that part of your work? And the answer, as you pick yourself up and dust yourself off is so evident that you wonder why it need even be asked as you go back to your job. Your real job, of creating books.

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