[Updated on 03/11/2015]
My 19 year old, Emmy, publishes her first children’s book today. Woo hoo!!!! Luch & Friends flies into the world with no marketing, no press releases, no publisher. Emmy is her own person. Who likes to do things her way, all the way.
We did consider all of the above. Yet, we both knew Emmy needed creative control. Besides, with publishers there’s always the marketing/branding team. The idea of marketing Luch & Friends based on Emmy’s personality, personal life, or social politics, was not one Emmy was interested in. The thought of talking to people about ‘who she is’ was not something that filled Emmy with delight. She decided to go her own way and self-publish.
However, this meant that marketing/branding would be left up to Emmy.
How to do this left us both feeling uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is too soft a word.
Grim. And glum.
Yep, it left us feeling glummed up and grim.
Marketing and branding leaves most writers feeling diminished to a sound-byte. If you like your sound-byte, you’re lucky. If you don’t…well, my heart goes out to you. (Recently, I was described as, ‘that hippy-faerie woman?’ by an actor after my own book came out. I smiled when I was told ‘cos that’s exactly who I am even when I’m writing stage-plays.)
Anyway, the reason we both felt grim was that we’d heard the new adage that ‘the author needs pushed as well as the book.’ It’s like the age of social media has convinced everyone that we all should be celebrities and to be a celebrity we need to be transparent. Sadly, transparency is not the same as authenticity. I mean, we could opt to market Emmy’s book based on two aspects of ‘the author’s journey’ such as:
First: Emmy’s on the autistic spectrum – her book is about empathy, friendship, and love, often traits not credited to people on the spectrum. This could be an opportunity to inspire others on the spectrum to write and/or inform those not on the spectrum to re-think our notions about autistic people’s capacity for empathy.
Second: Emmy’s also agender – at times within Luch & Friends, Emmy subtly uses gender neutral pronouns.This too could be an opportunity to increase awareness of gender neutrality and its use in linguistics, literature, and society. As Emmy says…
‘I’d love it if we got out of the habit of using gendered language towards people we don’t know … you can’t tell someone’s gender just by their appearance after all!’ – Emmy Clarke
Despite these opportunities to inspire and inform, we both felt grimly glum. Plus something else we couldn’t quite pin-point, but that left you feeling like you needed a long hot shower. This something other sat in our bellies like a fat bloat fart urging to be birthed.
‘I am not an autistic author or an agender author. I’m just an author. It feels gross to exploit two tiny bits of who I am to market a story.’ – Emmy Clarke
Yup, the fat bloated fart feeling grew into a slimy greasy yukky grim grey glum farty feeling.
What to do? What to do? What to do?
You see, it’s not that Emmy is ashamed of autism nor agenderiness. No. There was something about capitalizing on something she had no choice over… maybe…that made us squirm. We’re just not sure.
When my first book, ‘Awaken your Inner Faerie in 30 days,’ was published, it was clear that my history was relevant. I write self-help. Who I was, and who I’m evolving into, was part of the work. The fact I’d experienced an attempt on my life and sexual violence was part of the story – people buying the book needed to know what I’d lived. It was all about trust.
For a children’s story book? Surely not the same degree of author scrutiny shouldn’t be irrelevant? Yet, look on any publisher’s website and you’ll see, time and time again, that they think it is relevant. They want authors they can, ‘promote,’ or who can, ‘promote themselves,’ some even say they want authors who already have a ‘personal following.’
Is this what book reader’s demand? Or what publishers/marketers think readers want?
Surely we just buy stories, we don’t buy based on author personality? And if we do, shouldn’t we question that?
As a playwright, I’ve found myself defined as a ‘feminist writer’ because I choose to write pieces for older women. This is right. I am a feminist and I am a writer. Though that’s missing the point. No one really wants to know what kind of feminist I am (intersectional, if you must know) It is clear they just want a sound-byte. A pigeon hole to put me in. Or they are just reaching for something, ANYTHING, to say in order to sell.
Don’t get me wrong. I sympathise. We live in information overload. Never before has so much information been available to so many people at the click of a finger. Never before has our attention-spans been so fragmented. Our minds thirsty for entertainment in a world thickly saturated with the promise of quick speedy distraction.
It bears remembering – None of it’s real.
I know a lot of actors reluctant to discuss themselves as people. They know it ruins their ability to do their job. The job of helping the audience suspend their disbelief – that’s hard to do when your wedding photos are in OK magazine (or the audience is busy reading who you’re having lunch with in Just Jared. *shudder*)
Do we really want to do this for authors and poets too? Do we need to know who Stephen King votes for, or what brand of toilet paper he uses in order to enjoy Carrie? I personally don’t read the Death Of Myth-Making by Sylvia Plath and think, yeah that’s good, but what shampoo does she use?
I’m all for natural curiosity, but it can interfere with our interpretation of the work. We see less of the story; it becomes contaminated by ego-personality. Our projections and judgements of the author’s sound-byted personality shadow the art – it can become more about the individual creator rather than the created piece. I can’t help feel that the art suffers as a result. That’s why I never like to know too much about the creator behind the creation.
Maybe that’s what lay behind the pent up fart pressure that sat within us both. Maybe it’s simply being an over-protective mamma. Not wanting what I know is inevitable.
Yes, maybe the slimy farty feeling is a bodily rebellion against my child being condensed into a phrase like… ‘Emmy Clarke, the autistic writer of Luch & Friends,’ or ‘Emmy Clarke? Isn’t she that the agender one who writes about mice for kids?
I mean, it’s inevitable. Half of all communication is short-hand in making ourselves understood.
We just didn’t want to encourage it. So it felt right for Emmy to do a Fleetwood Mac and go her own way. As Emmy said this weekend, ‘the story is the point. Why don’t we just promote the story?’
So, that’s what she’s chosen to do. And in her own words – here’s what Luch & Friends is all about.
‘Luch & Friends is a story about a mouse, Luch, her friends, and the fun they get up to when Luch’s cousin Radan comes to live with her. Radan has a sad secret she’s finding it hard to speak up about, but eventually it comes to light with everyone’s support and love.’ – Emmy Clarke
Seriously, it’s that simple.
‘Luch & Friends’ is quaint, gentle, sweet bedtime story for children aged four and upwards. We trust it will find its way, (without noisy branding and aggressive marketing,) into children’s lives. After all, that’s who it was wrote for…and everything in this crazy world has a habit of working out perfectly, each and every time.
If you want to bring Luch & Friends into your child’s life get a copy from…
Big Love to you All!
© Alex Clarke 2015 – Founder & Editor