Thursday, August 12, 2004

The art of self-publicity

Yesterday we noted how a modicum of qualifications can be transformed into a reputation as a world leader in a particular field of endeavour. And that reminds me of a few other examples of the same thing which may, perhaps, be useful to the ambitious writers amongst you.

About 25 years ago I was involved in organising a series of lunchtime concerts in the classical music mode. These were intended to inject a little culture into relatively unsophisticated students of engineering. There wasn’t much budget for these concerts, which could be attended free of charge, so for the most part we used solo performers, rather than quartets et cetera. Most of these performers were either just beginning their professional careers or were women who had given up the touring circuit in order to have children but still wanted to keep their hand in.

One of these keen young professionals was a pianist. I forget his name so we’ll call him John Smith. He was talented (up to a point), ambitious and clever. But John had realised that there is a hell of a lot of competition in the music business (as in writing) and he had decided to help himself along a bit.

John had noticed that the small-town newspapers in England (and, I dare say, everywhere else in the world) are keen to find material to fill up the white space. He had also noticed that, if you send such papers a short and snappy press release, they will often print it pretty much verbatim.

So, what John did was this. He would get himself booked for a very modest tour of very modest venues in various parts of the country. And then he would send a press release to any daily or evening papers in the first of these towns. The press release included a statement something like this: ‘John Smith is quickly acquiring a reputation as the most brilliant pianist of his generation.’ And – ahem – who, precisely, took the view that John was the most brilliant and so forth? Well, it was his Mum, actually, but John didn’t mention that.

Newspaper number one generally printed John’s press release without changing a word. So for town number two, and newspaper number two, John could quite legitimately put out a press release which included the following: ‘John recently gave a successful concert in Smalltown, and the Smalltown Chronicle described him as ‘one of the most brilliant pianists of his generation.’ And for this press release John would add bit more. ‘John Smith is acknowledged as possessing a dazzling technique.’ Who had acknowledged this? Well, once again Mum proved to be an excellent judge of such matters.

Ten or twelve towns, and ten or twelve concerts later, John had assembled a dazzling array of quotes, something like this:

'The most brilliant pianist of his generation’ Smalltown Chronicle
‘A dazzling technique’ Hicksville Gazette
‘A fabulous performer’ Nowhere Herald
‘A thrilling bravura performance’ Crapsville Argus

And so on. All of these quotes were perfectly genuine and he could flourish a handful of press cuttings to prove it.

I don’t know what became of this young man because I don’t keep up with the world of classical music but he may well have gone far. Modesty, it is said, is the enemy of talent, and it doesn’t do to be backward about coming forward.

How does this technique impact upon writers? Well, you will have to work out similar dodges for yourself. But if you want a few hints, the best source of these is the indefatigable M.J. Rose, who has turned herself into something of an internet legend and now has several books to her name. Ms Rose has written at least one ebook on how to make yourself famous, and also offers online courses too; but they ain’t cheap.


David Jordan said...

I Spent the Day With a Freak
by David Jordan
is probably the best book about a man and a woman on a blind date in London...ever!

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