Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Writer's Image

I attended a book reading yesterday by Abidemi Sanusi, author of Kemi's Journal. It was funny how people kept referring to her (accidentally, of course) as Kemi.

Anyway, an interesting question and answer session followed the reading. If I didn't know before just how difficult a writing profession is, I certainly am aware of it now. No, writing is not just about writing. Who would have thunk? No, you have to identify your target audience and in many cases produce the book your publisher thinks would appeal to them. It sounds like such incredibly hard work, not to mention potentially joy-killing. I suppose that is why it is so important to find a publisher whose vision is very closely aligned with yours, and such a publisher once found becomes tighter than family.

One issue that was much discussed was the role a writer's image plays in the success of their book. Bibi of Cassava Republic talked about how many publishers regard the writer's image as integral to the success of the book. I suppose this is very much a sign of the times. Writers go on book tours to promote their work now. I'm not sure what they did fifty years ago. I do know that growing up I frequently knew nothing about the writers of my favourite books. And it really didn't matter that much to me. Now, I obsessively Google the authors I like to find out every tiny detail about them. I admit that I am very curious about people and their stories, and having the tools with which to feed my curiousity only serves to feed this addiction.

But, if the Internet didn't exist and there was no Google and no celebrity-obsessed media culture such as we have now, I wonder if I would still care about a writer's image? In the long run, probably not that much. I would probably still want to know something about them, but it really wouldn't affect whether I read their books or not.

Years ago, some writers (particularly women) wrote under a pen-name. I suppose they had constructed images to feed to the public and I assume that even their publishers were unaware of their true identities. I know that this could not happen in today's world, where we have to know absolutely everything about the people we choose to invite into our lives. Writing used to be a profession where image didn't matter so much; the proof was in the manuscript, so to speak. Or at least that's what it's always seemed like to me.


d said...

a lot of female writers have had to masculinize (verb is wrong, i know) to get published.

j.k. rowling for example. her real name is joane, but her publisher insisted she use initials. so she borrowed her grandmother's name, katherine, to make the intials.

lionel shriver who won the orange prize last year is a woman. she changed her name, she got published.

harper lee 'to kill a mocking bird' - her first name is nelle.

p.d. james the crime writer is a woman.

the list goes on.

Ore said...

You have a good point, d!