Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Brandless Brand

I know I said it was a question expecting the answer "No", but it is nonetheless disappointing when yet another publisher's  pro forma letter of rejection hits the e-doormat: "Dear [your name here], Thank you for considering our humble publishing house, but..."  Ah, well.

But it does raise the question, why set yourself up like this for serial rejections? Which I certainly have done, over the last 40 years. Poems, plays, stories, articles, cartoons, exhibitions, illustrations, photographs, books of photographs...  The list of my rejected submissions is depressingly long, when I come to think of it; the list of my acceptances very short indeed. So, at what point should you think: sod it, I am one of life's civilians, and will be much happier when I finally forget about trying to discover what life is like on the other side of that magic barrier that separates us wannabes from the published and the players?

The magic password is self-promotion, of course, but I think most sane people are uncomfortable with that game. It's one thing to submit the odd book proposal, quite another to spend quality time polishing up brand Me Me Me. I had a very curious conversation with the director of a gallery that showed some of my work a couple of years ago. It was the afternoon before the opening of the exhibition. I was exhausted from travel, highly-wrought from being interviewed in front of a TV camera, and nervous about the prospect of holding forth that night to an audience of strangers. Somehow a vague chat over coffee about motives and opportunities took a weird turn, and I found myself being taken to task over my amateurism, lack of ambition, and my foolish unwillingness to push my "brand".

Wait, what? I thought that was who I was and how I had come to be there; indeed, my presentation that evening was entirely concerned with the joys of process-not-product, the freedom-to-fail conferred by amateur status, and so on. The one thing I was not, for good or ill, was a brand. Unless perhaps I was, unwittingly, the Brandless Brand? I was nonplussed and annoyed, and – being me – responded by getting onto the rhetorical front foot. I said that I valued being a good parent and partner over being a successful artist, and was not prepared to leave the traditional trail of broken relationships and promises in the wake of the pursuit of My Brilliant Career. Which is true. "Don't be an arsehole" is kind of my mission statement.

Nonetheless, my presentation did seem to go down well, up to and including a proposal of marriage. It was clearly a message people want to hear. However, as all fellow "high-functioning introverts" will know, by mid-evening I had gone through the high and was coming down fast. I needed to escape, and quietly sloped off to catch the tram back to my hotel. Oops. Epic fail! I had forgotten I was meant to attend a meal in my honour, which is clearly an unforgivable branding faux pas in the gallery world. At least, I assume that is why my subsequent emails to that director have gone unanswered, and my conciliatory gifts of books and photographs unacknowledged.

But, to return to the question: should you acknowledge defeat, stop kidding yourself that constant rejection is really a back-handed compliment to your uncategorisable brilliance, and simply resign yourself to the status of – deep breath – hobbyist? Or should you redouble your efforts by focussing less on the product, and more on the marketing strategy? The answer to that is clearly more pressing if you're trying to sell a couple of grand's worth of art every month to make a living. The pure joy of the unalloyed creative process is a fine and noble thing, but pays no bills. Besides, the competition is intense: far too many insecure souls are seeking validation by setting up a rickety stall in the overcrowded art marketplace.

When I say "you", of course, I should really be saying "I". So perhaps there's a simpler question: what would convincing a publisher to take a gamble on making, distributing, and attempting to sell 500 copies of my latest book do for me that selling 10 self-published copies of essentially the same thing would not?  Make money? Not a chance. Raise my profile? Not really and, anyway, to what end? I'm 62, and comfortably retired; to paraphrase Lao Tzu, I sell no work, and yet bills get paid.

I think I probably need to re-read and inwardly digest my own presentation again. Was it, I wonder, just the self-serving bullshit of a (justifiably, if temporarily) swollen ego, or a genuine manifesto for a happier, more creative life?

Oh, and talking of my latest book... I think I'm done playing around with it, so if you'd like a look – or even to buy one! – I've put it up on Blurb, temporarily, on an "invitation only", production-cost only basis for readers of this blog. There are two links:
  • If you follow this one, you'll see a paperback option (with the cheapest paper), a hardback option (with a dustjacket and premium paper), and a PDF download.
  • If you follow this one, you'll see the e-book option (Apple iPad/iPhone only).
Both physical books are 6.5" / 17cm square, 86 pages. The e-book and the PDF are excellent value, at £3.99. If you go for the PDF, you'll need to set Adobe Acrobat's "View" options as follows:
  • Choose "Page Display"
  • click "Two Page View"
  • click "Show Cover Page in Two Page View" (important)
  • click "Show Gap Between Pages"
There will also be a larger (8.5" / 22cm square), non-Blurb, signed and numbered hardback edition, available only from me directly. Unfortunately, this will have to cost in the region of £65. If you might be interested, contact me via email.

This offer will expire when I remember to cancel it, and finally get around to adding some profit for me onto the price. Now there's aggressive marketing for you!

UPDATE 17/5/16: All versions of the book have now been made public on my Blurb Bookstore, and the prices adjusted. The links given above still work, however.


Anonymous said...

"To desire praise is to fear blame.
To fear blame is to desire praise.
Both are rooted in fear and bound up in desire.
That is why on this path there is neither praise nor blame."
-- From the Tao Te Jing

In a more pragmatic way, there are always much more losers than winners. Otherwise, the winners wouldn't be special. On the other hand, this increases the statistical odds that oneself will be a loser if one enters a competition. But then, which sane person would want to act as definitio per negationem for a glorious winner? For this reason, it's just logical to stay away from competitions.

Thanks for the invititation for "England and Nowhere"! Just ordered a copy of the hardcover version.

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

Wise words, sir, and thanks for your purchase.


Kent Wiley said...

Fuck the gatekeepers. They don't understand what I'm trying to do anyway. And I don't need them to validate whatever it is.

Mike C. said...


Sorry, sir, no jeans, no trainers!


Andrea said...

I'm fifty, not married, without children. What could be my "alibi" for remaining an amateur?