by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
I have been pondering the sticky issue of looks, personality and success and how this translates in the world of publishing.
I remember reading a story in the New York Times a few years ago on the anatomy of a bestseller and it compared two books coming out that year that had received huge advances and marketing budgets – one was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and the other was (and this is prophetic…) something I can’t even remember. Anyway the gist of the article was that the author of The Historian had been willing to do a great deal of publicity and ‘be out there’ while the other author was virtually a recluse. While The Historian went on to make millions the other book sunk like a stone despite all the publisher money thrown at it. The moral of the story (I think) was that to be a bestseller a writer had to throw aside introversion to be successful. Basically, this article suggested, a writer could no longer afford to sit behind a typewriter or a computer. Nowadays that’s a no-brainer but still it got me thinking about the thorny question of writer personality (and let’s face it looks) and success.
Now I’m not the kind of person to hang out at the bar at conferences all night and I’m totally crap at networking but I would hardly be called introverted. I’m more of a dinner with friends and red wine kind of girl and though conferences can and do overwhelm me at times I suck it up as I know it is important for my career. the question is just how important? Leave aside the whole ‘the writing is always the most important thing’ – let’s just accept that shall we – then what comes next? How does a writer’s ‘popular persona’ help or hinder her (or him)?
So throw aside you political correctness and ponder this question…is it easier to be an attractive outgoing writer than a shy, ‘more homely’ one?
Perhaps it’s a crass question but not one I think that is without foundation – especially when photographs are on book jackets and websites and your personality is judged in a range of venues – from online blog entries to in-person panel presentations. How would some of the literary stars of yesteryear fare in our current media-centric environment? Can a writer even afford to be introverted these days? How much is publishing success like a throwback to high school – when many yearned to be the prettiest and bubbliest of them all?
What do you all think?