Promotion and Professionalism
So on Smart Bitches this week, there’s been this whole bloffle (doing my part, Sara Dennis!) over a few authors’ decision to wear costumes to the RWA literary signing. A few authors in the new manga-inspired Shomi line donned manga-inspired outfits, complete with thigh-high stockings and miniskirts, and Sherrilyn Kenyon wore a now-infamous hat shaped like a black swan. In the sea of 450 authors, I honestly didn’t notice any of this, but evidently more than a few people were miffed that, with RWA raising tens of thousands of dollars for literacy and trying to promote a positive, professional image of the genre, the newspaper editors ran pictures of the swan hat.
There were scads of workshops on promotion at RWA. More and more, it seems authors are responsible for promoting their own books, growing a readership, creating buzz, etc. Some spend a great deal of money on it, and the concept of ‘branding’ – putting out a consistent public image that links you the author with the type of books you write – is key. The goody room was filled with all sorts of promotional materials with authors’ names emblazoned on them – from mints to rubber duckies to condoms.
You often hear the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Is that true? Or is there a line authors should not cross in their promotional efforts; a point where they diminish the genre by pushing their own book? Personally, I had no problem with the manga-inspired outfits – I thought they looked cute. But then, I live in a large urban area, where it wouldn’t be strange to see a young woman wearing that on the bus. And although I wouldn’t wear a swan hat myself, I can’t say it bothered me that someone else did. I mean, there were plenty of questionable fashion choices on display, and I myself am no fashion plate.
I respect the opinions of those authors who are consistently called on to defend our genre in interviews and appearances, who feel this type of publicity stunt just makes their struggle all the more difficult. Perhaps I’ll feel the same some day, if I’m published and out there trying to gain respect for my own work. But when I think of defending romance, I usually think of defending a person’s right to read books that give them pleasure. It’s okay, I find myself arguing, to read books that end happily, that remind us of that giddy flush of attraction, that celebrate love and relationships, that are generally optimistic. To sum up, it’s okay to love books that are fun. And whether it’s a swan hat or thigh-high pink stockings or whathaveyou, I think it’s okay to wear clothes that are fun, too.
What do you think? Do authors have a responsibility to represent the genre that sometimes trumps promoting their own books? Where do promotion and professionalism become mutually exclusive? Should there be a dress code at next year’s signing?