Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fame and Fortune

Betina here.

Aniteb confronted me recently about my appalling lack of attention to Fame and Fortune. I like Fortune as much as the next guy, I protested. Fortune means money, right? Well I'll pit my shopahollic impulses against that Kinsella gal any day. It's the earning the fortune thing that's always been a little problematic for me. Not one to sully her thoughts with the sordid little practicalities of my life, Aniteb quickly turned her sights on the "Fame" part of the equasion.

How long has it been, she said-- clearly thinking of Michele's stellar interview performance the other day-- since you gave an interview? Roughly an ice age, I had to admit. So she took me by the ear and dragged me onto the internet. Said I needed a few lessons from some of her dear chums in Tinseltown.

Here's what I learned about acquiring FAME:

1. There is no "nice" in Famous. Fame clearly favors the Diva. Meryl Streep is brilliantly talented and generous. . . not "nice." Meg Ryan is perky and headstrong and adorable. . . not "nice." Tara Reid is wild and fun and reckless. . . not "nice." Even Betty White is "a real pro" and "a hoot to work with". . . not a hint of "nice." It works with other female celebrities, too. Name one. Name a hundred. Behind every one, you'll find ego, tantrums, demands, walk-outs, come-ons, envy, competitiveness, greed, insecurity, jealousy. . . not much room left for "nice.".
I am so screwed.

2. Fame is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. You have to work at fame-- constantly. Put yourself out there. Rub elbows. And other body parts as necessary. See and be seen. Meet and greet. Charm and smarm. For even a whiff of fame, Hollywood types hire publicity TEAMS, publish glossies and distribute them by the truckload, have their hair, teeth, nails, boobs, butts, and noses made over. They get dyed, capped, stuffed, tucked, trained, and surgically carved into the human equivalent of Nutrasweet. . . all flavor, no substance. Even the true beauties always find something to angst about and work on. . . otherwise they'll feel left out!

And all of this remodeling takes money. Lots of it. And a real tolerance for pain and sleep deprivation. Also, the travel budget alone is staggering. And that's not to mention the clothes! I wouldn't have the time to coordinate outfits, even if I had the taste!
I am so screwed.

3. The famous develop a signature look and they stick to it while it's hot.

I just don't look this good in bandanas.
I am so screwed.

4. The famous adopt a special pose to strike whenever there is a camera around.
Makes me feel ancient and arthritic just looking at it.
I clearly don't have the bones or the chutspah for this kind of posing.

Then I realized. . . hey, I'm not in Hollywood or New York or even in the public eye. I go to work in shorts and teeshirts most days. And one of the reasons I enjoyed being a writer was the peculiarly anonymous sort of fame writers have. The attention is attached to a name not a face or body. I can still go to the supermarket in my shorts and flip flops (it's FLORIDA, folks!) and nobody notices or cares. That's my kind of fame. The down side is that if you remain too anonymous, you don't get read by people or make that lovely $$fortune$$ that makes life so comfortable.

Actually, Aniteb's diatribe did me some good. In viewing all of the craziness of the film and entertainment industry, I realized that I probably haven't been doing my share to promote myself, my writing, and my voice in publishing. I don't have to strut and strike poses or expose myself to the dreaded "trout pout" in order to have the kind of fame I want and need. I don't have to employ a Hollywood PR machine to make me well known or sell personal family photos and the scoop on my sexual habits to the highest bidder to keep the sharks at bay. But neither can I sit back on my duff and expect that in this competitive market my books will always shine on the shelves and that my name --one among increasing hundreds/thousands-- will immediately engender the passion to purchase.

What's the secret of your success? What bit of promotional genius are you most proud of?

Or which teen queen/starlet are you most sick of? (multiple choice)
a) Lindsay Lohan
b) Britany Spears
c) Jessica Simpson
d) Paris Hilton
e) Christina Aguleria
f) huh?


Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Betina, I'm so out of it. Brittany is the only one on the list who materializes mentally for me. The other names are vaguely familiar, mostly for the jokes they inspire. Brittany's the one Bob Dole drooled over in the Pepsi commercial, yes? Poor girl, she became a brand name at such an early age that her chances of being anything close to human are slim to none.

Quick trivia quiz: Remember the Elvis-era starlet who gave it all up and became a nun? Delores something? We pre-teen fans were stunned. I was particularly sad that I'd missed my chance to write to her for an autographed picture--the early hobby of a budding packrat. (Even sadder that I left my movie star photo collection behind with my childhood now that I know what I could have gotten for it on E-bay.)

The only life that strikes me as less appealing for a woman than that of a nun is that of a movie star. For men, maybe, but it seems to send most of them over the edge as well. We all go through the would-be movie star phase, don't we? But we get over it, thanks be to God.

Not that the fame bug doesn't bite us writers in the butt. It does. But most of us have enough protective padding back there to prevent serious infection. Now fortune is another matter.

Candace said...

Ah, fame. We love it and we hate it, don't we? At least, I do.

I made a stab, early on in my career, at deliberately chasing it. Not to be immodest, but I was kind of a babe when I first started out in this business. I photographed well. I looked like what everyone said a romance writer was supposed to look like. (Never mind about my writing; I looked the part.) So, I did interviews and signings galore, including a handful of local TV shows. I did speaking engagements; book clubs, women's clubs, service clubs, libraries, schools... Harlequin even sent me to an author event in Halifax, Nova Scotia (a hotbed of romance readers, apparently) back when they still did that kind of thing. I had professional publicity pictures taken. I handed out bookmarks. I took out ads in RT. I introduced myself to booksellers and signed stock. In short, I did everything everyone advised me to do to "get my name out there." If we'd had the Internet and blogging back then, I've'd done that, too.

At one point during this whirlwind of publicity, a colleague of my husband's cornered him at a business event and asked if the rumor she'd heard was true--"Are you really married to THE Candace Schuler?" I felt I had arrived, fame-wise. And then...nothing.

My sales didn't spike. My editors didn't offer me anything more than the usual (small) increase for my next book. The bookstores didn't order more than their usual four to six copies. Hollywood producers weren't suddenly clamouring to make a movie out of my last book.

As far as I could tell all that frenzied effort (and money spent) had produced nothing beyond a nice little ego boost. One that, moreover, didn't extend beyond my local area. And didn't last much beyond the most recent signing or interview.

That's when I discovered fame is one of those things you have to keep chasing. You have to keep doing the interviews, the signings, the speeches, the ads, the bookmarks. If you let up, even for a little while, the public goes on to the next flavor of the month and you have to start all over again to get their attention back. And, even when you're doing all that stuff, there are no guarantees any of it is having the desired effect. No one, not even the paid publicity experts, can tell you with any certainty that if you do "this" then "that" will be the result. It's a crapshoot. Plus, it's just plain exhausting--especially for someone who (like most writers) is basically an introvert.

So, I basically stopped doing it. Oh, not completely. A part of me still believes fame (or some version of it) will help booksales. So, I still do bookmarks and the occassional signing or library appearance and--most recently--this blog. But I don't chase fame, anymore. It works for me. I think.

Michele said...

You forgot an 'all of the above' option on your multiple choice. ;-)

I'm not keen on fame, but I realize that a bit of it is required to acheive measurable success. But as everyone knows, I'm a cheapskate. I do what I can do to promote--for pennies. Interviews are free. Whoppee! Now, getting a nice photo of myself will take some bucks, but I KNOW i need a new one, cause that early 90s pic isn't doing it anymore. Sigh... I wonder if Britany hires out to do candid shots?


anne said...

when i started out almost 20 years ago, i did bookmarks and RT ads. I decided it was a waste of time and money, so i quit. the best way to sell a book is a good cover/title and bookstore visibility paid for by the publisher. without that, i think a writer is pretty much screwed no matter how good a book might be or what she does to push it. i've had books that had strong word of mouth, but it wasn't enough. i came out of my cave last year and decided to try a few things. when i do something, i tend to be pretty OCD about it. this should be a solid test, because i'm with the same publisher and have gone from doing nothing to doing quite a bit. personally i don't think it will help. but we'll see.

anne said...

what i've done this year:
five-minute book video: i watched some pretty awful book videos, and decided i wanted something of quality, something like a music video. my daughter is a film major and has gotten nice recognition for her work, so i brought her into the project. will the video do any good? probably not. what i've learned is that you pretty much have to drug people and tie them down to get them to watch it. once they watch it, they love it, but they have no desire to watch what is basically an ad. but it was fun.

100 bloggers blogging: when i announced this concept, it went viral and a lot of people were blogging about it and now other people are doing it and calling it 100 bloggers blogging. once again i doubt it will do anything, but i plan to post drunk that day and wear a party hat. it will be a blast.

online short fiction contest: jason at clarity of night has these fantastic contests where he gets an astounding amount of traffic. this contest is tied into my upcoming book. it will be a lot of work. all the entries go online. i'm not a judge, but i will comment on every single one. i'm really looking forward to this.

of course there's blogging. i was also a judge for the ITW best thriller novel. (raise your profile is what i always hear.)

if nothing works, i will still get something out of it on a personal level. gotta have my fun.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, you guys are phenomenal. Do you have any idea what a brain-trust of publishing and the writing life we have here?
If it can happen to writers, it's happened to one of us.

Kathy and Candace, Michele and Anne. . . isn't it remarkable that we've all tried the fame route, done the promo trail, gotten seven of our "fifteen minutes" and wisely learned the lessons of a mature writing life. ie: that promo "fame" takes energy and resources, and you can only do so much.

Kathy your comment about the Hollywood glitterati having zero chance for a decent human life is spot on. The only ones who seem to truly make it are the ones who make it big and fast and fade into the fabric of the industry. Ron Howard and Robert Redford and Paul Newman and Penny Marshall and Carol Burnett. . .

Also sorry that the pics aren't up there; they are a hoot. I've tried until I'm bleary-eyed to get them posted. sigh. Blogger just doesn't like something about my instructions.

Helen Brenna said...

I'm with Michele on all of the above option, although for some reason Lindsay Lohan and Paris drive me even crazier than the others.

As for promotion, since my book doesn't come out until February, I'm absolutely no help, Betina. It's interesting for me, though, to hear what everyone else has to say on the topic. What has to be the most difficult thing of all is that even if you do lots of different promotional things, you have no way of knowing exactly what has and what hasn't made a difference.

Has anyone ever considered hiring a publicist?

anne said...

betina, are you using explorer? for some reason this template doesn't like explorer. when helen switched to firefox her picture-posting problems stopped.

helen, i've never hired a publicist, but a lot of writers seem to think the right one can be fairly effective.

Kathleen Eagle said...

What fun! Now that the pix are up, I have to post again. Sad to say, I don't recognize all the girls, but Johnny Depp, oh yeah. Didn't he move to France to avoid the Hollywood scene? I love that he chooses projects that interest him even if there's no chance in hell they're going to propel him to stardom.

Candace, you're still a babe.

I love to tell stories on myself about the early days when I thought I needed an "image." Otherwise sane writers were doing some crazy things in those days. I went to a photog in ND early on and did the sequins promo picture. Then I changed to a denim and brocade number. Then he suggested I try the nightgown and peignoir outfit that he kept around for mother and baby portaits.

Huh? Mother and baby? I laughed. He shrugged and blushed profusely. But the sequins were a bit over-the-top for me and for ND, even though it was a sequined sweater (weighed a ton) and I did use it for several conferences. Hubby still keeps that photo on his desk.

Betina Krahn said...

Thank you Helen! I owe you one! So much better with the photos!

And Kathy, I'd give $5.00 to see that sequins photo! I bet it's a stunner.

I confess, in the early days I went to FaceShots and got a glamor pic. I showed it to my editor and she was stunned. She said she had no idea it was me. sigh. I just wanted to have something to look at and say: "That's what I looked like when I was 40!" The hysterical thing is-- nobody would know it was me-- I don't look anything like myself!

Hey-- why don't we post some of those early glamor and sequin shots sometime? It would be a hoot!

Betina Krahn said...

By the way, the furry gal in the last photo is a burro named Rita. She's in my upcoming book. . . and in the story, she's preggers.


She names her firstborn after the hero.

Laurie Kuna said...

I'd love to have wide name recognition because of my writing, but who could live in the kind of fishbowl most media celebrities do? Imagine not being able to go ANYWHERE without someone trying to take your picture and then profit from it.

Sure, if you make enough money, you can buy yourself some privacy, ala Angelina and Brad, but you've got to come back to the US some time (even Johnny Depp does), and then it all starts again.

Thanks, but no thanks.