The Schizoid World of the Novelist

While most people don’t have several different personalities coexisting within them, maybe that’s the perfect mindset for a novelist. Take the writing part of the process. The novelist by the very nature of this art form works alone. Likely he or she spends a lot of time thinking as well as crafting words and plot. Before even that point, novelists spend a lot of time observing. Think about it, even when they are at a party, they’re on the outside looking in, observing people rather than really being in the inner circle.

Can you think of any novelists who were ultra popular in high school? The answer is that they likely were not that popular and certainly not part of the “in” group. Others probably thought of them as quiet, introverted, and just plain different. After all, how much introspection do the school’s most popular kids really have time for?

Meanwhile the students on the outside, the ones often ignored or marginalized tend to have the time to mull over their lack of success and think about how wonderful it would be if things were different. They likely are the same kids who don’t come up with the snappy response when ridiculed, but who come up with that response days later and play out the scene in their heads so that it ends more favorably.

Novelists by their very nature tend to be introverts and observers. They capture parts of people they meet and meld them into characters.  Often they even feel like observers when dramatic scenes play out in their heads. Characters often talk to each other while the novelist observes. How many times have you heard novelists admit that characters took over their story and went in a completely different direction than they had plotted?

Not too long ago writing a novel was enough. The big publishing houses would take the novel, package it, market the hell out of it, and sell it. They would send the writer on book tours while accompanied by a trusty publicist. The publishing house would make all the arrangements; the writer had to show up and sign books. Even the most introverted novelist can sit at a table and sign books.

Today novelists need a second and far different personality to take over once they’ve finished their books. Suddenly they need to become extraverts with sales personalities. They need the fearlessness of an insurance agent cold calling strangers and the friendliness of a door-to-door salesperson selling 100% on commission.

Novelists today often make their own arrangements with bookstores, including cold calling the bookstore managers. They solicit their own reviews by contacting editors and bloggers. Recently I saw a few writers with booths at the Carlsbad Fair where they sold their books.

Can you imagine the quiet, introspective part of a novelist coexisting with the extraverted people-loving part of the novelist necessary to sell the books? It makes Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple seem compatible.

I should point out that I’m not just talking about novelists who self-publish or publish with small publishing houses. Large publishing houses are hurting today to the point that they bet most of their resources on a few established novelists with legions of fans. The rest of their “lists” tend to receive very little support. Someone I know very well negotiated favorable terms from a major publishing house and discovered after the fact that it had laid off many of their editors. His editor turned out to be someone working at home as an independent contractor.

Occasionally you find novelists who enjoy the celebrity part of the job far more than the writing part. They appear perfectly content on late night TV interviews or even the early morning news shows. They joust with John Stewart on the Daily Show and dish it out with the women on The View.

Most novelists, though, shun the limelight. They’d be just as happy if they could hand over the marketing and selling of their books and concentrate on the next novel in their pipeline. Unfortunately the book’s not done until someone actually buys it, reads it, and enjoys it. Otherwise, we’re faced with a variation of that old philosophical question: If a book falls onto Amazon and no one hears about it or buys it, is it real or just part of the writer’s imagination?

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