Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bad Publicity

Once upon a time when Hollywood was young and controlled by the studios, there were departments in the studios just to keep the movie stars out of trouble. They cleaned up messes, kept secrets secret and generally polished images, just like the CIA's clean-up crews without the ubiquitous men in black. In those days, studios believed that bad press would ruin an actor's career for good, make them box office poison. That was in the days before Mommie Dearest was published. After all, Joan Crawford's career was already over so it really didn't matter. After that, all the skeletons came out of all the closets in a mad rush to be open and authentic and prove everyone was human, as if we didn't already know that. Let's face it. All outhouses stink. It's the smell of rotting crap.

People have become so enamored of the cult of celebrity that even writers have fallen prey to putting their personal lives on display to sell more books. Unless you're Norman Mailer, don't try this at home. Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity and some information is just too much information. Writers are people, too, but it's not their personal lives that sell books but the words they put into them, as this week's very good article from Writer's Digest puts it. Authenticity is important -- in your writing voice -- but keep the skeletons on a short leash and close to the closet.

Many writers succumb to the temptation to put it all out there, thinking their experiences will resonate with other writers, but when all is said and done it's usually too much information. No one needs to know your husband or wife abused you unless you're writing a book about recovering from spousal abuse and poison pen diatribes only end up showing how petty you are, especially when you focus on the same thing over and over ad infinitum and ad nauseam. It makes you look schizophrenic to write books about friendship and romance if you portray yourself as the eternal victim who always gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. In cases like this, it's best to err on the side of caution. Who can forget Anne Rice's diatribe on Amazon where she went on forever lambasting a reviewer who criticized her books or Patricia Cornwell's publicized rants about the real Jack the Ripper? Not everyone is willing to overlook that kind of break with reality and inevitably book sales will dwindle. If the Dixie Chicks' teach you anything, it's that your private opinions aired in public do matter.

That is all. Disperse.

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