If you saw J.K. Rowling pushing a trolly round Sainsburys would you recognise her? Neither would I. That's the difference between fame and celebrity. Famous people are known for what they do. Celebrities are known for who they are or for the image they project. They are public personalities. The cult of celebrity essentially began with the development of visual communications media. The movies made stars. But they could act. Television has created 'celebs', people of modest talents or none. It's not one of the more admirable characteristics of our society. It has certainly done authors no favours. It has flooded the bookstore shelves with books by, or ghosted for, celebs.
If I were tempted to adumbrate a golden rule for aspiring authors (of course, I'm not because there's no such thing) I might suggest 'Get yourself on the telly'. It's a strange phenomenon that people will buy books if they recognise the author pic on the jacket. Publishers, of course, know this full well. That's why they hand out generous advances to writers who have no literary pretensions. It is part of an author's responsibility to maintain the quality of the written word. It should be part of a publisher's concern to foster those who are trying to do just that. Every penny they expend on paying and publicising the written ramblings of TV game show hosts or self-glorifying politicians is a penny not spent on maintaining standards in the book bizz.
Is there anything we authors can do about this? Not really. We are, in effect, anti-celebs. We spent most of our time, not in the public forum, but in virtual purdah. Our interaction is with the page or the computer screen. Or, rather, it's internal as we struggle with words, metaphors, images and emotions in order to externalise them in ways that will inform, move, amuse, delight readers, most of whom we will never see. If we are successful it's not because people admire our looks, our quirky behaviour, our dress sense. Any success is down to the words which allow readers access to our imagination, our knowledge, our humanity. It is a privilege to be able to influence them and, in some measure, to enrich their lives. But it is also a frustration to know that we could contribute even more to the public weal if we were better known.
This frustration tempts some aspiring authors to dissipate their time and efforts building up 'followings' via twitter, facebook and youtube. I'll have more to say about that under 'S is for Social Media'. For now I'll just comment that, in my view, this kind of self-promo is speculative and time-consuming. To end on a more up-beat note, there are other ways of getting better known, word-based ways (See J is for Journalism and N is for Niche Markets). So, my 'D' will be not for Despair but Discipline.