This was one of the opening salvos at the American Booksellers Association’s “Winter Institute 8” (or #Wi8 on Twitter, where I watched it unfold). Although keynoter Daniel Pink was speaking to a group of booksellers — for whom an emphasis on sales seems appropriate — his one-liner had larger resonance. Pink’s latest best-selling book, To Sell is Human, seems to take a quite larger view of sales. He apparently told the Wi8 group that “1 in 9 Americans are in sales” and, “People [Americans?] spend 40 percent of their time selling to someone else.”
And yet: One in 9 is not everybody. And forty percent! When do we get to sleep and watch bad TV?
In any case, the “we’re all in sales” line resonated among a number of Twitter users, echoing and re-echoing throughout the twitter-chamber. After all, this sort of idea has become a mantra not just for booksellers (who, yes, sell books) but for authors, critics, bloggers, and all of us who exist somewhere on the literary food chain. We’re told “Modern authors must be modern marketers” & “Four Reasons Why You Must Take Responsibility for Your Own Marketing” & on & on. Anyone who resists the forward march of self-selling is naive, foolish, backwards, or fears success.
What is different now is not, I think, that authors have suddenly realized they can have a relationship with their audience, and are not mere scribblers in an ivory tower, far removed from “reality.” What’s different is the emphasis on “selling” as a central metaphor, rather than “connecting with an audience” or “crafting one’s image.” Indeed, I have no problem with connecting with an audience. I have kept at being a blogger for the last several years because I’ve found it’s far more enjoyable to be in daily contact with an audience vs. only publishing in magazines and getting a letter every decade or so.
Actually, when Publishers Weekly originally tweeted Pink’s quote, they wrote: “Like it not not, we’re all in sales now.“
I am not opposed to booksellers (non-metaphorically) selling books. I love booksellers and the hard work they do moving mass-produced works of literature into individuals’ hands. I love those who staff the book kiosks of the world, hailing people on the street, bringing individual beauty into people’s lives from flimsy sheets of paper. But as for commodifying and “selling” myself, I like this metaphor not-not.