John-Paul Flintoff

To plug or not to plug

How to be pleased about my own book?

BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live with Angela Hartnett, Richard Coles and Sian Williams

When you write a book, you want people to read it. Obviously. Not necessarily buy it – they could also borrow it at a library – but after you’ve gone to the trouble of writing something, you want people to read it.

Alas, I have had the most appalling tendency not to plug my books hard, or even at all. Recently I was invited onto BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live and entirely failed even to mention my new book, How To Change The World. (The presenters, Richard Coles and Sian Williams, seemed a lot more interested in the sewing exploits documented in my previous book, Sew Your Own.)

One reason for this abject failure may be that, as a consumer myself, I bristle when other people plug things. As a journalist, and a former magazine editor, I have also been trained to resist allowing too much plugging.

Having said that, I know all too well that the media are always looking for people willing to be interviewed – and that the reason people consent to be interviewed at all is often in order to get a mention for their new product. Fair enough: indeed, a part of me suspects that viewers, listeners and readers might feel irritated if there were no such explanation for the person’s appearance. (“Why are they interviewing this person?” we might ask. “Aren’t there more important things?”)

What’s more, publishers depend on making money from the books they publish, and invest heavily in marketing and publicity. So I shall try harder to plug How To Change The World – and pretend that I’m only doing it for their sake, not mine.

Reading How To Change The World in lunchhour at London's Southbank Reading How To Change The World in Bristol Reading How To Change The World in Stokes Croft

I will never know exactly whether I’m overdoing it, because people have different thresholds for what’s acceptable. Alain de Botton, who edited my book and others in the series, wrote an article about the series for the Guardian and was roundly criticised by readers commenting on his piece for doing so “only” to plug the books.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty odd. Coffee shops put signs up promoting the virtues of their coffee, and nobody objects. But perhaps the reason books are different is because they’re assumed to be an expression of the writer’s personality – and so for a writer to seem pleased about a book looks like being pleased about him- or herself. And we can’t have that.

Pah. I seem to be back where I started.

But the thing to emphasize is that How To Change The World is not all about me. It’s full of ideas from many brilliant other people, and stories about the inspiring things they did and still do, and I can’t recommend it too strongly.

blog comments powered by Disqus