Look, Ma, I'm In Print! Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-08-24 14:00:00 No comments

Communicating Economics - NYTimes.com

What every economist, and for that matter every writer on any subject, needs to realize is that unless you are a powerful person and people are looking for clues about what you’ll do next, nobody has to read what you write — and lecturing them about what they’re missing doesn’t help. You have to provide the hook, the pitch, whatever you want to call it, that pulls them in. It’s part of the job.

I'm going to risk putting my foot through my keyboard and suggest, at the risk of oversimplification, that there are two kinds of writers: those that have an knack or an inclination for being a vigorous promoter for their work, and those that don't.

One crucial difference between the two isn't just that one does a certain something and the other doesn't. The folks who do go out of their way to call attention to their work have a stronger sense than the folks that don't that this is the job. Someone else might be better financed or more lavishly-equipped to do it, but someone has to do it.

I suspect it comes down to something even more basic than that: knowing how the default setting for publicity is that no one knows you even exist. And even if they know you exist, why should they care about the fact you wrote a book (or recorded an album, or what have you)? And even if you have such a thing, why should they spend the time and money to read it? And so on.

So why do we persist with the delusion that all you need to do to become popular is make things "go viral"? Maybe because we look at the exception -- the one guy whose book gets picked up -- and assume that with the right wiring-up, it can become the rule, or better yet, a model to follow.

One discussion I had with other folks about this showed how people think of this as being a valid strategy. If going viral is a matter of luck, they say, then you need to throw as much stuff at the wall and see what sticks. The problem is, nobody really knows how much you need to throw or how forcefully, and so what seems like simply trying to make your own luck may simply be dumping rose petals into the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo.

What bugs me most about this mindset is how it attempts to reason backwards from an unlikely case. I got lucky doing this; ergo, anyone else can get lucky if they just try really, really hard. That's as foolish as thinking if you shove 100 people off a rooftop, the one who flaps his arms and manages to fly will be a great flight instructor.

Tags: creativity publicity publishing writing