The Novelist as Used Car Salesman

There is a type of novelist who saddens me: the kind of novelist who prefers the status of having written instead of the consistent joys of writing, the type of author who only communicates to people if he wants something instead of being curious in other viewpoints. This novelist’s primary subject of interest is likely to be himself, but he’s capable of cloaking this solipsism by suggesting to others that they are just as much a part of his process. The novelist, in cues straight out of the Dale Carnegie playbook, will remember one specific detail about the other person that nobody else has and thereby create a greater impression.

Now this novelist may be talented, but he is so quietly convinced of his own apparent superiority to others that he refuses to listen to any person conveying the truth to him. And because a good deal of the literary community is wise enough to know about the novelist’s narcissistic temperament, even those who feel that the novelist’s latest work isn’t up to snuff will never go on the public record about how lacking it truly is. This is an understandable impulse, because the novelist has probably written at least one book that is amazing. And there remains the hope that he will write something that good again. And there also remains the hope that the novelist will grow out of this self-centeredness. Except that the novelist is probably over forty, and the novelist may have entered into the period of permanent emotional calcification.

All this is complicated by the novelist going out of his way to befriend every known person in the literary community so that he can secure positive coverage of his book. Again, it’s never really about writing the novel or even having a pleasant conversation with another person without any quid pro quo. It’s all about feeding the novelist’s narcissism. And when certain people have granted him the coverage or the bookstore appearances he so desperately craves, the novelist then dismisses and ignores them. For he never really wanted to know them. Even though he pretended to be nice. But, hey, he got what he wanted. And through numerous princely gestures, these people become useless to him. And he gradually moves up the totem pole and does the same thing. And anyone who has been used in such a manner has to bite her tongue. Because if you tell the truth, you’ll look like an asshole. Because those people who are presently being charmed by the novelist will never understand. The novelist is just so gosh darn nice.

This novelist is so fundamentally insecure in his own work that he must resort to these dishonest maneuvers. And indeed the novelist may play up his background or his circumstances in an effort to secure more press coverage or garner repeat mentions from a litblogger. But he lacks the spine or the smarts for civil disagreement or natural evolution.

These actions really aren’t too different from having to endure a charming yet sleazy used car salesman who won’t go away. But the literary world is so peculiar that it very much enjoys and inveigles these passive-aggressive hucksters. It wants to be told that what it’s doing is worthwhile. And while used car dealerships don’t face the same degree of marginalization that the literary world has, and while it is indeed possible to find a good used car at a decent price, wouldn’t we be more suspicious of the used car salesman than the insecure novelist who preys on the good will of other people in the same way?

Fortunately, most novelists aren’t like this at all. And I should probably remove the type of novelist who is an unapologetic publicity whore. For that type of novelist, at least, is honest about the fact that he’s shilling. But the type of novelist I’m talking about here not only seems to be cluelessly unaware of the grief he gives to publicists, booksellers, other authors, and those who wish to help them. He seems to actually enjoy it. And why shouldn’t he? This novelist is a legend in his own mind. If only he knew what people really thought of him.

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2 Comments

  1. […] The Novelist as Used Car SalesmanEd says: “There is a type of novelist who saddens me: the kind of novelist who prefers the status of having written instead of the consistent joys of writing, the type of author who only communicates to people if he wants something instead of being curious in other viewpoints. This novelist’s primary subject of interest is likely to be himself, but he’s capable of cloaking this solipsism by suggesting to others that they are just as much a part of his process. The novelist, in cues straight out of the Dale Carnegie playbook, will remember one specific detail about the other person that nobody else has and thereby create a greater impression.” (Via Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant ) […]

  2. Ed–yeah, users suck. I think that’s what you’re saying. ‘Cause these days if you’re midlist and you don’t put any effort into PR or whatever, you die. It’s that simple. The question is more one of balance and sincerity–something I talk about in my forthcoming Booklife book.

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