03/07/2012 11:56 am ET Updated May 07, 2012

Writing Is My Business and So Is Publicity

I recently heard a writer who teaches at a Midwest college talk about the brave new world of publishing. Since her last book came out in 2005, she's seen an enormous shift, she said.

Her publisher wanted her to do things she knew absolutely nothing about: create a web page, open a twitter account, go on Facebook, start a blog, produce a book trailer, speak to book groups, organize a blog tour.

As she spoke, I thought how lucky she was to have a day job. She said it herself after her reading: "I don't need the money from my writing."

Those of us who write full-time have been in the trenches doing publicity of all kinds for years now. Back in the 90s, I remember my editors pushing me to print postcards and bookmarks for my books and mail them to the entire galaxy. A web page was an absolute necessity. Hiring an outside publicist was recommended. I was also supposed to go to any and all conferences that could garner me publicity, and get on panels at every opportunity. And I was urged to take out ads in the program books for those conferences, the bigger the better. That meant the cost of going to a conference could easily double.

Creating and funding my own book tours was a must, since big houses like Doubleday and St. Martin's didn't have the resources or the interest in promoting a midlist author.

I rose to the occasion, and I've welcomed the new publishing world because promotion is easier and faster. For my 2009 book My Germany, I'm proud to say that I've done about sixty readings and talks in Canada, the U.S. and Germany, sponsored by various institutions, including the State Department. My publisher helped, but my dogged promotion drove it all.

The author I heard admired this kind of work in a bemused sort of way, even though she wasn't all that interested in doing it. But other writers I know confirm what I've experienced myself over the years: general contempt for working writers from writers with a safe berth at a university. We get snarky comments about our promotional activities as if we're somehow demeaning the genteel profession of being an author, when what we're doing is ensuring we make a living. Or trying to ensure that, anyway.

Yes, sometimes we feel like we're trapped in a middle-of-the-night infomercial, or perhaps the Home Shopping Network. Publishing has changed recently in outward ways, but the reality hasn't: if you're not famous, you have to work your ass off to keep your name out there. It takes time away from writing, but without it, the writing you do doesn't get out there. If you're lucky, the PR can be fun.