The paradox of staying under the public radar as a writer

One of the things I dislike about writing is the side-effect – public profile. It’s not why I write. In fact, I really would prefer to be anonymous. But I have to have a profile if I’m to sell any books.

Wright_BooksFor me that’s a bit of a balancing act. It’s important to sell books – to do which I have to be promoted – so I always do go along with promotions. But I find that’s led to a more enduring public profile for being ‘an historian’ (which I don’t see myself as for a second), which in turn means that every so often I get invited to talk somewhere, or to attend some public event.

Of late, though, I’ve found myself turning them down. Part of it is the under the radar thing. Outside book promotion I don’t actively push myself, and with reason. Apart from the fact that I do NOT write for fame, people who poke their heads up in New Zealand usually get them shot off by the vengeful owners of their field they’ve dared intrude into. And I’m tired of being targeted by malicious strangers for no better reason than that I’m trying to earn an income in a territory they regard as theirs exclusively.

The other issue is the costing. None of these events have any money behind them – which means I don’t get paid for my time and I’m expected to cover my costs.

That’s why I turned down an invitation to be one of the VIP guests (along with the Minister of Civil Defence) at a recent Napier City Council ‘earthquake survivors’ event, in which the surviving nonogenarians who lived through the 1931 earthquake are given afternoon tea on the city, and get to meet VIP guests. I don’t know why the Council asked me – I wrote a book on it, years ago, and I’ve covered it since in my science book on quakes, so maybe it was that. (They should have invited my father, who is one of the few still alive who also lived through the ’31 quake. But he has never been invited to the event.) Anyhow, what killed it for me – apart from the likelihood of ending up with my mug in the paper – was that I’d have had to pay my own travel and accommodation.

It’s also why I had to turn down a speakers’ slot at the last Waiheke Island writers’ festival. They were only partially covering costs; I calculated that, aside from the days required to do it, I’d have been out of pocket to the tune of at least $500. In fact this one took a double hit because they wanted me to speak on a subject where the in-crowd who own it, nationally, have made clear I am about as welcome as a skunk at a picnic.

Fame? I don’t seek it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


6 thoughts on “The paradox of staying under the public radar as a writer

    1. It’s very small place. You don’t have to do much to get noticed or be considered a leader in your field, and in some fields everybody knows everybody (I realised the other day, for instance, that I personally know or have at least dealt with all of the top military historians in the country, but that doesn’t mean I know a lot of people, as it were…)

        1. Yes. It’s probably good on balance of things – for instance, I get invited to book launch parties that line up as a who’s who of certain fields. The last one I went to I was standing right behind Sir Richard Taylor, the guy that owns Weta Workshop and makes Thunderbirds. That was cool. On the other hand, NZ’s small scale also tends to provoke closed in-crowds and an often vigorous territorial defence which is difficult to overcome, as I’ve encountered in the military-historical field.

    1. I wish I could command speaking fees of thousands! Or even hundreds…🙂 Sigh. I’d be happy enough to be targeted if there was some sort of compensation for it…

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