What Do You Do When You’re Branded?
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
By Suzanne Hudson
Photo: A standard/stock promotional coffee mug for Joe Formichella's novel Waffle House Rules
Once upon a time I had a wanna-be publicist who had a habit of yapping about my “brand” as an author. It was a buzz word that soured my tummy whenever it came up, but I was ignoring the ol’ gut at the time, so . . . I put up with being berated, cajoled, cowed, and bullied in the interest of building something like a brand, which felt ickier and ickier with every day that passed.
Another upon a time I asked an author friend for a blurb, a pretty well-known author, who had to get the blessing of yet another publicist in the interest of keeping the “brand” pure. As if I might have some kind of communicable literary disease that would infect said brand’s efficacy in rolling in the almighty dollars . . .
And a third upon a time I had an author friend whom said (above) publicist was dead set against welcoming into a particular publishing house, via an anthology my husband Joe edited. We went to the mat for said friend, managed to get said friend accepted into the fold, in a very BIGLY way, only to be shunned by all when a certain amount of feces hit a certain fan. Ambition has a pretty ugly scar of a soul when it is nekkid. To the former friend’s/author’s credit, we were told by said author that said author was “not a nice person.” Which turned out to be quite the understatement. The term “cut throat” comes to mind . . .
I quoted the author Cris Mazza in an essay for Susan Cushman’s anthology Southern Writers on Writing. Cris threw a question out into Facebook world, once upon a day: “I wonder, what does one ‘win’ in art?” It’s a craw-sticker of mine, the business-fication of art, with bossy, overly involved publicists, bottom line bean counters, and royalty statements that read like the hieroglyphics they are. It leads to soul-sellers, like my former friend and to sycophants and users, like my former “publicist,” and to a world of amazing work you’ll never know about because it’s been elbowed aside by the bland work of those who deal in mediocrity.
The wonderful thing, though--the liberating thing--is that we don’t need them, those middle people. The greatest fiction of all is that we ever did need them. They needed us--for validation, for money, for lack of their own creativity, for attention, for whatever was missing in their pitiful lives. Sure, we might never have a huge following or get a lot of notice for what we do, but we aren’t in this thing--the art/writing thing--to “win.” We just want to produce the work. Period. If the Universe wants it out there, so it shall be.
That “publicist”? Turns out, said publicist was neither educated as such, as in postsecondary education, or technical school or business school or even crash course/certification. It was a self-proclaimed “career,” following a long line of jobs and “careers,” none of which lasted very long, according to the private investigator we hired. Said publicist knew a bit of lingo and talked a pretty good game but alienated as many folks as were brought in, due to an appalling lack of people skills and zero ability to work as a team player. It even turns out that said publicist’s very history/life story was just a bunch of fiction. We were had. Conned. And the truth turns out to be that said publicist is the “branded” one, stripes and medals ripped from that phony uniform for acts of dishonor, ejected from the ranks of them what really creates. And although Chuck Connors had the injustice of it all on his side and a heart of truth, said publicist is stuck with a black soul and a fetid heart, having co-opted and traded on the ideas of others, for the sake of said creature’s own cheap, self-centered, and sleazy, yes, BRAND.