Maugham on Marketing

From a different time, W. Somerset Maugham recently appeared in the neighborhood free library box on the Belmont and 68th Avenue corner, near the Line 15 stop, in an old Penguin paperback of Cakes and Ale (1930). Here, he’s speaking of one’s own marketing of one’s own writing:

“When he stood on the platform, in evening dress admirably worn, or in a loose, much used, but perfectly cut lounge suit if better fitted for the occasion, and faced his audience seriously, frankly, but with an engaging diffidence, you could not but realize that he was giving himself up to his task with complete earnestness. Though now and then he pretended to be at a loss for a word, it was only to make it more effective when he uttered it.

18, Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham, Doubleday 1930. My found Library Box edition published in Penguin Books (U.S.A) 1993.

Maugham’s narrator is talking about the antagonist Alroy Kear, who “could use a man very shabbily without afterward bearing him the slightest ill-will,” and about which one critic actually said, “he [Kear] was a snob…he was a humbug.” (17).

Yet for Kear, we quickly learn:

“No club was so small, no society for the self-improvement of its members so insignificant, that Roy disdained to give it an hour of his time.”

19.

Indeed, so magnanimous does Roy appear to be, that for the continued benefit of the younger writers he often mentions, he

“Now and then revised his lectures and issued them in neat little books. Most people who are interested in these things have at least looked through the works entitled Modern Novelists, Russian Fiction, and Some Writers; and few can deny that they exhibit a real feeling for literature and a charming personality.”

19.

The problem, of course, is that there are far far too few “people who are interested in these things.” Thus the need to self-market, even if one has managed to appear in print by a gatekeeping trad publisher. Revisiting his book for a preface for a later edition, Maugham writes:

“When I wanted to draw the portrait of a writer who used every means of advertisement possible to assist the diffusion of his works I had no need to fix my attention on any particular person. The practice is too common for that. Nor can one help feeling sympathy for it. Every year hundreds of books, many of considerable merit, pass unnoticed.”

7.

One wonders what Maugham might have thought or said of today’s social media outlets, the blogs and author’s pages, readings, panels, yesterday’s cheers and tomorrow’s cancellations, not to mention today’s rises and falls that occur indeed between any given sunrise and sunset:

“He must make himself a public figure. He must keep in the public eye. He must give interviews and get his photograph in the papers. He must write letters to The Times, address meetings, and occupy himself with social questions; he must make after-dinner speeches; he must recommend books in the publishers’ advertisements; and he must be seen without fail at the proper times. He must never let himself to be forgotten.

8. Bold font added.

And Maugham concludes his preface lamenting that at the time he wrote Cakes and Ale, the “cocktail party that is given to launch a book…did not flourish at the time.” Too bad, he suggests, “It would have given me the material for a lively chapter” (8). Could such a chapter be written today following an on-line Twitter or Zoom or blog book launch?

Meantime, we interrupt this post for a commercial break.

Dolling Down

Some folks like to dress
others down for a night
on the town to be seen
or to mingle in the pile

to start a scene walk
the prowl talk the chat
say a prayer to the folks
at the top of the stares

go-go with the up-flow
the effluvium of the
affluent dressed
in advertisements

ads in fashion zines
Fellinists puttin’ on
the style the smile
all the while they

used to say it was
a young folks way
but we can put on
the style any while

doll it up or doll
it down the grin
showing couth
or clown frown.

The Meta Phone Caper

His metaPhone (Q 1) holstered on his belt and boasted
like a pearl-handled spatula a fine tweezer feature purest
in the kitchen but as a mycophagist on vacation he was slow
to get the picture: he should have left the phone at home.

She skiffed his phone like a stone across the stream
and it smacked the face of a rapid rose to the lip
and flipped onto the river rocks where it slipped
like a fish and caught between silly and sorry mess

while the water ebbed aback and swirled about him
he dove again and again for the mother-of-pearl
case for his applications and poisonous twins
and recipies his personal algorithms and desserts

calendars his files and messages tips and notes
settings and cameras and his unfinished Joy of
his meals his awards medals commendations
his secret usernames passwords fundamental

identities his capabilities capacities radio interface
multi-mode banking signaling his data to Universe.
Drown rather than lose his cell. They were supposed
to be on vacation, but he was on his cell phone

and while he was on his call stung was she
by the venomous double away they swam
leaving him and his phone in the hot sand
where he smelled the world at his feet.

Now we must close our caper of the nose
before the plot thickens the dickens to play
for a meal is saga but a poem mere snack
one is shared the other kept under the hat.


Dear Reader,

Won’t you please tell me your rules,
style flaws that send you over the edge,
your conjugations, constructions, con-
junctions, your clauses and marks
memorized, when to be and not to be,
double negatives and things dangling
in white space and other wedded dark
matter; for I will find immense
pleasure in breaking & trashing
the etiquette of your ways & days.

Thanks,
Nomere Ana R. Chist