Thursday, April 21, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned from the Red Baron

This week, on April 21st, we celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the death of famed World War I ace Manfred von Richtofen, aka the Red Baron.

On of the trends in children's publishing is the shifting of responsibility for book promotions from the publisher to the often slender shoulders of the author. We are encouraged to get out there and sell via Facebook and Twitter and blogs, with fancy book launches, book birthdays, and trailers. You can't open an SCBWI Bulletin or other trade publication for kidlit authors these days without seeing some advice on book promotions, whether online or via more traditionbal avenues, and we are constantly admonished that promoting is no longer optional. It is expected. Predictably, most authors are terified at the thought of having their baby sink into oblivion. So we join the big noisy parade, whether we feel fully prepared for it or not.

Now, publishers don't get all riled. I know dollars are tight in this economy. And I know that no one can give a book a push like its author. I also know some authors who are incredibly imaginative at this, and excel at getting--and keeping--their book in the spotlight.

But for a lot of us, the reason we write is because we love writing, not because we like promoting. We are not fully comfortable with the whole idea of the spotlight and feel as if we are shouting, "Hey, look at me! I wrote a book!" (Never a good idea, by the way.)

We could learn a thing or two from the Red Baron.

Now, I read The Right Stuff, and I know that fighter pilots of any generation are not by nature modest. But this guy makes other fighter pilots look like shrinking violets. Richtofen was a master at aerial combat, and made sure everyone knew it. After downing his first enemy plane, he ordered a small silver cup made to commemorate the event, and had it engraved with the date of his victory. After that, he had a new cup made for each new victory. By one report, he amassed a total of sixty such silver cups. The only thing stopping him from continuing the practice was that Germany, which was blockaded at the time, began to run short of silver. No wonder!

He received his famous nickname, of course, from his practice of having his airplane painted bright red. His aim was clearly to be noticed. It was the only way he could be sure he would be distinguished from other fliers from the ground. Nothing stands out agianst a blue sky like a bright red plane. Combined with his skill as a tactician and his mounting tally of kills, the effect was to instill fear and respect in enemy fliers. His legend was born.

So I guess I should be more fearless when promoting my next book. I should not be afraid to stand out, to stand, yes, in the spotlight. Maybe a bright red book cover wouldn't hurt either.

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