Being a working actor has taught me that promoting a commodity takes a lot of time, effort, money, and imagination. Unfortunately, as an actor, when the buyer wasn’t interested in the commodity, the rejection was, well, kind of personal. In the actor’s world, the actor is the commodity.
When you’re the commodity, your livelihood depends upon that commodity being skilled enough, professional enough, and interesting enough to be sold many times over in a very competitive market. Auditions offer a very short opportunity to sell yourself and every moment counts. Everything from how you’re dressed to being on time to who you’ve worked with impacts getting the work. It’s a lot of pressure to perform perfectly on the spot, every time.
After twenty years, I decided to try my hand at something that created a commodity that wasn’t me. I’ve been writing since I was young and have been paid to write for much of my professional life. After getting out to meet other writers and getting involved in writer’s groups as Dennis Tafoya suggests in his blog entry, I learned about a publishing opportunity with Arcadia Publishing. I pitched a couple of ideas for local history books, they bought one, published it and I had my book in hand. A tangible product to promote that wasn’t me. Or so I thought.
Well, you don’t have to be a brilliant writer to see where this story is going. I set up book signings, local history talks, workshops on writing about local history…I even had the very first edition of my book signed and sealed in a time capsule cemented into the foundation of the Stockton School. I thoroughly enjoyed the events and as I did them, one thing became very clear, the book may have been the product for sale, but I was the commodity.
So, once again, I found myself making sure I was dressed right (dare I say, “costumed”) for whatever version of the author made sense for that group. I fine-tuned my self-description to include aspects of my career as an actor and filmmaker in order to explain the evolution of my book. I called myself a storyteller that captured the stories of the town in my book. It was what the audiences wanted. They wanted to understand who I was so they could better appreciate and ultimately buy my book.
One thing I had learned as an actor, a commodity has to respect and respond to the needs of the buyers. Whenever someone would suggest I was an “historian,” I would deflect the word and call myself simply a storyteller. After one of my talks, a man approached me and said, “You’ve captured the history of a town in the pages of a published work…that makes you an historian.” Before I could protest, he identified himself as a history professor at a nearby university and something of an expert on the subject.
I had met the commodity and he was me…and, for this book at least, an historian.
Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series. He is co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.
Keith’s post is part of an ongoing series, where Liars each chime in on a burning question about publishing. To read answers other Liars have already given to “what we wish we knew,” click on Marie’s post, Don’s post, Merry’s post, Dennis’ post, Kelly’s post, and Jon’s post. And check back on this site daily for more Liar responses!