On Taylor Koekkoek’s Defiant Disconnection

An article appearing last month in the Los Angeles Times book section opens with a nondescript picture of a young man in a Hawaiian shirt standing in front of a brick wall. The caption is arresting: “Taylor Koekkoek is one of the best short-story writers of his (young) generation. So why haven’t you heard of him?”

On March 21st, Koekkoek (pronounced, cook-cook) published his debut short story collection, Thrillville, USA. Those who have read it seem to love it. The Paris Review called it a “raw and remarkable debut story collection.” The author of the LA Times piece braved a blizzard in a rental car just for the chance to interview Koekkoek at his Oregon house. And yet, the book has so far escaped wide notice: At the time of this writing, its Amazon rank is around 175,000.

The LA Times provides some insight into this state of affairs:

“A Google search reveals very little about the writer: a few published stories, no social media trail, author bios at a handful of universities that feature the same photo of an amiable-looking young white man in a Hawaiian shirt. If one were to make up an identity for a fictitious writer, the results would resemble something like the sum total of Koekkoek’s online experience.” [emphasis mine]

It’s possible that Koekkoek will go on to make the standard moves for someone his age: engaging in social media, creating waves online, brashly carving out an audience. (Indeed, since his book came out, he seems to have started an Instagram account that currently features three posts.) But there’s a part of me that hopes he resists this well-worn path; that he continues to let his soulful words speak for themselves, and that, ultimately, the sheer quality of what he’s doing wins him grand recognition.

This would be a nice counterpoint to our current moment of instinctive self-promotion. A reminder for the rest of us, nervous about slipping into digital oblivion, that what ultimately matters is the fundamental value of what we produce. Everything else is distraction.

In other news…

  • My apologies for my recent radio silence on this newsletter. In a coincidence of scheduling, of the type that happens now and again, I had an academic, magazine, and book-related deadline all fall into the same three-week period, so something had to give. I should be back to a more normal pace of posting now.
  • I suppose I should mention that, a few weeks ago, I was profiled by the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. Believe it or not, I was the cover story (!?). You can read it here.

7 thoughts on “On Taylor Koekkoek’s Defiant Disconnection”

  1. One word: publicist. Koekkoek should hire a publicist to handle the necessary work to market his book via social media because learning all of the vast milieu of social media would be a lifetime occupation and social cries for the specialized labor of a publicist. I speak from experience. During my graduate studies, I needed to publicize my engineering work on behalf of a US government program to address climate change. I contacted the University’s Communications department professor who I had a relationship with by previously assisting the proctoring exam for her and being friends with her grad student. The smart communications prof got me in touch with the University publicist who took over the publicity drive that was part of the government project. Needless to say, the University publicist did a better job than I could have ever done as a nerdy engineering grad student, but I was engaged with the publicity process because I wanted to learn basic marketing (since I am a nerd who wants to know how everything works.) Koekkoek needs to do the same thing by contacting his publisher and asking his publisher who would be a good publicist for him. No need to reinvent the wheel when there is a readily available off the shelf solution.

    • JR,
      How does one go about finding a publicist? I’m in the Austin, Texas area (Dripping Springs, West of Weird).

    • Publicists can be VERY expensive! I spoke to one before my novel came out last year; she said she charged about $35k for a full campaign (an amount by many degrees more than the advance I received for the book). We had a lovely conversation though.

  2. As a person in the real estate business, I was wondering if I could be successful if I stayed off social media. I would rather interact with my clients 1:1 then steer them to my website, Facebook, or Instagram page.

  3. To me, these news are really outrageous. To be forced to use social media otherwise people seems not to notice you. I m myself publish stuff that needs some kind of promotion and If I do nothing, it doesn’t work, sunk in online shops, my personal blog and not much more… is so sad. I miss 2000s internet.

    • The only viable alternative I see goes along with JR’s advise — pay a community manager to handle all that bs so you can focus on your stuff. 🙂


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