December 28, 2011

Beware the Gimmicks

Here's how you market your book: You try to build as large a following on Twitter and Blogger as you can while remaining true to yourself. You publish a book. You contact all the people you've become friends with and ask if you can do a guest post on their blog. You post frequently to Twitter about your new book and your guest blogs. Then...the contest! You know someone with "cred." You will leverage that cred to draw people to your blog, exposing them to your new book while they try to use you to get access to this other person.

How do I know this is how you market your book? Because this is how everyone is marketing their book right. Traditionally published or self-published, it doesn't matter. My Twitter feed is awash with hourly posts reminding me to check out one's book/blog/guest post. Multiply this by the number of people I follow (which is small compared to most people) and you can understand how Twitter is becoming less and less fun. It's like that scene in "Demolition Man" where they have a radio station that only plays commercials. I do not go to Twitter just so I can read your commercials all day.

Now, the first answer I always receive is "that's what lists are for," which is technically correct but misses the point. It's not about whether or not I want to read about your self-published opus with the conflicted hero who has to go on a killing spree to find himself. It's that in your effort to reach everyone, you're drowning those you already reached. Overexposure is worse than underexposure, I think. Overexposure turns off people that might have otherwise given you a try, and does so with finality. Underexposure allows for a trickle down later. (And really the goal is to hit the sweet spot where you're exposing yourself without prefixes.)

And then there's the contest. Oh there are so many contests, most of which smack of nothing more than a cheap gimmick. First there are the unethical contests (rate me on Goodreads for a chance to win!). Then there are the hassles (follow my blog for two points and tweet about my contest for one point..!). Then there are the false promises (my agent will read a random person's manuscript--oh wait, she's too busy). There are two simple rules to contests: 1) The participant needs to be the winner not you. 2) The participant needs to actually win something. If people participate in your contest and you can't deliver on your promises, it's not an unfortunate mistake. It's fraud. You defrauded people. Maybe not intentionally, but you established conditions and reneged on your promises. At best that makes you a liar and at worst it makes you a politician.

What does this all boil down to? With the flood gates of self-publishing open, there are a metric shit ton of people peddling their literary wares and most of them are trying the same things to get your attention. Simply shouting louder than everyone else in the room (metaphorically speaking) is not the way to win that contest. It may be hard work, but find some new way to get people's attention or you may find yourself losing the attention of those you've already won. And if you are starting to say, "But I don't have the time..." shut up. This is publishing not play school. If you can't make the time to do anything more than spamming Twitter you need to go find yourself a new hobby. I hear thumb twiddling is fun.

December 21, 2011

Interesting Dynamic

I watch people. I consider myself an extroverted misanthrope, if that's allowed. I love to talk and joke and laugh, but that's usually when I'm the center of attention. Drop me in the middle of a crowd where I don't know anyone, and I'm not like a real extrovert that goes around introducing himself to everyone. I kind of just shrink and disappear unless someone bridges me into a group where I might contribute in some meaningful way to a conversation. So what that often means is that I watch people. I watch all kinds of people, studying how they act, how consistently the act, and more importantly how they contradict themselves. It's how to build character in a story. Really all life is a story. So why not study its characters?

I saw something the other day that really piqued my interest. I work in an office building in Boston. There are a whole stretch of publishers right in a row, so you get some 10- to 12-floor building filled with editors and project managers and the like. Because we're so close together, all our floors are secured to keep the enemy from infiltrating and steeling our precious books. That means the building has a person in the lobby checking badges. I don't know their names except for Alex, the morning guy. There are plenty of others that rotate in and out during the day. So I can't say who the employee was in the lobby because it was an afternoon while I was leaving, but what I saw really made me want to write it down.

It was bitter cold. We've had a mild season so far, but the tall buildings can sometime create wind tunnels and when a strong, cold wind blows, it can cut like a knife. This sends the homeless looking for some place warm. It may be a winding alley that breaks the wind, it may be a shelter, often it's the subway. I come out of the elevator and pass the front desk and there is a woman dressed very obviously in everything she owned. She had half a mouth of teeth and her skin was so weathered she looked a couple decades older than she probably was. She was talking and laughing with the guy at the front desk.

There's always a moment of pause when encountering a homeless person in the big city to determine what type of homeless person they are. Are they merely destitute? Do they have problems (war vet, etc) that have driven them onto the streets? Are they addicts? Are they bat shit insane? It's really only this last one you worry about. The addicts leave you alone during the day. The worst you usually get is a yelling at. Maybe some spit. The destitute and the damaged will accept your charity but ignore you if you ignore them. But the bat shit crazy people are the dragon in the china shop.

So I pause, waiting to see if homeless lady is getting escorted out, if the cops are on their way, or if all is well. I hear the desk guy laugh and know all is well. Whew. It's always hard dealing with the crazy ones because you want to calm them and help if you can, but the wrong word or gesture may get you attacked. More often you just want them to be quiet until you get to where you're going and you can leave them behind. Ahhh, life in the big city.

In this case, though, everything was copasetic. I listened to their conversation as I crossed the lobby to leave. She was claiming she worked in the building but had forgotten her badge. Wouldn't he be a dear and let her go up and get it from her desk. He laughed, said she had tried that one last time, and she should try a different tactic.

When I stepped outside and got a blast of cold air in the face, I finally realized what he was doing. He wasn't allowed to let her loiter and he obviously couldn't let her go up to the secured floors. But if he was "helping" her, he could let her stay for awhile and stay warm. So she "lost her badge" and he helped her figure out "what to do" and they joked around for awhile while she thawed out and then she went on her way.

That, in itself, I think is cool. But I thought it would be a good twist to the "whodunnit" stories that you see in shows like Castle where the homeless are there only to be barely-functioning witnesses that can't testify on the stand, but can give the police the clue they need to carry on the search. What if you had a higher functioning homeless person that was friends with a doorman. The doorman let her come inside and warm up for awhile. She got warm and didn't cause any trouble. They all laughed, everything was spiffy, and then...THE MURDER! Lots of opportunity for red herrings while the detectives get over their assumptions of homeless people and realize they've been approaching the whole thing from the wrong perspective.

December 1, 2011

Letting Go

So Kristin Nelson had a very important lesson on her blog today. A lot of famous authors have had to learn that lesson as well. Brandon Sanderson and his agent Jashua Blimes have commented on the drawer full of novels he had written and were not good enough for Elantris, his first published novel. And Marie Lu's first sale is a huge one. I actually send my condolences because the pressure for her next novel is going to be a bitch. Good wishes and all the support I can offer that she rises to the challenge. (I think I would be a mess.)

This is a lesson I'm having trouble with but not having trouble with. I have a rule, one new novel per year. Rewriting does NOT count as a new novel. New from scratch, never been finished before, that's new. Between requested revisions and non-requested revisions, I didn't finish my first novel this year until September (PRINCE OF CATS). I honestly don't know if I'll finish my second before the end of December (WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR?). I won't have a completed draft of either before years' end. That's rough.

Here's the catch. I write fantasy and in fantasy, the world is effectively a character. I'm not so much consumed with the stories. They couple I've rewritten have changed to varying degrees. What I'm married to are the settings. The notion of abandoning the settings for new stories is something I haven't been able to do. I love those settings and I want other people to see them too. The problem is, having written a story in them (or a couple, for one world), it's hard to completely divorce what you've written for that setting and start fresh.

So, I excuse the whole thing by saying, as long as I write one new novel a year, it doesn't matter if the rest of my time is spent revising. That may burn me in the future, but for now, it's a middle ground I've found for myself.