Goodbye August, September, October (almost)

26 10 2011

I suck. You wouldn’t believe how often I think about posting here but can’t find the time to do it. The rhythm of my job is very interesting. More interesting than I thought it would be. It’s very much a series of stops and starts, mostly high pressure with more to do than is really possible, yet occasionally the clouds lift and I find myself catching my breath. When those times do arrive, I mostly do just that and sit there, breathing and appreciating the short lapse, never knowing when the meat grinder is going to snap back into action. Such went September and such is it now, albeit slightly more predictable.

Long term intentions remain to continue with this writing. I’m not comfortable giving up my personal writing entirely, so I will return soon. I’m just currently a teensy bit surprised all the time when things do feel manageable, so I’m being cautious.


The Pains of Self-Promotion

19 07 2011

Nathan Bransford is  a former literary agent turned children’s book author and everyone interested in writing and publishing should be following him. His blog is filled with insights about writing, his archives full of advice about querying agents, and his audience very knowledgeable and delightfully opinionated. He’s also had quite the busy week since he posted something to promote his book, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow. His readers pounded on him pretty hard for this piece of self-promotion and he took his post down. Though I’ve never personally been in a situation where I’ve had the entire internet jump down my throat over something, I can imagine how he felt and I can imagine it wasn’t very good. As others on Twitter reminded him, the people who have a stake in the matter and the people who are actually in the know about these things, i.e., the experts, the fact is that it’s his blog and he should feel free to post what he wants in the manner he wants. Further, if he doesn’t promote his book, who will? Now the post is back up along with another on the nature of self-promotion and it’s to this one that I’d like to contribute my feelings on the subject, primarily from the point of view of a consumer, but also from someone who has also had to promote himself at times, someone who understands that necessary evil from a lot of different perspectives and as someone who tries to see things from the author’s perspective and how difficult it can be to not only get a book written, but to get it sold.

Right now, the nature of book publishing is changing dramatically. More and more books are being published and publishing houses are doing less and less of the promotion. Their budgets are stretched so thin they can only really promote the books that are already guaranteed bestsellers, so that if you’re one of the ones lucky enough to have a book coming out with an agent and publisher and the entire traditional path, you’re most likely going to see next to nothing done to sell your book beyond its distribution and the most basic of marketing. Self-publishing, which is now and will increasingly challenge the traditional modes of publication, is entirely reliant on the authors to promote their own works.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that nobody likes to be overtly marketed to and authors in general tend to be somewhat clumsy about actually doing their own promotion; it’s consistently referred to as the thing they’re least comfortable doing. The stupidity of it all is that we as consumers are marketed to all the time. You’re hit with advertisements everywhere you go, all day long, from faceless companies selling products that you probably couldn’t care less about. And the funny thing about it is that we don’t really complain about that at all. But the second a small voice squeaks out and says, “Hey, I wrote a book, would you be interested in buying a copy?” out come the pitchforks and torches. Why is it that we’re totally okay with companies we don’t really like bombarding us with marketing, but we refuse the same to authors whose works (or at least the idea behind those works) we love? Because we’re all jerks, that’s why. We love to kick the underdog. We need to quit that.

The other half is that authors really do stink at marketing and promotion. They’re the worst at it, which is extraordinary because they already possess all of the tools they need to be fantastic at it but somewhere along the lines it all misfires. I mean, think about it: they can write well, they’re generally capable of empathy and seeing things from multiple perspectives, but a teensy bit of self-consciousness about the prospect of promotion causes them to fumble. Ask one to promote someone else’s work and they’ll do so with gusto and flair. Force to promote their work and you get: “Eeep…. my book you buy please? I no eat have in 16 days.”

That’s why I think authors should really take the time to read up on the subject and become comfortable doing it. It’s going to become more and more of a reality for them, so might as well. There are scores of books on the subject and many of them quite good at demonstrating what I think already most authors know but could stand to be reminded of. Because there is something good about marketing, too. It’s not monolithic evil, even if it’s the dark side with which we’re most familiar. Good marketing and promotion puts good products and good writing in the hands of the people who’d get the most out of it but would be unlikely to find it any other way. If you feel good about a work you’ve written, you’re doing a disservice not getting it out there. There is more to it than just “look at me” and actually, by having a popular blog and a trusted following, Nathan has already done it. If I could recommend a couple books, I’d read anything by Guy Kawasaki (Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions would be a good choice) or Bob Gilbreath’s The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning or read Seth Godin’s blog. None of those addresses the specifics of marketing a book, but I consider that a feature. These are the guys who understand marketing at its most simple and I think most authors are capable of extrapolating from that a strategy to market themselves. Maybe at the least they’ll see that marketing isn’t the dark side.

For what it’s worth, I think everyone should read a couple books on marketing, not just authors. We’re all engaged in self-promotion all the time to a greater or lesser extent and if you’re not comfortable with saying anything good about yourself and what you can do, well, you’re probably going to have a hard time at your next job interview. So, maybe don’t read those two books which are a little less helpful in that regard but read something else and read Seth’s blog for sure. It’s all about realizing the value that you have in yourself and in the work you do and that you’re doing a favor to others by giving them the opportunity to be aware of it. Don’t just make it about money. We’re all more noble than that.

Finally, there’s the contingent that refuses to think that any promotion at all is unnecessary and is, in fact, harmful. To them, I kindly say “stuff it.” They don’t understand and they’re the exact reason you can’t just count on word of mouth or the quality of good writing to rise to the top simply be virtue of its awesomeness. The universe does not, in fact, take care of anyone that way and it’s exceptionally naive to think it does. One of the comments on his post actually said that. It also said that he should either charge for his blog or shut up, also known as a “false dilemma” in informal logic. I can’t stand people like that.

This, by the way, again reinforces in my mind the reason we should put more faith in the experts, those with authority, even at risk of being labelled “elitist.” The trained critic, not the Amazon reader comment, I think has the best chance of being our expert promoter of fine writing in the future, but I think that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that there are too many works and too many voices out there and it’s a sea of noise. Careful promotion that peeks out above the water has the best chance of getting the word out about the great works out there.

Bad Writing

4 04 2011

From the Self-Publishing Review:

At the risk of sounding like a snob: non-sophisticated readers will not care if writing is non-sophisticated, and there are a lot more non-sophisticated readers than sophisticated ones. That’s millions of potential readers.  Publishers might like to believe that they have the finger on the pulse of what sells – or what should sell – but when mediocre writing is becoming a bestseller, this pretty much renders the slush pile meaningless.

I couldn’t agree more, though many of the comments there correctly point out that bad writing makes its way through the publishing houses all the time. The difference, I suspect, is that in most of those cases, such as with Snooki or the various Tumbler to Book Deal conversions, these represent just a money grab for the publishers. You can’t really fault them for that. They need the money or they’ll go under like any other business. The more serious literary imprints and presses aren’t doing that and, consequently, they don’t bring in the big money, either.

I also saw the point made that great storytelling trumps great writing. I am not so sure. I’d even venture to say it’s impossible to have anything more than the barest kernel of what could potentially be a great idea for a story without having it written down and stories, my friends, are made in the telling of them. It might be a really grabbing concept, but it’s not done until it’s written and half-thought out ideas are compelling and worthless at the same time. I might have a really great idea for a painting that would knock your socks off. Unless, however, I somehow find the talent, dedication and time to put that image onto canvas, the idea isn’t worth anything. Technique and craft matter, at least as much and sometimes even more than raw gifts. What makes a great story is, frankly, a great story in all of its magnificence and splendor, a great idea perfectly massaged onto the page, be it pixels or paper. That’s inseparable from the writing.

A minor update

28 03 2011

I’m very aware that I’ve taken a few weeks off from posting here and, for no reason other than my own desire to make a goal and stick to it, it’s no small source of guilt for me. Without going into too much detail, as I think there are some things best kept to myself and away from those nasty Internetses, but I’ve found work and I’ll soon be back to teaching in a very exciting environment and I’m extremely happy about it. This all happened pretty fast, so as my mind placed all available mental and emotional resources towards the good of the one opportunity, my thinking here suffered. Rightly so, I’ll add, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also miss thinking about books and find that, after a while, I’m drawn back to them.

Blogging hasn’t been the only thing to have suffered somewhat during this time. I’ve not been writing or even reading much, though that’s already changing.

My current pleasure geek read is A Feast for Crows, the last book in the Game of Thrones series and I plan on having that finished before the series airs on HBO on April 17. I’m extremely excited about that. My wife and I have been dying for a good show to watch since Boardwalk Empire ended and while Being Human on Syfy has temporarily fit the bill, I’m really just not feeling it just yet.

On the development side, I’ve just started reading Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki. I forget where I came across the title at all, to be honest and was surprised when I got the email from the library that my hold request was waiting for pick-up. It must’ve been from Seth Godin’s blog. This past year has had me reading so many things outside my standard areas of history and fiction. That’s a good thing.

Writing is, well, slow and intermittent.

Tapping Out

15 11 2010

I made a decision last Thursday to just go ahead and hang up my NaNoWriMo attempt. I just couldn’t get there with it and instead started to actually dread it, which lead to skipping it entirely. It wasn’t so bad until I fell behind and hit the first major plot point. On the plus side, I had many directions I could’ve gone with it at that point, many different perspectives on The Big Central Event, but that turned out to be a problem, too.

So, without getting too reflective, I will say that overall, I enjoyed trying and might, but most likely will not try again next year, but I learned a lot very quickly, such as:

1) It really does help to write on a schedule. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, it kills you when you can’t write on a schedule. I got derailed too many times and didn’t have the power to rally on a day I didn’t want to write.

2) I learned that planning would’ve probably carried the day. I did plan the overall plot of the novel and I thought I had a pretty good idea where it was going, but if I had made up a day-by-day, chapter-by-chapter outline, I would’ve been in much better shape.

3) I wrote a lot of really bad stuff that showed where I have more than a fair number of weaknesses in my plot. I was writing to reach a word count and I didn’t enjoy that very much. It felt like more of a stunt than real writing. What really surprised me, though, was there was a fair number of things that just came to me during the writing and they were quite good and I was very pleased with them.

The main thing I got out of it, though, was that I sat down and at least planned out a novel. I’d need to scrap the whole thing and rewrite it, but I think I see a bit on how to do it. I know that I can’t write everyday – I get tired too quickly and I need to build up more endurance. I also missed blogging and reading and writing other things. And I learned that I have to work on multiple things at once or I get bored or discouraged. So, it was a very good experience overall, but I ultimately just didn’t enjoy it enough to continue.

Playing Catchup [Nanowrimo Update]

10 11 2010
Jerry Orbach

Detective Lenny Briscoe (played by Jerry Orbach) Image via Wikipedia

So, today is 10 days into NaNoWriMo and I’m struggling to get caught back up. In fact, I sort of stunned myself a little to look up and see that today is already Wednesday (and ashamed that I hadn’t come here to update).

It was hard getting a lot done this weekend, but I actually had a really good day. We were in Atlanta visiting family and instead of sitting there enjoying coffee on Saturday morning before heading to the Rock Ranch for kids, play and more birthday party good times with my son, I forced myself to get out of the house. I wouldn’t have been able to get anything done there – just too many distractions. Instead, I drove to a Starbucks (ugh) and sat there and wrote for a couple hours while everyone else got ready to go.

I’m really proud of myself for that because it’s pretty out of character for me to retreat from the scene like that. I still don’t have an exact word count for how well I did over the two days, but after typing it all in – I did it all handwritten in a spiral notebook because my laptop is teh suck – I wasn’t too far behind, it looked like and I did have a small lead built up coming into the weekend. Then Monday and Tuesday this week were bigger disasters than the weekend for some reason.

Well, actually, I know what that reason is. I was building up to hit my first major plot point, which I hit yesterday. I think an ordinary person would’ve gotten a boost out of that, but it stumbled me. I knew how to get there, but from there now it’s such a big deal in the story and it’s an overwhelming feeling of all the things I have to reveal (as I build up to the second major plot point which I should hit next week sometime). It’s just a lot. The exposition turned out easier than I predicted and the meat of the novel is turning out to be harder.

Today had a long dialogue and questioning between the main character and a detective about the disappearance of the second main character (the FMC’s daughter). It was a lot of fun to write and I really kind of got into the mode of thinking like a cop. I tried to channel Lenny from the old Law and Order. I hadn’t planned most of it and found that I could come up with plenty of good reasons to suspect just about everyone for the kidnapping (except for the person who actually did it, of course!). It was good stuff and came out very quickly. I find that I enjoy writing dialogue a lot more than I thought I would.

NaNoWriMo Day 4 – Writing Music

4 11 2010

The day’s still early, but I’m wiped out. I overslept a little and procrastinated a lot and had to fight off a bit of a rotten mood, but I made my quota for the day. Actually, it was the fastest I’ve written and almost the most prolific: I got over 2,000 words in just a bit over an hour.

It doesn’t make much sense, but I’m going out on a limb and saying that I owe it to my buying the Battlestar Galactica: Season One soundtrack. I was struggling all day and felt like I needed some music in the background, but the usual eclectic mix of everything from Aerosmith to Lady Gaga to Nena to David Bowie that I listen to on my iTunes shuffle wasn’t going to cut it.

This actually did the trick and because my wife and I loved the series so much, it took me back and got me thinking about story (although what I’m writing isn’t science fiction). It just helped to have continuity between songs. A theme and an atmosphere in the room in between wrestling matches with my son, who’s turning 3 tomorrow (we’re very excited). The only downside was spending the money. I hate spending the money.

So, I’m ahead of schedule, though, which is good, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to get really derailed this weekend since we’re traveling. Because of that, however, there probably will be a catchup blog post on Monday to update how I do (or don’t do) over the weekend.

So say we all.