Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh happy day!

Last week, my publisher sent me the pdf for the 2nd edition. Looks amazing. I read the book one more time, came up with 15-20 piddling little changes, then sent it back to him. We're looking at putting it on Amazon in mid-November, as well as getting into consignment and review copies. It's going to be a busy winter.


With the book comes, once more, the task of promotion. I hate doing promo because it saps time from the actual writing. The only form of promotion I feel completely comfortable with is performance, because A) it's tied in with the writing and B) it's so damn fun. Having the 2nd edition will be an excuse to do another tour, which I am already planning for next summer.

But there's more. I will have to start sending query letters to bookstores. I will mail books myself for consignment. I have to book readings and get the word out on literary websites. I have to ask for blurbs. I have to fill out forms for competitions. This is not fun. It's a huge amount of time and energy and, on top of that, I never feel like I'm doing enough.

This year I was a guest at Balticon. Balticon is one of my favorite conventions of all. It's a science fiction convention that focuses heavily on SCIENCE and FICTION, as opposed to fandom and non-literary media. It's just the right size, too. I don't consider myself a typical fantasy writer (meaning, my work does not read like a Forgotten Realms book), but I proudly call my stuff fantasy. So reading at Balticon was an honor. I spent most of my time going to readings, trolling the dealer room and lamenting the fact that I hadn't heard of Bad-Ass Fairies 2 when they were accepting submissions. How awesome would it be to have a story in that book?

Balticon is the kind of environment where you learn about the hustle aspect of writing. Now, I used to staff anime conventions, so I saw the guests hustling: anime voice actors using their industry pull to shill their DJ or singing careers at the con. That kind of stuff. But at Balticon, as a guest, I was in the thick of it. People were there to promote themselves, and most of these writers were seriously on their grind. Whether it was packing on as many panel appearances as possible, or sitting at dealer room tables to hawk their stuff. I also noticed that writing was not a day job for most of them. These were not rich writers. Inbetween fantasy novels, they were freelance editors, librarians and high school science teachers. There was back-scratching going on, people organizing panels and readings and parties with friends (and why the hell not?). Writing was a passion, but, other than the Guest of Honor, these cats were working for every single book they sold.

And there were people who approached writing as a job. I hope I am never one of those types. The term "fantastic fiction" should be as broad as you can get, but there are niches that arise, with writers who make their bread filling said niches. I questioned whether some of them really enjoyed doing their umpteenth book about erotic steampunk shapeshifters or whatever. But it's a job.

My fellow writers came equipped with promotional materials. At one point, I had dinner with some other writers. I left early to go attend a reading, but prior to that I had a nice conversation with an older gentleman. He was taken kind of aback that I couldn't trade him promotionals in kind.

"You're telling me you don't have business cards? You don't have postcards? You don't have bookmarks? You don't have a blog?"

To which I sheepishly replied that no, I don't have any of those things. Dude was legitimately shocked. I felt woefully unprepared. What I found interesting was the way he listed these things as if they were absolute imperatives. Nowadays, all writers must have blogs. Including me, obviously. It was something I never really thought about, since I was so dedicated to simply writing. Yeah, Tolkien got along fine without one, but if he was around today he would need an online presence. I looked around the con and saw that all the authors had business cards, and postcards, and blogs. And here I was, with six books to sell and nothing else.

I got a small audience, as expected for a debut guy. I did wonder what I could have done to make it bigger. For instance, at Balticon people leave papers all over the place promoting their site or webzine or convention. I don't know why I didn't think of fliers. That might have had some effect in a mid-sized con. Something like "Fresh off his cross-country tour!" or "Noted storyteller!" or "This guy once talked to Peter S. Beagle for a minute! Come to his reading!"

Of course, nothing is certain. In the writing world, even longevity is no guarantee of an audience. I sat on a small press publishing panel, where I mostly just listened to the other, far older panelists. They described readings where people didn't show up, and they'd go out the store into whatever mall they were at to advertise the reading. And the guy who I had dinner with had less people at his reading than mine. He's written six or seven books.

I'm not comfortable with going out in the street and asking people to come hear me read. As I mentioned in a previous post, we had no audience in Cleveland on the Elvenslaughter, and Dan took it upon himself to go leaflet an hour beforehand. God bless him. I can't do that.

Balticon was a chance to meet all sorts of lovely writer-folk. While at one soiree, I got to talk to Jean Marie Ward, who is quite friendly and a hilarious writer. I talked about some of my trepidations as an emerging writer. I told her I was unsure of my marketing skills. She told me that whatever enables you to keep writing and publishing, that is the path you should take. Everything else is secondary. I believe in that, but I also believe in promotion. I internalized the lessons of Balticon, because I was unprepared for a promotional gig. Life is to short to dream small dreams; I want as many people as possible to read my work. I take the business aspect seriously. But I'm also aware that the end result is sending my dreams out into the world.

To bring it full circle, I am all about performance. You could have 3 people at your reading. If you're into it, they'll be into it, and you'll have more fans than you started out with. I think a lot of people come to readings expecting to be bored. When I saw I had the skill to challenge this, that my voice could engage an audience in stories, it was the most amazing feeling.

I'm pretty certain I'll be reading at MEWcon. It's over New Years, and seems like a fun way to round out such an exciting year. And yes, I'll have fliers. Maybe a business card, with the blog's URL. I'm never making bookmarks. Most of all, I'm excited for the reading. I think it'll be killer. I am a performer, and I'm ready.

Long story short: the book is out in November. Time to get my ass in gear.

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