May 13th, 2011 by Darin
May 4th, 2011 by Darin
March 30th, 2011 by Darin
March 7th, 2011 by Darin
My latest short story, “The Dust and the Red,” a magical realist take on the family farm during the Great Depression, is now available for free at Apex Magazine.
March 3rd, 2011 by Darin
February 12th, 2011 by Darin
So, next week, a hip productions team that may or may not be affiliated with the local paper (let’s not say), is going to subject me to an interview. Shortly thereafter, the interview will air on an underground, shortwave radio station near downtown (remind you of anything?). Shortly thereafter thereafter, I will read/perform with Shiny Around the Edges at the 35 Conferette. The interview and footage from this performance will then be franken-mashed together into brief video . . . thing, documentary, whathaveyou.
The interviewers have spoken: they’d like to know what you want to know. So, if you’d like a question in the interview, just leave it as a comment below. The interviewers will then choose a few to include (attributed, of course), and we’ll all go down in underground promo history.
So, what do you want to know?
January 10th, 2011 by Darin
Recently, a writer friend of mine, [NAME REDACTED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT], whom we all know and love, posted a question to his/her Facebook page about awards season in the SF/F field. The question, essentially, had to do with authors promoting themselves as viable awards recipients and whether or not this had become the new industry standard. This particular writer was a bit mixed about how he/she feels about this topic (pushing oneself as the rightful recipient of a given literary award), but he/she also recognizes how this might be a necessity.
This Facebook status got me to thinking. I’m guilty of having alerted people of my awards-eligibility via my Twitter page and the promotional Facebook page dedicated to my novel (as such, I’ve been kind of light in this regard: I’m sending content to people already primed to receive this kind of stuff), but I certainly haven’t gone to some of the organized, underground, networked lengths that some enterprising authors have developed. So, the question struck me: am I lazy, or do I, too, have a bit of an issue with this process?
The answer is both. I don’t much care for promotion. It’s a frustrating reality that the successful early-career author of today (in the overwhelming majority of cases) cannot simply be a lone literary voice in the darkness. One must be willing and able to take responsibility for promoting oneself and one’s book, even if one is attached to a large publishing conglomerate—unless, for some reason, you really, REALLY stand out to this publisher; he/she/it/they just don’t have enough resources to spread around to every writer he/she/it/they acquires. Further, while it isn’t necessary, you’re certainly going to make your life easier if you’re also capable of writing web code (or at least customizing and maintaining a pre-fab blog template), doctoring images (at least on the basic level), and thinking outside of the marketing box.
Promotion is a lot of work that has little to do with the actual commitment of words to pages, which is how most aspiring or successful authors I know wound up in this business (committing words). It also, usually, has a low effort-to-yield ratio. There is no one trick to the elbow-grease method of promotion: a Facebook page does little; a Twitter account does little; a unique promotional website does little; a standard information-based website does even less (unless people were motivated by your name or previous activities to come to your website before your book became an issue of promotion); readings can yield word-of-mouth buzz but usually only slowly, unless you’re a supreme badass or very lucky; customizing handbills and shoving them at people on a sidewalk does little; inserting bookmarks into books in libraries and bookstores (which I think might be illegal—who knows: it’s at least tacky) does little; attaching yourself to music/literature/arts festivals and readings does little; going to conventions and finding creative ways to talk about yourself and your book without talking about yourself and your book does pretty much nothing at all (I’ve got strong opinions about the nature of the business you can do at a con, and most of it has to do with just getting to know people and not being a dick—leave work out of it until later); maintaining a brilliant, funny, topical, and engaging blog does a fair bit more than the others above, but it must be a brilliant, funny, topical, and engaging blog—an auto cross-poster of your Twitter and Facebook status updates is not a blog, it’s an aggregator, and unless you’re someone worth aggregating, who gives a shit? Writing, editing, submitting, and publishing short fiction can help a lot, too, but again, the effort-to-yield ratio is imbalanced—if you’re capable of producing publishable/memorable short fiction as easily as you can produce handbills and Facebook statuses, then you’re a freak of nature, and I hope you enjoy your thousands, ’cause you’ve got IT, whatever IT is.
But, all of that together, that adds up to something—it becomes promotion. It’s not very fun, and you’re trying to do it while maintaining a Zen attitude toward the reviews of your book that are coming out all around you—as well as the amateur comment-aggregators, like Amazon.com customer reviews, GoodReads.com, and the like. Some of these responses think you’re the Second Coming, while some of them think you barely qualify for a position as a line worker in a toilet paper ply-layers assembly plant. Most of them, mind you, are coming at this from the perspective of voracious readers who have stumbled upon yet one more among the hazillions of titles that tumble off of commercial shelves each year (or it’s been sent to them by your publisher)—as such, your book is not a special snowflake, and interpreting it is a no-holds-barred activity . . . as it should be. Nevermind the incredible odds and challenges you’ve overcome to put that book in that position; legitimately, it doesn’t matter, and you tell yourself it’s all about context, and appropriate audiences, and separation of author and text, and you look to see who of them have been in your position as your book absorbs torpedo after torpedo.
But you and your feelings don’t matter. Promotion must go on if you want to sell copies—unless you’ve won one of the publishing lotteries wherein publicity or promotion professionals attached to your publisher have decided beforehand that they will spend the time, money, and effort to force a return on investment by making you The One—or, at least, The Next One—regardless of the tone, topic, or quality (relative, of course) of your book. If you’ve won this lottery, then, again, enjoy your thousands because you are pretty likely to earn out of your advance, lining up deal after deal. But, the odds of winning this lottery are about as slim as winning any other lottery, and the rules of selection are just as random—these decisions are usually not even made by your editors but by your editors’ bosses instead (or even your editors’ bosses’ bosses). That’s how it goes, and, hey, it should—these publishers have money on the line, and they know better than you how to bundle investments and ensure the most likely return on a cluster of expenditures.
So, promotion at large is hard, and, getting us back on topic, the self-promotion-for-awards-nomination wing of the larger promotion echelon is hard, too—you’ve got to figure out how, where, and when to best plug your work without sabotaging yourself.
So, that’s one reason why I don’t do much of it.
The other reason, as with our unnamed author friend, is that I have issues with the practice. I mean, there’s the part of me that wonders “How bad must you suck if you have to ask, beg, or cajole people to nominate your book for awards?” I mean, shouldn’t talent and genius and world-changing literature just . . . nominate itself? (Please don’t be one of those douche readers incapable of detecting sarcasm.) Before my own novel came out, I used to tell a friend of mine that I didn’t believe much in promotion (luckily, I had the foresight to get some pre-publication promo running anyway). My thinking was that talent sells, and that if your writing isn’t good enough to sell itself, then there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to convince people to give it the attention you think it deserves. That was naïve.
But think about it: one can see how one might develop this mentality. Think about what has happened all the way up to and including the promotion stage of a book’s publication:
- You overcame the incredible odds against ever finishing a book in the first place. Most who start books don’t finish them.
- You overcame the incredible odds against securing an agent (if you went with one). Notice, now, that we’re two powers of “incredible odds” in already. These odds are exponential, all the way to the top, so the final percentiles we’re talking about are tiny.
- You overcame the incredible odds against selling your book to a publisher.
- At this point, the odds become less incredible, but you’ve overcome some just the same . . . for instance, you overcame the odds against having your book cancelled, which just earns you a kill fee and a drinking problem. (Think it doesn’t happen? Where the hell were you during publishmageddon ’08?)
- Let’s also say that you overcame the odds against listing: your book makes the cut and appears in some of your publisher’s library catalogs and the like (which doesn’t happen for every title, so you know).
- So on and so forth—you’ll learn all the little hurdles and humps and small victories when you get here yourself. I don’t want to spoil all the fun.
So, wow! You’re a goddamned mathematical superhero. Look at those odds. Look at the view from up here. How could you not beat the odds against sales?
Well, the odds against anyone, despite all of this—despite however many years of training and practice you invested before developing this gold-mine of a book—picking up your book are just as incredible. And if this is your first book, this can be the end of your career. Just like that. Sure, you’re made of awesome, and you found the golden fleece, and you can hold your breath for ten minutes underwater, and blah, blah, blah, but if you’re a flop, who the hell cares? Why would any other publisher bother investing in your second or third or fourth book? Sure, it can happen (I’m exaggerating a bit for blogly effect), but just play along.
Keep in mind, selling a book is not the solution to your publishing problems. You don’t have publishing problems until you’ve sold something. Selling a book is the beginning of your publishing problems.
So, with all of that, what about asking people to nominate oneself for awards? Well, despite this, I, like my mysterious author friend, still would rather the world discover me than foist myself upon the world. Winning a major award may not make you rich, but it’s sure going to put a lot of eyes on your work, and with as many titles and authors as are out in the world competing for brainspace just now, I suppose I can understand the self-serving impulse to beg for nominations.
But, most of us won’t, and we will go quietly into that good night, and there will be no one to blame but ourselves. Largely, this won’t be due to whether or not we railed and jumped and hired those crazy inflatable wiggly things that you see at car lots in order to draw attention to ourselves during awards-nomination-season—it will be due to the fact that we’re just not all award-caliber writers. That sucks, of course, and it’s nigh impossible to determine for yourself if you fit within this category, especially given the inherently arrogant and self-confident understanding-of-self you had to develop to even finish your special book and make it to this point in the first place. Writers who don’t think they’re goddamned geniuses (even if they only do so quietly, in the small dark of the night, when no one will notice) won’t get very far. But, this is an issue of “largely,” not entirely. Books have to be noticed before they can be evaluated, and I’m sure that thousands of award-caliber books go unnoticed each awards season for all of the reasons and probabilities and unlikelihoods I mentioned above.
So, noble writer, go ahead. I probably won’t join you, but go ahead and let us know what you’ve got available. There’s a lot at stake, and I’m betting a good quarter of your life or so is tied up in this book of yours. Hell, I’m betting your entire identity is largely tied up in all of this—so, for your own sanity, give it a go.
But don’t be a dick about it. Most of us are going to ignore you anyway.
October 11th, 2010 by Darin
Matt Kressel writes to tell me that the The raffle to support the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading series is now on! Many prizes from Catherynne M. Valente, William Gibson, George R.R. Martin, an iTerrarium with carnivorous plants, John Crowley, Nancy Kress, Jeffrey Ford, Altered Fluid, Cat Rambo, wormholes, and a whole lot more.
September 1st, 2010 by Darin
The Mongoliad is now live. Mark Teppo, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and others kick off a multimedia fiction campaign, beginning with a four-plot serial novel set during the high Mongol period. Having published a serial hypertext novel with Mark Teppo before, I can tell you that he alone can deliver. I’m honored to be, along with Michael Constantine McConnell, a copy editor for this gig.
August 31st, 2010 by Darin
A new interview with Sam Snoek-Brown is up over at his website. This was one of the most thorough interviews yet that I’ve had the pleasure of participating in—a lot of fun. Head on over and read about the hyper-present, art-forward consciousness, and writing in academia.