Monday, February 13, 2012

The Twitocratic Oath

 Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing.  This is what I have come up with:

 The only way to sell your product—be it a book, a software program or crocheted condoms—is to tell people about it.  (Incidentally, I made up “crocheted condoms” as a joke, then Googled it on a whim.  Yup.  Heaven help us!)

 The best way to get people to know about your product is to get other people to talk about it, spontaneously, for free and, hopefully (but not altogether necessary), in a good way.  That is something I consider achievable, if unlikely, but it harkens back to the Prime Directive of introducing people to your product in the first place.

 You can do this by spending money or for free: no real choice to make there, then.

 Fortunately, these days, there are numerous way to advertise for free: blogging, twitter, Facebook, YouTube…etc.  Due to my lack of specialized talents, however, I am limiting myself to blogging and Twitter.  (I really want to give YouTube a go, but I am not keen on embarrassing myself in front of 7 billion people, even though it would probably shift a lot of books.)

 Blogging is my strong suit, but that gets you nowhere unless people are made aware of the blog, which leads back to Twitter.  (Guest blogging is another great publicity source but I have decided not to do that this time.  For my other books, people have kindly allowed me to do this but I feel I am incurring karma debt by not yet being in a position to reciprocate.  I am willing to help anyone who asks, but no one wants to guest post on my blog or solicit advice from me so, until that happens, I’m trying to keep my Karma Credit Card in my wallet.)

 So, Twitter and commenting on other people’s blogs: both great ways to let people know you are out there.  However, I see a lot of people Twitting and commenting in ways that make me cringe; I want people to be aware of me, not think I’m a dick, so I came up with a list of rules for me to follow and I’m calling it my Twitocratic Oath because calling it my “Don’t Be a Dick” list sounded too snarky.

The original oath; oddly, it was not published
in eBook format.

The Twitocratic Oath 

 I swear by Twitter, Wordpress, Blogspot and all other social networks, and I take to witness all the Cyber-gods and Cyber-goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath and agreement:
  1. I will not blast hundreds of tweets at a time so that my followers will see only page after page of my tweets when they log on.
  2. I will make every effort to be sociable and accessible on Twitter and to interact with others.
  3. I will limit publicity Tweets to announcements about book releases, notifications of price changes, special offers or to draw attention to a review or other media appearance.
  4. I will post Tweets about my blog updates (or special announcements as noted in Item 3) no more than six times to Twitter (to cover all time zones) and only once to Facebook.
  5. I will post Tweets about past blog posts no more than twice a week.  (I have never done this, but it sounds a great idea and I want to leave the option open.)
  6. In reference to Item 4, my blog posts will be not be overt advertisements for my books (except in the case of announcements, as listed in Item 3) and will continue to provide the same, quality entertainment they always have.  In short, I want people to visit my blog because I can do something for them (i.e. entertain them) and if they like what they see and want to buy my books, all the better.
  7. I will comment appropriately on other people’s blogs and if I ever post a comment along the lines of, “Hey, great post! Reminds me of my book, Best Book Ever Written, available at (link), (link) and (link), where I mention something very similar…” I will go immediately to the nearest pig farm and dunk my head in the biggest pile of manure I can find because that is what I will deserve.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all humanity and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.

Hippocrates: "Do no harm."

 Do I expect to sell a lot of books following this oath?  Not really, but I do expect to be able to sleep soundly at night.

 (Update:  I have just been  reminded--by a visit to Nicola Morgan's site Help I Need a Publisher--about DMs, or Direct Messages in Twitter.  I didn't mention them because I have never used them and don't intend to.  I think that's a good plan.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My Self-Publishing Manifesto

With the Postcards Trilogy put snugly to bed, it’s time to pose the question, “Now that you’re in the Self-Publishing Groove, are you going to self-publish your novels?”
The answer:
There are many valid reasons to join forces with the self-publication beast, and many, many more specious rationalizations for taking its paw and skipping down the yellow-brick road with it.  That the decision to self-publish (or not) is fraught with writer-angst is made manifest by the nearly equal number of Why I Chose To (or Not To) Self-Publish posts that follow the decision.  Consider this just one more in the churning Sea of Rationalization.
My self-published Postcards series was a textbook case for self-publishing:
  1. do it yourself to see how hard it is
  2. get it professionally published to learn how it should be done
  3. keep the self-publishing option open in case the writer/publisher relationship breaks down
That’s all well and good and I am proud of the books and pleased with the results but I see my fiction work as something totally separate.  All my life I’ve wanted to be a published novelist, and I think I owe it to myself to not short-circuit that dream by slinging some sub-standard manuscript up on Kindle.
Patience has always been part of the game, but self-publishing appeals to our not-so-latent desire for immediate gratification; my manuscript shouldn’t be sitting with an agent, it should be up on Kindle right NOW so I can start reaping the rewards I so richly deserve.  And while I admit that the idea of my WIP sitting lonely and unloved on some publisher’s slush pile does make the siren call of self-publication appealing, it’s still not something I want to do.
Writer’s are in the absurd position of needing validation.  It’s ridiculous and unfair and causes us to put forward arguments like, “If a person paints, we call them an artist, if a person builds cabinets we call them a carpenter, ergo, if a person writes, they are an author.  Why do we need one of ‘The Big Six’ to bestow that title on us?”  And that is true.
The problem with this comparison, however, is that the writers are choosing who to compare themselves with.  What about actors?  Does practicing acting in your home make you an actor?  And if you met a person who claimed to be an actor who said to you, “I don’t believe in the antiquated model of auditioning for parts—I follow a new paradigm, so I’ve rented a hall and written my own play for me to star in.  Would you like to buy a ticket?  I have plenty left,” would you consider that person an actor, or a self-deluded wannabee doing something any idiot with more money than sense could do?
(Incidentally, what we learn from this is that self-published writers need to keep comparing themselves to artists and carpenters and if someone says, “But what about actors” it would be best to change the subject immediately.)
And so we arrive at the heart of the matter:  I don’t want to self-publish because, like the antics of the wannabee actor, anyone can do it.
Until a few years ago, aspiring to be a writer—a published author, someone who wrote a novel good enough to put between the covers of a book—was a noble ambition.  There was no shortage of people who said, “I could write a book,” but those who actually did it were few.  But now, anyone can; they can, their little brother can, their grandmother can, their great aunt Tilly can and, seemingly, they all are.  Having a book with your name on it these days is meaningless; the only thing that injects any significance into the phrase “I have a book out,” is if you can truthfully follow it up with “and I’ve sold a quarter million copies on Kindle” or “and it was published by (insert Big Name Publisher here).”
I’m not likely to sell a lot of books, so the only thing I can do to make saying “I have a book out” worthwhile is to secure a publishing contract.  Anything else would be a compromise and an admission of defeat.
Here’s hoping I won’t be back in six months admitting defeat.

Monday, February 06, 2012

I Solemnly Swear

This past weekend, I went through my Postcards books and deleted the swear words.
This is something I have been thinking about for a while (ever since the final Postcards book was completed—but more on that in a moment) and I was not sure how I felt about it.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it is done, and I believe it was the right decision.
The swear words included only the F-Bomb.  It’s a word I quite fancy, and one I use often; just ask my wife or my co-workers.  They will, however, (if interrogated deeply enough and choose to answer honestly) admit that I don’t use the word with quite the same alacrity as I used to.
Consequently, the first book had six instances of the Eff-Word, book two had three and the final installment has none at all.  More tellingly, the final book did have two but—despite them being used in context and for comic effect—they jarred with the rest of the text to the point where removing them was obviously the right thing to do.  I remain glad I did; the book reads much better because of it.
But what about the other two?  I always saw them as a set, so would having one book with no swear words fit in with the rest of the series even if the language wasn’t quite as—how shall I say—gentle?
Altering “completed” works is nothing new: Dickens’ two endings for Great Expectations is a notable literary example, Paul Simon went back, years later, to add another verse to The Boxer, and of course they painted clothing on the naked angels during the Middle Ages.  But is this right?  One of the great advantages of self-publication is this ability to alter the “finished” work at any time.  But just because we can, does that mean we should?  With this new-found freedom, can we now beta-test ending of our novels the way the film companies try out several different endings to some movies?  Will people buying a book in this brave new world now have to worry about buying it again because, in a year or so, it might be different?  And if that is to be the case, shouldn’t they be allowed to “upgrade” at no additional cost?
And will my books start appearing on eBay with the claim “Like New!  The original paperback, with the swear words!  £276.65”?
These were the questions that kept me of several minds while I was attempting to decide what to do with the nine “bad” words out the nearly 200,000 that make up the three books.  Strange how we choose to torment ourselves.
The reasons I decided to do it were individual to this piece of work, and I might not make the same decision on another book, but this is why I ultimately put myself through the hell of re-formatting and re-uploading a set of very similar books to multiple sites over the course of an exceedingly long, and dreadfully frustrating Friday:
  • The books, being part of a greater whole, need to be consistent, and instead of bringing the tone of the last one down, I chose to bring the tone of the other two up.
  • Although the first two books handled the profanity well, the final book changes the tone of the series, making hard profanity out of character.
  • Oddly, over the years, my sensibilities have changed to the point where I didn’t like the swear words in the text and—this being the pivotal point—they were MY books and I could do as I bloody well saw fit with them.
And so, future readers who buy the complete set of Postcards books, will be getting what is, for now, the final cut—a humorous, but profanity-free—romp through Ireland and life in Great Britain.
I just hope they appreciate all the fucking effort I went thought.