Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Table Talk - Those Trendy Western Zombie Mysteries!
This week, Barry, Bobby and Mike discuss all the work, other than writing, writers must do these days, as well as those pesky trends that compel writers to pen western zombie mysteries.
Question (Bobby): I've discovered that there's so much more to being a writer than just writing. Promotion, marketing, name building, branding, social media, conventions, interviews, blogs, and on and on and on. Sometimes I think I spend as much time doing these things as I do writing. Of these writing-related tasks, what are your favorites? Least favorite? The biggest surprise? And how do you work this part of the job into your schedule.
Mike: I love the conventions, mostly. We all work, live and breathe in isolation for the most part. Just us and a computer. But, at a convention, we get to interact with readers, get feedback, see the excitement on their faces and really get the experience of interacting with the people enjoying our work. I'm extremely extroverted, so sitting in my office by myself for forty hours a week gets old. If I could, I'd do a convention at least once a month, if not more.
Barry: I don’t do many conventions because of the cost involved in doing so but they are fun. I enjoy doing interviews for the most part, too, though I confess that sometimes I get tired of answering the same questions over and over again. I sometimes jokingly consider coming up with bizarre, off-the-wall answers just to amuse myself. “How did you come up with The Rook, Barry?” “Lots and lots of drugs, actually.”
My least favorite things? I have to balance the time I put into promotion with the time I have set aside to actually write, plus I have a full-time “real” job and a family… so I don’t promote myself as hard as I could. I’m not on Twitter, for example, and I don’t pursue writing work as fanatically as I should. I generally let the work come to me.
Bobby: I was surprised to discover just how little promotion publishers do so I started doing my own. Thankfully, it turns out I enjoy doing promotions, but I have to balance it, like Barry said, or else I’ll spend more time promoting than writing. I also love interviews. They’re fun, but I agree there are some questions I could almost copy and paste the answers. I also enjoy doing interviews, a hold over from my journalism days. I don’t do a lot of them, but I do work up the occasional interview for All Pulp.
I love conventions and do more than I probably should considering the cost. On average, I do between fifteen and twenty conventions a year, some larger, some small, some three days, some one day shows. I often travel with other creators to help keep travel and hotel costs down. Some shows comp me a hotel room, which is always appreciated.
Mike: I'd love to do that many shows in a year, but when you factor in taking my wife and son, it gets really expensive, really quickly. Now that we're down in Austin, I hope to find more small shows to do and maybe start branching out into other types of shows and not just doing comic shows. Hopefully, someone will launch a New Pulp convention here in 2012 we can all attend (yes, I'm looking at you Tommy).
Bobby: What about the shows specifically do you like and dislike?
Barry: Dislike is easy… the travel and the expense.
The liking part is just as simple, really – I love being surrounded by like-minded people. Writing is so often a lonely exercise and even with the Internet, it’s still easy to feel like you exist in a vacuum. But being at cons, you’re with people face-to-face. At Pulp Ark, I met a young lady who told me how much Rabbit Heart meant to her and how she’d never read anything like it. That was an awesome moment for me – if she’d sent me an email saying the same things, I would have loved it but it wouldn’t have been the same.
Mike: Yeah, that one-on-one interaction is priceless. I had a girl come up to me at the last show I did and tell me she grew up reading Lions, Tigers and Bears and how much the series meant to her. Granted, it made me feel pretty old, but it still carried a lot more weight seeing the zeal in her eyes and hearing the excitement in her voice. Email is great for passing information, but horrible at conveying intent and emotion.
Bobby: That one-on-one interaction is a major like. I love chatting with fans and other creators. I never fail to have a fun time at a con. And I agree with you guys about how it feels to meet those who are fans of your work. One of the thrills that has happened a few times is when someone brings some of my work to the convention for me to sign. Not only does that mean they bought it, but that they put forth effort to bring it to the show, find me, and get it signed. That’s a big thrill for me.
The dislike for me is the cost. Travel and conventions aren’t cheap. One way I work around that is that I have a couple creator friends that I travel with so we can split the costs. My next con is in Nashville on October 1 - 2. Alone, this would be me covering gas from Atlanta to Nashville and back, plus a $69 a night hotel. Because I’m traveling with someone only half of that is mine. And , if I’m lucky, I’ll make the money to cover that at the con. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I used to get hung up on the money part earlier in my career and if I didn’t make enough it would spoil my enjoyment of the show. Now, I look on conventions as part of my marketing plan. Even if I don’t make as many sales as I’d like, I still make sure to enjoy the con and come home happy.
Barry: Bobby’s mention of sales led me to wonder – Do the sales of a project help define for you how successful it was? Or is the true success the quality of the work? I’ve done books that I was extremely proud of and then was very disappointed that they didn’t sell at all. On the other hand, I’ve done things that in retrospect, I didn’t feel was my best work for whatever reason – only to see people buying the things in droves.
Mike: For me, sales aren't so much a factor as the response. For instance, Savage Beauty didn't sell as well as we'd hoped, but it got nearly unanimous shining reviews and response from readers. The same can be said for my Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel. It also didn't sell as well as I'd hoped, but the people who did get it, love it. Honestly, there's really only two books I've done that I would like to take back and "fix," otherwise, I'm pretty okay with most of it. Granted, there's nothing I've done I'm 100% satisfied with and I'm very cognizant of the fact that I'm far from the best author out there…
Bobby: While sales are nice, and good sales are even nicer, I try not to let things like that dictate whether I view a project as successful or not. It’s not always easy, mind you, but I try. I’ve written some stories that sold less than I’d hoped, but received nothing but praise from those that read them. Then I’ve had projects that were less exciting to me as a writer that sold better. It’s a mindboggler trying to figure out what will sell so I try not to think about that as I write. I also don’t try to write toward the current trends unless the idea comes on its own. If I try to force myself to write fantasy, for example, it’ll come off a bit forced because I am not a “fantasy writer.”
Mike: I can certainly relate to that. I don't write mystery stuff for that very reason, I'm just not very good at it. And, I actually have an aversion to stuff that's trending, for whatever reason, which is why I've not written any zombie books, even though it seems like that's a surefire way to get sales these days.
Bobby: I hope you’re right because I wrote a story for the upcoming Zombies vs. Robots prose anthology for IDW. [laughs at his own shameless self promotion] I agree though. I can’t make myself write a story that I have no interest in writing. I often have people tell me that I should write this type of story or that type of story. Then there’s the perplexed look I see on the face of the person that asked that when I tell them what they suggested isn’t the type of writing I do.
One of the reasons I like working on short stories for anthologies is that it allows me to scratch certain creative itches. I jumped at the chance to write a western story for the A Fistful of Legends anthology because I’d had an interest in writing a western, but didn’t know if I had a complete western novel in me, or even if I could sell it. There aren’t a lot of publishers putting out many westerns these days.
Barry: I agree on the topic of not trying to write things that don't interest me - even if I suspect it would sell. But sometimes I'll try to test myself and do something (like a western) even though I know I struggle with them.
In the end, sales don't determine "success" for me... But they sure do help sometimes! Haha!
Bobby: Agreed. Challenging myself is good, but knowing the market is a plus.