Striking A Balance Between Writing and Promoting
I did a podcast recently for Earth Station One (Episode #147) where I sat in the Geek Seat and answered questions about myself and what-all I do along with writing, why I enjoy what I write, and what’s important to me about all this pulpy stuff. One of the questions that I answered was the basis for this column: What turns my geek off? While I had jotted down some ideas ahead of time, that one answer came easily to mind without even looking at my notes.
I absolutely love writing. I love talking about it, and meeting readers and other writers; but I really detest the endless promotional marketing. It’s a necessary evil down here in the indie frontier of the publishing business, where you are an author part of the time and the driving force that gets the word out the rest of it. I understand all that, and I accept it, but I still don’t like it. I’m happier as a creative person, and am not enjoying being a one-woman advertising firm.
I really do stink at merchandising. Back in the late 80s, I started a small business, selling craft items I’d made as well as supplies. It failed miserably because I found out the hard way I am just not a very committed huckster. Oh, I loved inventing interesting trinkets and hunting for bargains to resell. I really enjoyed standing and talking with people about what I was doing. I just wasn’t pushy enough when it came to the actual selling, and it showed. My business was a flop. Well, that’s really sad, but it was a learning experience. When it comes to the New Pulp world, selling your wares goes hand in hand with writing them, so I’ve put my big girl panties on and I’ve dealt with it. I love what I do so much, I am learning how to get the word out.
One thing I didn’t have ‘back in the day’ was the internet, which allows me to reach out to millions of potential readers. Of course, that can also turn into a time wasting trap… I could spend hours online, pushing my books and making myself look amazing; schmoozing and sharing witty anecdotes. But that doesn’t get too many stories and books written, and while I don’t have a job outside the home, I’m expected to at least do a passing job at housework and chores now and then. My family likes to see more than my back at the computer when they visit, so I need to make time for them. Occasionally I have to sleep more than a couple hours grabbed in between redeye sessions. All those things fill the day, which turns into weeks, months, and years. So yeah, there has to be some sort of balance between what I love doing, what I have to do, and what should be done.
Where do you draw the line? The easy answer is wherever you need to. The hard part is, understanding where that place is right now, because it varies from time to time. You also have to take into consideration how much you have on the docket and what you’re going to need to give up to do it, because you really can’t do it all and do it well. For instance, can you really afford to take any more time and resources away from your everyday life for that extra project? Can you still make a looming deadline and contribute to a charity anthology and have a social media blitz? If you can afford to schedule a few convention appearances, who will be manning the table to sell your stuff and make sure the books get signed while you make your rounds or participate in a panel or three? Is losing the chance to write a proposal or put 500 more words on the latest WIP worth answering a fun survey about how to write zombie porn? Be aware that everything you do that isn’t writing eventually takes away from actual writing time, so pick your promotional moments wisely. You don’t have to be out there 24/7/365, though making regular public or internet appearances is vital. People aren’t always going to stumble across your books by accident; you’ve got to wave them around now and then.
Just like everyone else does.
You think we pulpsters have it hard? All we’re trying to do is sell books; the continuance of the species doesn’t depend on how good we are at that. I once saw a wildlife documentary featuring some species of fiddler crabs, where the males had a large blue claw. During the courtship rituals, the males would congregate on the beach and wave those claws up and down, tapping the ground and trying to attract a mate. Some of them were wrestling with other males, trying to look macho to the ladies I suppose. There were hundreds of them, all doing the same thing the same way, and it was mindboggling to choose a particular one to zero in on, though I suppose the female crabs have their own criteria. Somehow, those fiddler crabs managed to perpetuate their genetics, which was the whole purpose of the mass mating maneuvers. With numbers like that, they weren’t focused on getting as much attention as possible from the entire crowd, but to get a single female crab to become interested enough to draw closer. Some days it pays to narrow to focus to on one customer at a time.
By now, I hope you can understand the analogy I’m trying to make. That fiddler crab behavior is called signaling, and various creatures use it to garner the attention of others of their species. We New Pulp writers are no different, because we’re all displaying our best assets in a field packed with other indie offerings; trying to get readers to pause long enough to peruse and hopefully purchase and read our tomes. So the song and dance routine you do really makes a difference. Mix it up a little! And don’t forget, substance is just as important as showmanship, because it is what’s between those covers that truly matters, though how colorful your offering is will certainly pull in some initial interest. A big blue claw displayed prominently results in crabby nirvana, though you have to actually be out there on the beach to wave it; there being no fiddler crab agents getting 15% of the hard earned mating bonus.
Peeps, it’s Ok to offer freebies. There’s no shame in just being generous. I readily admit that I have done favors via my talent for other writers, editors, or publishers with nothing more than a quick but heartfelt thanks in return. Sometimes I’ve been lucky to even get that much, writers being busy folks. In my mind, it doesn’t devalue me in any way that I don’t expect to be rewarded for every little deed. Oh I know, there’s a school of thought that says we writers ought to get paid for everything we do. Well I guess if you’re a mainstream author with books on the store shelves and a well known reputation, that’s very true. You make money for the publisher just by being you. Your name gets mentioned, and ears perk up, heads swivel, and the swooning starts. But shout my name in the middle of a convention floor and it’s likely I’m the only one in there who is going to notice. Believe me, I’ve thought of changing my author byline more than once to ‘FIRE!’, ‘NAKED STRIPPERS!’, or ‘FREE ICE CREAM!’
Sure, I absolutely believe that I should get paid for all my writing, because I put a lot of time, effort, and thought into it. Writing (or editing) is hard work. But the reality is, hardly anybody outside my peer circle knows who the hell I am right now, so putting on a prima donna attitude, saying that all of my time is worth paying me for, is going to get me just as far as happily doing everything for free. It might work for Harlan Ellison to declare that he deserves to be paid for every word that comes out of his keyboard, because he is Harlan Ellison after all. He has Warner Brothers calling him for interviews—I don’t. Warner Brothers has no idea Nancy Hansen even exists (yet). They might someday, but in the meantime, I’ve got a lot of hands to shake, babies to kiss, and dues to pay; and I’d like to make more friends than enemies in the business along the way. If even one of those people I do a favor for; or offer some free time, expertise, or advice to, remembers me somewhere down the road, a door might open that I may not have otherwise known about. If nothing comes of it… well, so what? I’m not spending all my time volunteering. I still get my writing done.
The wise writer finds a balance between promotional and paid work. The wise writer doesn’t beat the drum endlessly until everyone else wants to scream SHUT UP FOOL!!!! Nor does the savvy wordsmith hide in the woodshed waiting to be discovered, because nobody is buying books in the woodshed. And for crying out loud, don’t cop an attitude and alienate other people. Maintain a low profile and just lurk now and then. If you’re not always talking or posting, you will listen better and actually have time to read what others are doing. Some days, just let your written words do the talking for you. Sure you need to get them out there where they can be seen, read, and appreciated. Make yourself available when it’s most important, but otherwise, get some writing done!
Ah, publicity, the double-edged sword…Yes, people are going to want to know more about you personally once they’ve read your stuff. Tell only what you wish known, but demur politely when the digging goes too far. And do realize, opening your life to the public is just like living in the fishbowl of the world. Everybody can see your dirty laundry. Not everyone is going to like you or the things you’ve done, so prepare to be chastised and panned. Be thankful for any helpful feedback, be gracious even when it’s negative, dismiss what is just spiteful without substance, and once you’re done crowing or crying, study it all and learn something.
Then get back to work.
Don’t ever think you’re irreplaceable, because I got news for you bunky—you ain’t no Harlan Ellison (yet), and the beach is filled with a million waving claws these days. The next new sensation is going to wipe you right out of their minds, unless you’re going for the longevity thing—which means you’ve got to do more than walk around throwing confetti, shouting about how amazing your latest book is. Get yourself behind that keyboard, and go write something else even more amazing. You get a little better with each story. Build an impressive inventory, and now and then pop up out of the gopher hole, reminding us you’re still here, and tell us what you’ve been up to since last we saw you.
That’s how you balance writing and promotion, at least down here on the overcrowded beaches we’re all trying to storm at once.