Friday, January 25, 2013

The Marketing of a Writer

I've never been comfortable talking about myself; blowing my own horn, or any of those self-promoting things I hear one must do to become a much read author. I suppose it's because of the “lessons” my ol' man drummed into me when I was a kid:
“Don’t be a showboat!”
“Stop talkin’ about yourself!”
“Nobody likes a blowhard!”

Yep. That was my ol’ man.
But now I find that those self-serving behaviors are necessary since self-promotion is required to market an author’s novel. So in order to market my work, I must rebel against the mandates of my father and convince you that you'll marry your high school heart-throb, get the job of your dreams, move into a big house in the country, and that your life will change ever for the better—if, and only if, you spend your hard-earned money on my new novel, Chain of Evidence.

"Yes Ladies and Gents, step right up for the cure to what ails ya! This book cures neuritis and neuralgia, insomnia and narcolepsy, iron-poor-blood and hardening of the arteries. It cures thinning hair, wakes you up if you’re drowsy and lulls you to sleep if you’re not. That’s right friends and neighbors, it’s the wonder-book of the 21st Century. Don’t miss out! Get your copy today! Don't be shy! That's it, step right up!" 
Literary snake-oil salesman.

That's how I feel, asking you to buy something that I'm peddling when you know nothing about who I am. So! I will try to make you comfortable enough with me to spend the cash that you work so hard to earn.

I am not an English major by any stretch of the imagination. I barely graduated high school and flunked out of my probationary semester of junior college. It was not an auspicious start to an illustrious writing career, but Life has a way about it. It waited patiently as I engaged in all the self-destructive behaviors of Youth, and when the Better Judgment I had denied in those formative years finally revealed itself, Life stepped in with a question.

“Are you good enough to write a book?”     

I liked reading, although I didn’t do that much of it. Usually on the beach during summer vacation. Clancy, Koontz, and Coonts were a couple of my favorites. King as well. But how could I write like those guys? Well, I couldn’t. But if I wanted to answer Life’s question, I had to learn the lessons that I passed up when I had the chance.

I knew I wasn’t stupid, just behind the curve. After the Navy, I went back to college at night. My grades surprised me; 3.0—even in English 101 & 102. I figured I had a fighting chance. All I needed was a refresher. So I took a couple creative writing courses at the local college, and found—to my amazement—that I enjoyed them.

I began writing the novel. I’d type a couple pages and check the word count. Type a couple more pages and check the word count. 1400 words.

“Damn! This is tough! And no, I’m not using too many exclamation points!”

A novel should start at around 80,000 words. Fewer than that and you have a novella; the novel’s little sister. So I plodded through, joined critiques groups, a writing site, and The Maryland Writers Association. Everything helped and the writing became better. Family and friends encouraged me, and I found that I had more money. Writing takes lots of time, so the nights I spent in the bar shooting pool had to go. Either that, or I shift to acting and audition for The Hustler. Not likely with my billiard skills.

I spent a shade over a year on the first novel, and it took 2nd place in a writing contest. I was elated ... until the thirtieth agent rejected it. It was then I realized that the first novel sucked, and after discussing it with other writers, it seems the first one always does. It’s all part of the process ... unless your name is Hemingway. But I kinda think that maybe his first wasn’t all that either. I had a decision to make. Keep trying ... or quit.

I quit a bunch of stuff in my life: the clarinet, high school baseball, college, Tae Kwon Do, three marriages, a couple of diets, and one or two lousy jobs. I didn’t want to quit this too, although writing was hard. But as I credited to Tom Hanks in an earlier post—

“If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

I believe that to be true. If writing a novel wasn’t hard, anyone could do it.
At this stage of my life, with three grand children to look up to me, I want to achieve something more, even if it is just writing a book.

See ya next week.

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