I’ve never been one to talk about myself a whole lot, despite what you might have read in this blog. Usually I’m a very closed off and quiet person until I get very comfortable and familiar with people and that can be a death sentence for a writer in the 21st century. See, not too long ago, writing was a closed off world where only a selected group could ever hope to see publication, especially if you chose to write genre fiction. If you didn’t have the right contacts, the right agent, and a manuscript so perfect as to be ready for print as soon as it hit an editor’s desk, chances were good you weren’t going anywhere. Moreover, those few who chose the route of self publication (or vanity press) were all but laughed out of literary circles because they tried to sidestep the pretentious bullshit of the publishing elite. Then something miraculous happened.
BEHOLD THE INTERNET!
With the birth of the world wide web and the ability to access the wealth of human knowledge -and depravity- from the privacy of your own home, a new era of pulp fiction was born. Suddenly, small presses and message boards were popping up all over the world in every conceivable language with stories. People using screen names instead of pen names started publishing books and stories in volumes and delivered a huge middle finger to the traditional publishing world that had shunned so many talented authors in decades before. But is hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. For every incredible work of art that comes across your screen there’s a hundred illegible piles of dreck to be waded through. From poorly written fan fiction pornography to uninspired, insipient tales riddled with plot holes and grammatical errors and editors who aren’t worthy of the title it’s been a hard row to hoe. Even more so, with a market so crowded in authors and independent publishers and ‘zines that implode within the first year of printing, it’s hard to leave a lasting legacy online. But wait, there’s more!
Once you get out there as an author, unless you’ve chosen to fight your way into the old publishing world or paid an agent to do all the grunt work for you, you’ve got to bust your ass selling yourself pretty much night and day. If you’re not shamelessly self promoting every chance you get, chances are good that no one is going to notice you. There’s a song by nerdcore legends MC Front-a-Lot and MC Lars called Captains of Industry that chronicles the same plight from the standpoint of musicians who know this pain all too well. Musicians and authors are very similar creatures in a lot of respects, taking time to draft out version after version of our work until we have something ready to share. Then, of course, once it’s done you’ve got a three minute song or an eight thousand word story that people are going to experience and then want more of. You become your own marketing division, coming up with ideas on how to keep people coming back, get them hooked, and hopefully make a little cash to keep yourself alive in the process.
I mean, a storyteller has to really pitch himself as much as whatever story it is that he chooses to tell. Still, I feel like my options are limited. Either sell my soul to the dark gods of the traditional publishing world or sell my ass in the crowded marketplace of the internet to get my work out there and make a name for myself. Either way, it’s a lot more work than people really think about. Then there’s this guy:
“Well, I can’t really pay you but it’ll be great exposure.”
Yeah, even writing that sentence made me sick and every musician, writer, and dancer knows exactly the asshole I’m talking about. Here you’ve spent years, decades even, honing your skill and making your craft into an art form and rather than value that hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, this cheapskate wants to give you “exposure.” You know who else gives you exposure? The crazy old man on the back of the bus waving his junk at school girls as you roll down the street. Exposure of an audience to your work is crucial, but it’s also crucial to get some kind of compensation for the time and effort you’re putting in to it. I do a lot of writing for free because I love the work I’m doing. Hell, I can list on one hand the number of places that have paid me in anything other than exposure and, despite how this whole paragraph sounds, I am grateful to them all for getting my stories out there. You just have to be careful who you deal with. If someone thinks they can get it for free, they’ll screw you over to make sure it happens.
Let me share to you the difference between good exposure and bad. Good exposure is what I get writing for Psycho Drive-In. It gives me a chance to write directly to the fan base I’m aiming at about topics I’m knowledgeable of and enjoy. Bad exposure is getting a company news letter dropped in your lap as part of your additional duties because someone from HR saw that you’ve got a blog and decided it’d be a great chance to get some free labor.
You want to write, write. It’s maybe the easiest thing there is. If you can string two abbreviated words together to form a sentence you can be an overnight sensation on any message board. To make a living out of it though you’ve got to have -and do- a lot more. It’s not just enough to be a talented writer anymore. You’ve got to be an equally talented self promoter. You’ve got to get people interested in you and what you have to say. Writing has become as much a spectacle as anything else in the modern world and you’ve got to make damn sure you’re an entertaining show if you hope to survive.
Oh, and while we’re at it, since we’re so close to Halloween, head over to Amazon and have a look at this:
Danny Oldham just can’t seem to stay dead. A man trapped perpetually in a cycle of death and regeneration he finds himself in the bucolic middle-of-nowhere, Tennessee in hopes of finally getting some peace. Plagued by the demons of his past, more literal than figurative, he joins up with an old friend, Detective Van Novak whose current investigation into a series of gruesome murders is leading the duo to discover that there are worse things in life than dying. Based on the short story Dinner at the Cross Roads Cafe and initially published online as a serial, this is the first time that the complete story has been available as a singular, uninterrupted manuscript.
See what I did there? Never miss an opportunity.