Friday, June 22, 2012

Being my own pimp.

Working at an independant bookstore continually gives me new insight into the workings of this industry. On a daily basis I'm interacting with and building relationships with my future readers, pimping the works of my friends and colleagues, discussing the brilliance of the masters, and otherwise being a bookaholic with our bookaholic customers.

I've been in this business for fourteen years and while much has changed, one thing has remained constant. Selling books is hard work. Let me say it again because this is the one of the universal truths of the publishing industry.

Selling books is hard work.

It's not laborious, per se. You're more likely to work up a lather than a sweat, but it's still hard nonetheless. You have to know what the customer likes, what they're in the mood for, what they have and haven't read, and know your stock well enough to find something that fits all of that criteria. If you fail to produce the perfect book, then you have to find something close and convince them that they want to read that instead. It doesn't matter if they want a fluffy romance and you read nothing but gun porn sci-fi. You still have to have a working knowledge of who writes what so you can at least fake your way through it.

I'm at the point where I don't have to fake it. I've gathered (from trusted friends and associates) enough opinions on works that will never see the dark side of my "to read" shelf that I can say with certainty "read this, you'll like it." However, what I'm still learning is how to sell works from the other side of the looking glass. More specifically, how to convince an editor and/or agent that they want to read my manuscript.

I like to think of myself as a humble person...(No, really... I do.) (Stop laughing.)...and as such, I feel guilty telling someone my own work is the greatest thing since the invention of the Tim Tam. (Mmmmm...Tim Tams) Granted, I don't have nearly as much practice selling my own work as I do with other author's works, but it shouldn't be that much different. Right?

Well...I'm not so sure. While I have fourteen years in the business, it's only on the retail side. On the creative side, I only have about three or four years (and most of that was spent writing). I know what you're going to say. The sales skills from one should apply to the other, and you're right. They do. The problem is that in my (paid) profession, I've come to rely on my tenure more than my expertise and knowledge. Most of our regular customers know I'm a tenured employee and trust my recommendations without question. I don't have to sell them on the story, I just have to hand them the book. Now, for newer customers, I do have to sell them on the story. I still have the skill, it's just that the muscle has....atrophied a bit. My inner pimp has become a little lazy, so to speak.

So, how will my inner pimp get their smack back? By going back to the universal truth stated above. Selling is hard work. You see, I've discovered that it doesn't matter what side of the industry you're on. Until you have an established name, selling is hard work. Once I've proven that I can sell though, or have hit the NYT bestseller list, I can relax a smidge. Until then I have to work on becoming the Harold Hill of writing. (If you don't get that reference, go watch The Music Man, starring Robert Preston.) I have to learn how to pimp my work, and myself, so that an editor that loves gun porn sci-fi will give my YA fantasy a try.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Virgin bride syndrome

When I finished my first book, back in January, it was in a panicked frenzy. Last year I gave myself a deadline -- the end of January -- to finish the first draft and over the course of the year I had fallen slightly behind. Not one to be defeated, I knuckled down, forsook sleep and socialization, and listened to far too much Rob Zombie as I completed the final chapters. As a result, when the moment of victory arrived (the morning of the deadline) didn't feel....well, victorious. I was excited, but more than that I was relieved. I had put so much pressure on myself to meet my self-imposed deadline that I couldn't enjoy clearing the first and perhaps largest hurdle of my career.

With that in mind, when I started my current project, it was with a more nebulous finish date in mind. I would do my best to have it finished by the second week in June, but if that didn't happen, that was ok because I'd still finish it. As you may remember from Damn the plot! Full speed ahead!
( I had a bit of a setback when I got distracted by all the cool things I could do in this story. As a result, I had to delete half of what I'd written. Yeah, big ouch.

The second week of June has come and gone. I'm still haven't finished, but I'm close. So close, I can taste it. Now instead of telling everyone to go away because I have X days to finish, I'm telling them to go away because I want to finish. No, I need to finish. Not because I can't bear to leave this story incomplete (although that is a factor), but because I feel the excitement that was absent the first time. I feel like a virgin bride. The wedding night is over, the jitters are gone, and idiotic fears have been laid to rest. I can sit back, relax, enjoy the journey, and have fun with it. And I am having fun with it. I've reached the fevered pique where I don't want to eat, sleep, go to work, or soak up the first rays of summer. I want to finish and unavoidable commitments (like my day job) just prolong the anticipation. This frenzy is different and so much better than the last. At times I wonder if I should leave the story alone for a little while so I can continue to relish it a little longer, but no. That would delay the finish and the finish is what I need. I need to bask in the afterglow.

Do I regret that I wasn't able to the first time? No, because the whole point of there being a first time is so you can get those embarrassing fumbles out of the way. As Mother would say, the worst is over. Now I can explore, delve, and find out just how goooood I can be. ;-)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Just the facts, Ma'am.

My step dad isn't much of a reader. That being said, he has this unfathomable notion that fiction has no intellectual value. (*Sigh* If only he had been exposed to Isaac Asimov before he became set in his ways, then we wouldn't have had an argument on this particular topic.)

What really irks me is that he couldn't be more wrong. It doesn't matter if the story is set in modern day Chicago or on a planet a trillion light years away, the facts behind the fiction matter. You can't have a star-faring hero that pokes holes in the hull of his ship when he gets bored. (If you did, you would have a really messy ending.) Similarly, you can't slice open a human body in a single stroke with a boot dagger. In both cases, you don't have to be a physicist or a physician to know that these scenarios are impossible.

Sure, you can write those scenes anyway, but if you do it, a reader will take one look at these scenes, call you a hack, and toss your book in the donate bin.

So, how does one avoid death by donate bin? Simple. Do your research.

Diana Gabaldon does her research. In fact she does A LOT of research and she's well respected for it. I've read a fair amount of historical romances and I've been consistently disappointed. You see, I'm a bit of a history buff, and while these romances were good stories, their history was abominable. Diana however, got everything right. (And I do mean EVERYTHING.) When I pick up one of her books, my inner nitpicker can relax and the rest of my brain can simply enjoy the story.

Laurell K. Hamilton is another writer that does a wonderful job checking her facts. She won't put a gun in Anita Blake's hands that she hasn't fired on the range. Laurell also talks to local law enforcement to make sure she has the police procedure right. Thanks to Laurell's work, I know more about how to conceal weapons than any good Mormon girl has a right to. In fact, a few years ago I spotted the Govenor with two gentlemen at the mall. The two gentlemen were wearing oversized sport coats, and because of Laurell's work, I could instantly identify these men as armed bodyguards.

It would probably take me a year to list all of the things I've learned from reading genre fiction, both intellectually and as a writer, which is perhaps the biggest argument I can make.

Perhaps my step dad underestimates the varied interests of the average reader or how much work a writer has to do to in order to avoid a heap of "you were wrong" e-mails. Perhaps he doesn't know that some truths are so universal that they can't be ignored. Maybe he doesn't know that in order for the fantastic to be accepted, the reader needs a safety blanket woven out of facts. In any case, it pains me that he's blind to the gospel truth of good writing:

Without fact, there is no fiction.