|Posted on Friday, June 10, 2005 - 03:45 pm: |
Self-promotion is a necessity, but it's also a problem, or can be. It's always been a problem for me, that's for certain. I feel a strange mixture of embarrassment and arrogance whenever it comes up - I suppose I'm thinking, "What if I don't turn out to be the genius I need to believe I am?"
So perhaps the answer is to hold these two things, what I do on the one hand, and how I promote what I do on the other hand, entirely apart from each other, and to treat them as two completely unrelated things.
|Posted on Friday, June 10, 2005 - 08:24 pm: |
The spies are all traitors and the resistors have all surrendered.
|Posted on Friday, June 10, 2005 - 10:43 pm: |
The policeman's beard is half constructed.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 07:43 am: |
Yes, self promotion sucks. Unfortunately, it seems that many publishers don't do much promotion. So many authors are sort of stuck with either self promoting their books, or see them ignored.
Personally, I think publishers should take a bigger part in this. In the world of the "small" press however, this might just be pure fantasy. That is why the small press is small.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 07:58 am: |
No one believes more in your book than you do. It's that simple. You have the biggest stake, along with the publisher/editor. And even the publisher/editor has a lot of other books that they also have a stake in, of course.
So, yeah, you have to do your own promotion. How you separate it out is simple: you have time to write and time to promote, and you try not to let there be any slippage, unless you find yourself comfortable with the slippage--i.e., you can manage it without it affecting your work.
This is doubly important for idiosyncratic work that might not otherwise find its audience. More commercial work at least has some hope of being plugged into the network of word-of-mouth and other recommendations that leads to sales.
On the other hand, someone like Thomas Ligotti made a career out of being the antithesis of this idea. But he had a lot of help from people who just loved his work, and his sales weren't ultimately that good.
The main thing is your comfort level--if you're not comfortable doing it, you're not going to be comfortable doing it. So you have to make a list of those types of things you feel comfortable and confident doing and those that you don't, and then decide accordingly as to how you want to proceed with PR. (And you also have to decide what you want out of writing--do you care that much about a wide readership? What kind of readership would satisfy you? Who are you writing for? Etc.)
I have a whole lecture on this topic, and how it intersects with the art of writing, and am happy to share the detailed outline with anyone who wants it.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 08:35 am: |
Sounds interesting Jeff.
But still. I feel that there is probably a much larger audience out there for certain people's work. Mr. Cisco is included in this list. I am not talking about millions of copies necessarily, but still many more than are selling.
And even with self promotion - what is one to do?
You have been very succesful at it, but you also have a very high-energy personality. In other words, you are able to write a ton and still do all this promotional stuff for both yourself and other people. And also your self promotion comes off as very cool.
I am not sure that very many people are capable of this.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 10:16 am: |
Well, that's why you make the list of what you are comfortable with. But maybe I mis-stated that. You make a list of what kinds of things are comfortable with, but that's also a list of creative things--things that you will get a creative buzz from doing that help promote the book. I'm making a film to help promote Shriek, for example.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 10:49 am: |
Yes, that makes sense. Especially when you consider that many writers are quite capable of getting people interested in an artistic sense, but dont necessarily know how to sell things.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 10:58 am: |
There's comfort, and there's also creativity. The film you're making for Shriek is a project in itself, and another vehicle for your self-expression.
[Not all the resistors have surrendered, by the way. Don't be taken in by enemy propaganda.]
Jeff, you've put together a sort of an armature of different mechanisms, like the Ministry, the web page, etc. that sort of chug away all the time. Is it about maintaining a presence, reminding people you exist every now and then?
I don't want to exclude anyone else from the discussion though - anyone's insights are welcome.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 11:51 am: |
Paradoxically, I self-promote through nemonymity.
There is something far more complex that goes on in art than simple self-promotion or not (or a mixture). More serendipity mixed with faith?? I dunno. Too difficult to plumb.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 12:34 pm: |
In addition, the success of self-promotion is geared to how you define success (a big subject!).
I feel it is a success that my two buzz-words 'nemonymous' & 'weirdmonger' produce a huge number of google hits each, all of which are geared to my original creation of them.
This would be as nothing, however, to someone who wants to sell a lot of books on the mass market, just as an example. But it's all self-promotion.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 01:07 pm: |
I think you have to pick your spots. What I found is that I was getting in my own way after awhile. Too many mentions, and you become white noise. Targeted mentions in the right places at the right intervals are more effective, after the initial push for name awareness. (During that initial push, behind your first big book, I mean, before anyone in the wider world knows who you are.)
This why I've kind of geared down recently, to think more about the whole idea of PR. (With the exception of UK PR, which is critical for me right now--and there I hired a surrogate in the form of Claire Weaver.) And why I'll be ramping up again in the form of films and other creative, mostly web-based ideas--things that I will get a great deal of creative pleasure out of helping to craft.
Also, you begin to perform cost-benefit analyses in your head. Yes, you could do this but the effort/energy involved, is it worth the potential *effect* generated by the effort?
You have to somehow, and it's tricky, sell a "brand" and also maintain your individuality.
I think your website is a great branding effort, Michael, because it gives out the information it needs to while reflecting your personality and the personality of your fiction. Where writers begin to get into trouble is where the image they project is antithetical to or just doesn't mesh with the fiction they write...or, in some cases, the image is great but the fiction isn't.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 01:21 pm: |
Ideally and artistically, the personality of the writer and the personality of the fiction shouldn't be confused in the same arena.
But, of course, market self-promotion techniques naturally ignore that.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 02:49 pm: |
Avoid obnoxious ubiquity - not a problem yet! But I'll bear it in mind.
Getting the image and the material to fit together was really tricky, because I've always wanted to be the sort of writer people stumble across in the nooks. So how do you convince people the stuff you're ramming up their uh well let's say ramming down their throats is a buried treasure?
Also tricky because you just can't go around calling yourself a visionary - all you can do is invite people to see you that way. It's a promise the work will uphold, but no one is interested in propping up my self-delusions!
Des - Yeah I just don't know about how distinct to make it, because my work is extremely personal, in addition to being the most important thing to me.
I don't want at all to be a brand, although I see the need to telegraph to people (in as compressed a way as possible) where I'm coming from. So much of promotion seems to be a matter of confronting the velocity of other people's attention. And here I am with the words "HOLD IT!" emblazoned proudly on my fambly escutcheon.
Actually I think your approach has worked very well in the right way, because it shows your credd as a thinking editor and writer.
|Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 04:53 pm: |
Maybe it's better to be like Andy Warhol, who said 'if you want to know all about me, just look at the surface of my work and there I am'. It's actually possible to create a veil of secrecy around yourself, while at the same time courting publicity like mad (which someone like Michael Jackson does so well). Andy Warhol was interested in this concept all his life, and such was the success of his brand, (which was really nothing like his real self) that he was able to send out lookalikes to promote himself without anyone realizing. He would do 'camouflage' self portraits, and actually did a 'camouflage' statue of liberty, which is a similar comment on America itself.
I've always been fascinated by these questions of image/identity/branding, versus the real self, and I can see why pop stars might need to cultivate an image, but why should writers? And if you really do have to promote your work, do you promote it as 'yourself' or 'an improved image' of yourself?
And if you are promoting it as 'yourself', how much exactly of yourself do you need to reveal. A lot of writing may come from a very dark, negative place - would you wish to promote that?
Then there are writers like Jerzy Kosinski who have run into all sorts of interesting problems vis a vis their real selves versus the more interesting self put out to the the public.
Then what about those writers who you think you know because you have read their books, who might be totally different in person (and maybe even rude or unpleasant). But then it might be just that aspect of their personality which makes them a brilliant writer.
|Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 06:26 pm: |
Michael, I feel exactly the same as you do. And I think that Carole pinned quite a lot of the conundrum down. You scrape your soul out and spread it on the page, and I think that that, really, should be enough, and I wish it were. Still, whatever is required, you don't have to spread out the 'real you', and invade your own privacy for the titillation of whoever. Nor should you. It cheats you and upstages the whole purpose of why you are having the problem in the first place: the what of what you wrote, the what that you care about as being of some meaning and importance, regardless of your worries about whether it will have any importance and meaning to anyone else.
|Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 06:33 pm: |
a postscript, Michael. My advice is really from the standpoint of someone who feels like you do (which makes it not good advice but maybe more like commiseration) so don't take it as being advice from someone who is worth listening to if you want to sell books or get known. I am definitely in the totally nowhere category as far as selling books or being 'known' is concerned, and my instincts could well keep me there.
|Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 10:47 pm: |
Anna - Once again though: Should it be your responsibility to promote your work? I mean, in an ideal world, the writer writes and the publisher/PR department promotes the work. I think this is really the way it should be.
|Posted on Sunday, June 12, 2005 - 11:49 pm: |
I think this is really the way it should be.
And this is the way it always was a number of years ago - bar the odd appearance by some big writers (like Edith Sitwell, Anthony Burgess, Peter Ackroyd etc. who became TV personalities, but not sure that helped with the sale of their books).
|Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 12:59 am: |
Yes. It does not seem quite right either, seeing as publishing houses get the majority of the profits from the books. I mean - it is understandable if they invest in promotion, but I think even many of the medium and large sized publishing houses rely on the authors to self-promote. So, in the end, the author becomes a sort of used car salesman.
|Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 01:46 am: |
Brendan, I like your ideal world very much, and absolutely agree with you about 'the way it should be.'
|Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 01:53 am: |
Anna - Yeah, so, ummm . . . Now that we are in agreement . . . [dots leave so much to the imagination]
|Posted on Monday, June 13, 2005 - 08:21 pm: |
I am following the conversation - just let me get a minute free ...
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 02:00 am: |
Michael - I did think your website was really well designed and does the job brilliantly (love all the black & white stuff).
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 11:30 am: |
Carole - The problem now is everybody's Warhol. We're all Warholled out. Take er uh whozits, famed for his big flower puppy and the golden statue of Michael Jackson with Bubbles, etc. Factory approach, shameless self-promoter, but he's just a stock broker who's cashing in on a totally venial art market.
The concept of "brand" is entirely the problem, because it shows the extent to which marketing has come to monopolize ideas. Writers, I think, have the advantage of a long tradition behind us, which slows down the attempt to brand, but the big sellers now more than ever are brand-makers.
Anna - My stuff is far too strange ever to be popular (barring flukes). I write what I want to write, and I don't need Success, I just need success. I need to know that people who want to read my work can, and that those who should read it (because they'd like it), will probably find it. I am deadly serious about my work, and I want to stick up for it. But San Veneficio t-shirts and Tyrant Brand Jello would if anything be a defeat for my work!
Should we as writers have to promote our own work? I can understand having a hand in it, but if the publisher takes the line that - what pronoun, let's use "it" - that it has fulfilled its obligations simply by printing the books and storing them neatly somewhere, and the rest is up to you, the answer is "er uh."
The publisher is the one with those all-important connections. Ann VanderMeer (then Kennedy) put out my first novel in what by rights should have been a go-nowhere tiny edition, but she really tackled the establishment and the DS far outperformed my expectations as a result of her efforts.
I've never understood this part of the business - we'll publish this, but we won't promote it. And I'm going to open a restaurant in your house where you do all the cooking serving cleaning and decorating and pay me for the privilege.
The website works because it turned into a low-key artistic project of its own.
Actually I can see why JV is so good at promotin' - it has to do with the larger, sort of Borgesian or Nabokovian project of making things real. Hence the little box from Ambergris with the official stationary and the souvenir fungi. I should oughta whip up a line of dead things in formaldehyde - like Sea Monkeys, only easier.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 11:40 am: |
The little box from Ambergris was an actual artistic project. It wasn't a PR thing.
If I'm good at promoting, it's because over the years I have attacked my weaknesses and turned them into strengths, and because I work 16- to 20-hour days. It's not magic.
Look, it's true some of this shit is pointless or crass, and should be avoided, and it's difficult to find the balance.
But I'm having a hard time reconciling Brendan's comments on another thread about yeah, we all write for money, with this kind of elitist attitude toward branding or PR work.
It's hard *work*. If you don't invest the effort, you won't get anything out of it. If you think it's beneath you, that'll be clear in how you conduct yourself.
You can be an Artist and still involve yourself in the "dirty" business of promotion.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 12:08 pm: |
Jeff - Maybe you misunderstood my idea. It was not so much that “we all write for money,” as that the best writers usually have written for money, rather than artistic whim, and the best books are usually those that have been written for money. My real point however was that writing for an audience is important, and if you can make money out of it all the better. Because, frankly, if you don’t make money out of it you don’t have as much time to write….But maybe the idea of making money out of books is a thing of the past?
As far as the elitist attitude of not wanting to do PR. Not in the least. I would be happy to do almost any sort of PR. Seriously. But I don’t honestly know what to do. . . . I have more thoughts on this, but probably this is not public domain type of stuff.
The bottom line is this: Yes, writers should do PR, but they need a sort of support network from the publisher.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 12:11 pm: |
You know, Michael, it is possible to have fun while promoting your own work. If T-Shirts are not your thing, then that's not the right thing for you and your work. But certainly you can find what it is that works for you.
It can be something very simple, such as contacting different "powers that be" via email and mainaining relationships. For example, I am now an International Horror Guild judge. Many writers will send me a copy of their latest novel, or short story. It's possible that their publisher has already done this, but the simple act of them sending it to me, with a nice cover letter or short note, draws attention to it.
Now, I'm not saying that I am more likely to pick their work over someone else, just that I will be more likely to KNOW ABOUT IT.
Sometimes that is all it takes.
And also, if you attend conventions, it is useful for you to make as many contacts as you can and not hole up in your room. Who knows? The people you meet may end up being very good friends of yours down the line.
I appreciate the kind words you had for me and how I handled TDS, but keep in mind that it was my first book venture and my only one at that time. The success of that book was probably as important to me as it was to you. G-d knows I did enough work to get the word out. But any effort on the part of the writer just makes it that much easier for us.
It's just like anything else. It takes hard work and persistence. And sometimes you just have to put yourself outside of your comfort zone because you really believe in your work.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 01:18 pm: |
This is an interesting thread, as I have similar problems promoting my music. I figure I can learn more from book promotion, since almost all music promotion tips I've seen rely on playing live.
I notice almost all bands have grandiloquent bios, the sort I'd feel arrogant and embarrassed if I wrote. Maybe I need to get over that, or just write better cover letters.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 05:08 pm: |
Michael, again ditto your feelings. I would be pretty thrilled if my writings reached the status of being considered 'unpopular', but it will take a lot of work to even achieve that. Some small suggestions that could significantly improve the chances of people finding your writings in those nooks. I had a helluva time finding your site by googling. Try it yourself. It is here, folks:
That situation can be changed quickly if in every place possible, your website is mentioned/linked. Take Prime's Michael Cisco page, for example.
It says 'Website: '
None has been inserted.
Your excellent 'Jungle Mind' column in The Modern Word should mention your site. I found it, in fact, through the inimitable Mr. VanderMeer's piece, 'Michael Cisco enters the E Age'.
As Jeff said, you must be able to work within your comfort zone. But in that, there is wide scope. Jeff has put enormous effort into projects related to his writings, often artistic in their own right, as he so rightly qualified. That might not suit you, but there are other avenues that would.
Again, on the small but significant level, looking at your site itself (my screen res is 800x600, which is how common? I don't know), I agree with Carole. It looks good, but when I look at the 'samples', the type is very small. I would up it for legibility, especially as your style is not exactly full of 'white space' and the white space, anyway, is reverse.
Also, check all the links on your site to make sure they work. '(More)' doesn't, for instance.
And I think that the further News link is empty of more News.
These are admittedly little things, but from little things . . .
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 05:26 pm: |
Brendan, this goes for you, too. I looked but couldn't find a website of yours. Now, JV did a brilliant job getting us all interested, to say the least, in you and your delightful Dr. Black
but crikey, man, pull your socks up. Make yourself a website. It doesn't have to be fancy. But it should exist. (Please forgive me if it DOES, and I was too dimwitted to find it.)
If you hate the self-promo angle, well, so do I, but you can't expect people to find your work if they can't bloody find it. I use a rather oblique approach, and I feel comfortable with it. It allows me to spruik people and writings and ideas and passions that move me, while not intruding on my private space too much. But whatever approach you take, you need to take some approach, especially as you wish to have people buy this book from you. (this kick up the bum was given in the spirit of friendship and commiseration, so I took the steel toes off)
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 08:41 pm: |
JV - I meant that some of your work, aesthetically, reflects a preoccupation with the tenuity of the dividing line between reality and fiction, re Tlon Uqbar etc., and that this presented you with an especially good, consistent way to put your work forward as well.
That it's work doesn't alter the fact that you have a decided resourcefulness and talent (and stamina) when it comes to doing it.
I certainly don't see promotion as "dirty." It can be obnoxious, and worst of all it can be empty, but my reservations about it have more to do with my own terribly exciting hang ups.
Ann - I've been trying to find the more enjoyable ways to go about it. You, I think, really hit the point exactly though: I'm going to bat for the work in question moreso than for myself. Maybe that's why Des is finding his best success with nemonymous?
Robert - Don't be grandiloquent, I'd say. Maybe "go with the traffic"?
Anna - The site is imperfect as it stands because I jumped at a chance to get some free coding, and didn't have time to work out all kinks. The problems you've noted are all on the list of things to get into shape.
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 10:42 pm: |
Anna - But Michael's work and mine can be found by simply going to Amazon.com. If you google me, maybe a web site doesn't come up, but plenty of other stuff. I mean, I don't care if people know what I look like, I want them to buy my books. Now, if a website will help do that, I am all for it. But will it?
It is something I am considering, but if it is not really well done, maybe it is better not to do it?
|Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2005 - 11:38 pm: |
Take an extreme example. A writer who is incapable of self-promotion (for whatever reason)... or it is counter-productive that he should do so, again for whatever reason.
Does this mean his book stalls right at the outset?
Writers can be special people - so that they produce what they produce. And 'special' can mean counterproductive when viewed 'outside' his book?
The book is everything, insulated and discrete. And should be promoted as a separate thing ... perhaps. But if so, only the publishers can do that, because it is their discrete product (packaged it and used the writer's discrete material as part of the discrete package)?? Does that extend to the body and personality of the writer which are nothing to do with that discrete package? Of course, if the author wholly self-published it, that may give further circumstances. Thinking aloud before going to work...
|Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - 12:38 am: |
It isn't what you look like that matters. It's one place that people can go to to read some of your writing that I think matters. The small number of people who have told me that they have bought my books have all done so because they read stories that they liked of mine. Now I have a central place that they can read more of them, and the first chapter of my novel. That is what I think matters--giving people a read. But maybe I'm wrong, although Des seems to feel that he also wants to give people a read. In Des' case, quite a generous one!
|Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - 04:49 am: |
Where one's work is independently published (ie excluding both vanity publishing and self-publication) there is a spectrum of promotion from where a publisher does everything to where the writer does everything (including paying for and distributing review copies).
Between those two extremes there are areas where the author can be involved in subliminal events from hermit-based websites/networking to gregarious events such as conventions, signings or art 'happenings' etc.
I'm not sure what point I am making. Perhaps this point: the synergies depend on various publisher/writer factors (including the personality of the writer) and should be planned *before* the book is published in case of dysfunction after the event.
|Posted on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 - 11:37 pm: |
I want a San Veneficio T-shirt. I want some Tyrant-brand jello. I want to collect Divinity-Student-brand little dead things in formaldehyde.
I consider myself a famous author, but I have no website. I happen to know that Michael considers himself a famous author, but only posthumously.
What am I? Who are we? What's wrong with us? And most important: Who cares?
Balzac and Zola wanted to belong to the French Academy. They waited for people in the Academy to die, so that a chair would open up. Does anyone care at this point whether Balzac and Zola ever made it into the Academy?
We live in an age of information war and information overkill. There are far too many people trying to be famous. Thousands of actors want to be movie stars. How many people can be movie stars?
There is no room left at the Fame table.
"There's plenty of room," said Alice.
As my own miserable life winds down toward senility, I am reminded of the immortal words of T.S. Eliot: "Resign! Resign! Resign!"
|Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 05:11 am: |
if this is the case, why not just keep it to yourself?
|Posted on Thursday, November 24, 2005 - 01:31 am: |
Because I still want to know where I can buy Tyrant-brand jello.
And as Robert Louis Stevenson and James Thurber said:
Oh the world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
And you know how happy THEY are.