Nobody Knows Nothing

Promoting the book is the hardest part of writing. Getting people to actually read it is difficult.

But here’s the thing. Nobody knows nothing about book promotion. The whole publishing scene is changing so quickly yet there are still old styles of promotion which are being touted as being what everyone should do.

For example, let’s say there’s a promotion of a group of authors going on. What happens? Why, it’s obvious! Let’s get everyone seated in a room with their books and wait for strangers to arrive, who have no idea who you are or what you write, and expect them to buy your book. You’ll even throw in your signature for free!

But what if they won’t buy? Easy! Give them stuff! Give them candy, give them pens, give them bookmarks. Heck, go the whole hog and give them a photo of you and your granny.

Why? Because it’s promoting your book!

Except that nobody’s going to come back and buy anything. They’ll leave with more candy than they can eat and more pens than they need and more bookmarks than they have books and it does nothing.

After all, you’re trying to persuade people to part with $10 or more on a chance that they might like what you write.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have digital copies for sale? Parting with 99 cents or $1.99 is a lot less painful and you’re taking less of a risk. Give them an idea about what it is they are buying, and then keep out of the way and shut up.

I guarantee it will generate more sales than anything else. But, will it happen? Probably not. And that’s because it’s not traditional. It’s not how it’s done.

Because nobody know nothing about book promotion.

Writing is like a road trip

Seriously, it is. Writing is like a road trip. At least, for me it is.

You see, a road trip has a beginning and an end. You know where you’re starting from and you know where you’re going to end up, but between those two points there’s all this fascinating stuff to discover along the way.

And that’s pretty much what it’s like when I plot out a novel. I know the idea which started it, and I know how I want it to end, but the bit in between? That’s the road trip. There are all these interesting characters to explore, and these neat little ideas to expand the story; little side shoots which need to be seen.

And so, by the time I reach the destination, the journey toward it has provided me with lots of new material, new ideas which I would never have found out if I had been a fanatical plotter.

When characters take over…

It’s Alive!

I always used to scoff silently when I read an author saying that a character took on a life of its own. Pshaw! I thought. You should be more in control of what you’re doing! Pay attention to the page and get a grip!

That was my normal reaction. Until, one day, I wrote a line of dialog that took my character into a place where I hadn’t suspected or planned for. It was too good to wipe out and re-write. But it meant that i had to re-think what the heck was going on in my character in order for that to be said.

And then it hit me. My character had taken on a life of its own. I had to deal with it; let it go where it needed to go, give it a life before and after.

I had created, not a monster, but an individual. And that meant I had a responsibility. I couldn’t bend it to my will and make it do things I wanted it to, like with many of the other characters. Instead, I had to nurture it, the damnable annoying thing that it was.

I’m still not sure I like the idea of some new-born creation running wild through my plot, but, at least, I’m no longer dismissive of writers who have the same experience.

How strange is strange?

Strange is the new normal…

In my Harmony series, one of the central themes is that everyone has access to some sort of talent. It could be finding water, seeing the near-future or the distant past, healing or heating things with your hands or moving objects with your mind.

The point is, none of those are really strange because many people over a long period of time in many different places have done such things and more. It seems that these are gifts which we all have within us but few of us ever really choose to do anything with them.

But, if everyone did use their gift or talent, wouldn’t it make for a very different society? And that would mean that someone who didn’t have or use a talent wold be considered very strange indeed.

I’m certain that there are many people who can do ‘strange’ things but don’t mention it or encourage their talent to develop.

I’d be interested in hearing what talent you might have or suspect you might have.

Please share those stories in the comments section. It would be fun to see just what people can do! (And then be sure to read the Harmony series to see if you would fit in…

The problem of favorites

One of the biggest problems I have, and you may share it as well, is when people ask what my favorite (whatever) is.

I have no idea!

It’s not because I’m stupid or anything, it’s just that things change all the time. For example. if I were to ask you what is your favorite book or books, what would your answer be?

I was asked that question recently and everything inside me ground to a halt. I floundered around for an answer. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t have a conventional answer at all. Most people respond with names of novels they have loved or which have had some sort of influence upon their lives.

That’s not true for me. Sure, I love many novels, huge numbers of short stories, plays and poetry, but to take any of them and say that they are my favorites is an impossibility because it changes all the time.

Then I realized something important. There may well be a large number of novels, histories and other writings that I can point at, but there are only one or two books I return to again and again. And, on that basis alone, they have to be my favorites.

Before I tell you what they are, do you have anything like the problem I just described? And are there only a very few books you return to? I wonder if they’re the same as mine.

So…. (drum roll), here are my all-time favorite books. First by a short head is Chamber’s Dictionary and a close second is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Before you pass judgment on me and my choice you should understand one or two things about me. I actually enjoy reading these books. I love turning a page and finding a new word or a new meaning or an insight into something I thought I already knew but didn’t. It’s a sort of compulsion I have and always have had. When I grow up, I’m going to buy the Complete Oxford Dictionary – all 20 volumes of it – and read it. Happily! And then I’m going to get the two volume Historical Thesaurus of the Dictionary and clasp it to my chest with sighs of delight.

The only problem is, when I mention these books as being my favorites, I get that ‘look’. You know the one I mean.The look which says, “Hmmm. That’s a little weird. I don’t think I understand you anymore. I’m going to talk to someone who can play the game properly.”

But I don’t care, as long as you leave me and my dictionaries alone.

Home-made universes

I spent a lot of time thinking about Harmony before I started to write anything. There are so many other details about the place that don’t ever get a mention. There are other social customs that didn’t make the pages either. But that’s probably true for any author who sets out to make a new world.

It can be daunting. But it can also be fun.

Of course, there’s another way of doing it, and that is to make it up as you go along. For example, Terry Pratchett, who died way too soon, started writing about an interesting world, Discworld, in his first adult novel. It was only over the subsequent novels that the full complexity developed into something utterly fascinating. There is no way he could have had all that detail from the very beginning.

He ended up writing 41 novels about the place he first thought up. Now that is an impressive achievement!

I doubt I could write 41 novels about Harmony, and I wouldn’t want to. There are other things I want to write about. But the point remains, you can either make your own universe at the kitchen table or you can start with an idea and see how far it will go.

I like the idea of making my own universe up in my head and then unleashing it and filling it with characters. But I wouldn’t mind having one like Terry Pratchett’s either!