To Tour or not to Tour

me: I think I may write about how much of a book tour is living out the “writer’s life fantasy” vs how much of it is effective marketing.
Elvis: How about “how much of the book tour is not going from tv show to tv show and 4 star hotel to 4 star hotel, but instead is driving a lot of interstate miles to sit at a table in a bookstore and watch people go stampeding past you to look for the new Twilight novel”

Sometimes in our pursuit of publication, we fall in love with parts of our dreams.  We develop these romantic notions of what the writing life is like.  Imagine ourselves writing in a coffee shop, sipping our chai while writing the Great American Novel.  We dream of getting an agent, getting a big book deal. We dream of book tours and signings with lines going out the door; of setting up tables with banners, stacks of our books, and a special pen to sign with.  We dream of advances and royalties large enough to live on (if not necessarily of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson proportions).

Sometimes we short circuit the dream, accepting counterfeits that allow us to go through the motions of the dream (falling for vanity presses or being poorly published) or don’t fully think through aspects of the dream.  Right now, my big issue is whether or not to tour.

Keep in mind, the first thing I have to do is justify to my wife and kids why they will be without me more.  After all, they’ve had to deal with my absence while writing the book.  Once I typed “the end” they expected to have their husband and father back.  Now I have to look them in the eyes and say “I’ll be back.  I just need to jaunt around the country to promote the book.”  And when I’m done, I will sit down and begin a new book, with a new round of absence.  So in this age of author web sites, platforms, social media, Second Life, and all manner of e-industry, is a book tour actually necessary?

I’ll fully admit, I am quite cognizant of the fact that as a newbie author, if I announce a signing, most folks aren’t going to know who I am.  I know the reality of such signings is that I will be sitting behind a table with a stack of unsold books and a stupid, yet welcoming, grin on my face.  And I can’t just whip out my notepad and begin writing my next novel, because I have to be constantly making nice nice with folks.  My dream cognizance also factors in my book envy should I be sitting next to Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder, watching their long line of admirers while I twiddle my thumbs.

Seriously, this is what I think about.

So, what would I accomplish on my imaginary tour?  Unless I sell dozens of copies per event, I’m not going to make much back in terms of my royalty to cover my gas or time, much less being able to get something to eat afterwards.  On the actual productive side of things, I would sign available stock and treat the bookstore employees like the precious commodities they are.  They will be the ones doing the selling and (re-)ordering of my books.

When all is said and done, I’ll probably take it easy, as in, I’m not going to live out of my car for three months traveling up and down the coast.  I will make a few appearances in my local book stores to do readings and signings.  Ditto when I go to conventions and I may mix in hitting a few local spots while I’m there; maybe even work in a couple stops with family vacations.  I’m just not convinced that full blown book tours are worth the effort.  What do you think?

Rambling about Sales and Reviews

In light of King Maker having been released overseas, there are two questions I’m being asked more often these days:  1) how’s the book doing (saleswise)? 2) what have the reviews been like?

Don’t get me wrong, most times when folks ask me “how’s the book doing?” it’s been out of a sense of them pulling for my success.  (In a weird way, it’s like when pastors are asked “how big is your congregation?”  Rather than me finding it akin to asking them to whip theirs out so we can measure it, it’s more of a way to start a conversation.  And, wow, it’s early in my blog post to go for such a digression.)  Same thing with reviews; thing is, in both cases, my answer is the same:  “don’t know, don’t want to know.”

And now a more strict parsing of that answer can begin.

In the case of my sales figures, I’m not interested in the numbers just yet.  Yet is the key word.   I figure the accounting of things will be months in the accruing of data.  My sales figures only matter to me in two instances.  The first is when it’s time to calculate if I’ve earned out my royalties and can take another step towards being able to live off my writing income (contrary to popular belief, once you sign a book deal, you aren’t automatically risk.  Of course, I may or may not be writing this blog post from my bed of money, but my wife won’t let me have a webcam, so you’ll never know.  Granted, she’s more concerned about how much time I spend walking about in my underwear and she fears teh interwebz just aren’t ready for that. SKIN TO WIND!!! And now the count begins for just how many random digressions I can do in one blog post.).  Plus, I’m especially interested in how the book does in England, where it was released first, vs how it does in America, where it will be released in 2010.  That’s going to take a while to get that kind of information and I’m pretty patient when it comes to that sort of stuff.  Usually too patient.  (NOT TO BE READ THAT I DON’T CARE, O GREAT AND LOOMING PUBLISHERS WHO READ MY BLOG!).

That being said, the real reason I don’t want to know:  I don’t want to be one of those authors who obsess over my numbers.  I remember how bad I was when I found statcounter programs/sites to measure my blog.  Oh man, how many hours did I while away watching the ebb and flow of the numbers.  (Don’t think I didn’t think of taping bacon to my kids, taking pictures, and making a blog post about it.  Eat that, Scalzi!)

At this point I’m wondering when Apex will pull the plug on my random ranting.  Still here?  I’ll continue.

There is something similar in play with reviews.  On the one hand, I often say that I don’t really care what most folks think.  As with most things, there’s truth and something less than truthful in that statement.  While all critics aren’t created equal, writers are needy little creatures in constant need of validation.  Buying plenty of copies of my work is speaking my love language (even if I won’t know how much you love me that way for a while.  Delayed love is sometimes the best love.  And OMG, can I quit with these parenthetical digressions?!?).  Lavish praise is nice.  It also has the benefit of being painless.

Thing is, I enjoy when people engage with my work.  I like to see what they took from my work over how well the work went over.  I’ll give you two examples (if I were a smart Apex blogger, I’d probably use a review for my Apex novella, Orgy of Souls, though a link to some of those reviews may have to suffice.  I guess I should at some point work in my other Apex project, Dark Faith, and its reviews.  People liked my story for Apex Magazine, Pimp My Airship, btw, but none of these suit the point I want to make.  And at this point, I officially need a parenthetical asides support group):

-of the reviews of my novella, Devil’s Marionette (Shroud Books), the review that really stood out to me was Michele Lee’s.  “Yet despite this immersive, and painfully open experience of being each character as hundreds of years of hatred and racism crushes down on them, the reader is left with the same feeling as someone who witnesses something beautiful or terribly in a quiet woods. It’s almost as if this pain is clear and known, but we are not supposed to speak of it, or even admit that we know it’s there.”  Okay, admittedly, this is exactly the effect I was going for in the novella.  So when I see my work have the desired effect, I’m filled with a joy so great, I have to run out and get a pedicure.  But even if Michele had loathed the book, I loved that she wrestled with it.

-ditto some of the King Maker reviews.  There are two I REALLY enjoyed and one was from a review who didn’t like the book.  The first praises the book (and has my favorite line “It would be wrong of me to say “I liked this book” in the same way it would be wrong to say “I like drugs / gang warfare” due to the very nature of the subject matter but in my mind a book like this isn’t there to be “liked”, it’s there to be consumed, appreciated, inwardly digested and above all to make you think, to open your perceptions.”).  The second … not so much a fan, but it is the best “bad” review I’ve ever read.

I do have an actual point and it involves why I’m done reading reviews of King Maker … at least for a while.  Books one and two, King’s Justice, are “in the can”, but I’m still writing (agonizing/procrastinating from/filled with writerly angst about) the final book in the trilogy, King’s War.  Reviews play in your head, good or bad.  You have to develop a thick skin for them, neither living nor dying by them.  And sometimes you may feel compelled to argue with the reviewer, especially if they “don’t get it.”  Whether or not one should argue with reviewers is a blog for another time (the short answer is “no” – and I’ve gotten a few of those “You don’t get it” responses from folks I’ve reviewed negatively).  It’s tough enough getting the story out without having to worry about pleasing everyone (especially if some of their issues are how I structure the story or its voice.  Well, that ship has sailed, so I will continue to annoy you in this trilogy).

Hmm … looks like I could have actually done this blog in about two lines: 1) I don’t want to obsess about sales just yet and 2) don’t let reviews play in your head.  But where would the fun be in that?

My First Publication

Today’s writing related question: Your first publication – which market, how you found out about the market, how it felt to finally be published, and how many rejections you racked up along the way.

Well, I figure for the point of this discussion, we’re not talking about letters I got published in comic books or the first story I ever wrote (back in fifth grade). The first three stories I wrote once I started taking my writing seriously—the stories that were published as “Soul Food”, “Nurse’s Requiem”, and “Dark Knight of the Soul”—were originally written as creative writing assignments in college. “Soul Food” will always hold a special place for me because it was the first time a story of mine saw print. But, as will become a common theme in my life, it wasn’t exactly the usual route.

My last year of college, a professor I was working with encouraged me to send out my stories. He suggested this fledgling magazine called Cemetery Dance since it looked like the solid kind of market that would give good exposure. I thanked him for his advice and promptly trunked my stories. A few years later, I dug them back out worked on them some more and thought maybe I ought to send one out. I don’t know how I heard about this market (though I believe it was after I stumbled across a market magazine called Hellnotes), but I screwed together what courage I had and sent “Soul Food” off. A month or two later, the editor called me with an acceptance.

Called me.

New to the game, I figured this was how things worked: editors want your story, they just call you. He told me how much he loved my story and that he looked forward to working with me. I sat in my bed, stunned, and then proceeded to call several friends of mine to share the news. Of course I immediately became insufferable because I was now one for one is submissions and acceptances and figured I was going to corner this writing thing.

Months went by. I didn’t know what came next in the process. We hadn’t discussed payment, no contracts had been signed, no clue when it was coming out or if the editor wanted me to make any changes (though he CALLED me, so my so my words were obviously perfect as they were), so I continued waiting. Well, the anthology comes out … without my story.

I dug out any contact information I had and contacted the editor, all full of righteous indignation (read: on the verge of “why, Lord, why?!?!” tears). Turns out the project originally had two editors and one walked away from the project (guess which one?). My story fell between their communication gap.

Of course that anthology went on to massive sales and critical acclaim, with everyone published in it getting a huge career shot in the arm.

So I send my story off to the next couple of markets, and after one rejection, it got accepted. A start up (and now defunct) magazine called Hoodz. And I got to see my story in print.

Still … published on my third try … two acceptances in three tries … not too bad. I’ve not enjoyed that track record since.