At the most recent meeting of the Indiana Horror Writers, we got into a somewhat heated discussion over the importance of exposure. Admittedly, it only got heated because I was right and they weren’t getting it (thus, they have said that I occupy (proudly, by the way) the honorary Nick Mamatas chair). My main point was that their idea of exposure was over-rated and that I wasn’t going to break my neck doing stuff in the name of chasing exposure.

Exposure is what? What does “exposure” translate into? Those were the questions I kept asking. Sure, I could give away 100 stories across the internet in the name of reaching and gaining an audience, or I could sell 5 to decent markets gain just as much of a reputation. Kelly Link may not have the exposure of someone who has given away their stories to all sorts of webzines, but I’d commit several felonious acts to have her reputation (or talent).

And like I said, I can’t go to conventions unless my story sales pay for the trips.

It kind of gets down to why are you writing? To be known or to be paid? Sure, it sounds glib, almost like the old writing for art, for the love, versus writing for money, to make a living debate. I think it’s a worthwhile thing to think about because it means thinking long term about what you are doing, where you want to be, and how you want to get there. It’s also about whether I want to keep getting pats on the back vs. building a career. Few people get rich, or can even support themselves, writing, but I need more validation that going over to Shocklines, for example, bragging about my latest give away/$5 acceptance in pursuit of exposure.

I’m a big believer in role-models. People who have gone through what you are going through and have the type of careers that you want to have. Two of my role models are Douglas Clegg and Brandon Massey. I study them, not just their stories – which are great, mind you. I always want to know how great writers write and figure out how to improve my craft. Beyond that, however, I study how they’ve grown their careers. See what mistakes they’ve made, paths they’ve regretted, listen whenever they have anything to say about their writing careers.

If I want to be a writer, to be defined as a writer, all I have to do is keep writing. If I want to make a living doing what I love to do, I need more than having a reputation of being good at what I do. Writers want to be read. We set pen to the page, fingers to the keyboards, with the conceit that we are about to write something worth reading. We want to be read. We want to be known. We want to leave behind stories. We want a legacy. What we shouldn’t want to do is fall into the trap of desperation.

This mentality of “getting your name out there” is the same (often desperate) mentality that drives people to vanity publish (read: PublishAmerica. If you have a book there, get your rights and dignity back). Frankly, you can get your name out there with an interesting blog. If I just wanted to get my name out there, I could run naked across the field at a Colts game or pick fights with writers bigger than myself. Again, what does this translate into? People know who you are, but for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes I think some writers confuse marketing and self-promotion with exposure. Or they want to be able to constantly point to something of theirs, and give-aways provide them something to point to. But that’s another problem. The other reason I can’t give stuff away? I need to know that what I’m putting out there is worth being seen. An editor’s just one person, but it’s someone beyond me, my family, or my friends. Or as JA Konrath put it:

Whenever anyone asks me if they should self-publish, I always tell them no. There are numerous reasons why this is true, the all-encompassing one being a learning curve. I believe that getting published is something you earn, not something you buy. Searching for an agent and an editor, getting rejected, learning about the business, understanding the importance of structure, rewriting, and editing—all of that helps writers grow. Plunking down 400 bucks for a POD press is like giving a ten-year-old a Driver’s License. Things worthwhile in life should be difficult to achieve.

Doing readings at conventions. Doing panels. Maintaining an interesting blog. Having an internet presence (if only on message boards). These are all fine ways to gain exposure, to make a name for yourself. But in the final analysis, you first need to have stories. Stories worth marketing and staking your rep to. Stories done well and placed well. And a sure way to tell how well your story is placed is by how much you were paid. I’d hate to be a famous nobody who couldn’t write.

Or worse, have a name used by porn sites to lure people in. (Sometimes Google is not your friend. Come on: Teen Titans anime porn?)

I don’t have time to always check the comments all the places where this rant is posted. If you want to make sure that I see it or just want to stop by and say hi, do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.