Embracing Failure

Stop Sign by Derek K. Miller from FlickrOne of the hardest things I’ve come across to discuss on here is, ironically, one of the areas where I have the most experience: marketing books.

I’ve tried countless methods and advertising campaigns and tours and to promote book sales; I should, in theory, have plenty of blog posts about all this stuff to share with hopeful authors out there.

The problem is it’s incredibly hard for me to share any of this stuff because none of it has worked. I am not an author with a successfully sustainable line of books. Yet. None of the methods I’ve tried have caused me to blow up, wherein “blowing up” is a good thing, as in the number of readers I have increases drastically.

The key to all this is the one word sentence I added to that last paragraph after much debate. The word, “Yet.” That word implies that finding my audience will happen in the future, and what I’m doing now is working towards that success.

It’s a very important word.

Take away that word and I am not working towards a goal, I’m wasting time in a meaningless effort.

And, more on topic, the presence or absence of that word changes everything I know from either helpful data about what is not effective in the marketing of books, or a bunch of useless failures that a dreamer who will never make it has accumulated.

One word, lots of implication.

This whole experiment, this whole direction I’ve taken over a million of my written words in, this is all based on the fact that there is a better way for authors to find their audiences than the current methods. And that this way is far more basic, less prone to the whims of luck, and not at all based on your average notion of, “Oh well if the book is good then the audience will automatically appear.”

Is this idea right?

Beats me. It depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people more than happy to believe that “good” books make it, and that’s that. If your audience doesn’t explode right away then you’re obviously never going to find an audience.

But that’s…that’s just so wrong. Every bit of information just screams that such a notion makes no sense.

Look, if every book that was going to be a success automatically became one, then the authors of those books would have no problems finding publishers. But that, in no story I have ever heard, has been the case. Every best-selling, “Duh, of course this will be a hit,” book that has come along was rejected by countless publishers. Most of them were rejected an absurd amount. Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was finally, after tons of rejection, picked up by a small publisher that dealt solely in naval books.

At the beginning of the path for every well known book out there, there was nothing but rejection and struggle. Granted, some tap into an audience freakishly fast, but I still think that there’s something that happens before that self-sustaining runaway reaction that isn’t given enough credit.

There is also the notion that these runaway hits aren’t actually quality books. That a “quality” book will be recognized by real readers, like reviewers, and pushed by those readers, despite what’s going on in the pop world.

But then there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. He went to his grave labeled a nice little short story writer but an utter failure as a novelist. It took decades for The Great Gatsby to find it’s audience and be recognized.

I think about that a lot. The Great Gatsby has become possibly my favorite book ever. I always wonder if I even would have read it if I had been living when it was published. Odds are? No. It’s not like anyone else was.

So…”Yet.”

It’s a big word and one that deserves a lot of thought.

One the one hand there are the naysayers who believe that if it doesn’t happen quick and fast then success will never come.

And then there are hundreds of people who I actually respect. Those who built foundations slowly in the companies they created, or who patiently worked away in labs to revolutionize the world, or who quietly chipped away at problems until great cracks formed.

Edison always pops up in my head: “We did not fail 1,000 times. We eliminated 1,000 methods that did not work.”

(this is the popular paraphrasing, the actual quote is sort of technical)

I have, after a few years of self-marketing, not found a sustainable audience.

Am I a failure? Or have I just not hit upon the correct formula yet? Time will tell and I know plenty of opinions exist.

My overall point, though, is that I would like to use this site to discuss what does and doesn’t work. But I’ve been remiss to do that, since all I have right now is the “What does not work,” part.

But I would like to share more often, I just need to shake off that notion of failure.

What I Have To Offer

GiftSo this month, actually this summer, has been a lot of me trying to figure out what to do with this site. When I’m not focused on writing a book I can manage to blog, sort of. And during that time there’s marketing to discuss and new ideas to try out and an audience to find.

All of that tends to be muted while I’m working on a larger project. It’s still there and if some new marketing idea comes along I’ll be sharing, but it’s not where my head is at. My head is in Book 3. So that’s what my brain wants to blog about.

I do think that writing about writing serves a purpose. I would have loved to read more writers discussing their struggles and problems when I was trying to write my first book. That was over ten years ago and, frankly, I still need to read other authors discussing their problems, if only to remind myself that I’m not alone.

However, I don’t think that can sustain a blog over a long period of time. I mean, the weird fact is that writing a book comes down to a  lot of me not knowing what’s going on, and then suddenly me knowing what’s going on. That’s it.

Imagine watching someone solve a riddle. It’s fun if you can see the riddle and solve along with them. But to do that I’d have to write: “Currently I’m struggling with how to write Mary dealing the loss of her childhood while organizing the anti-zombie raid in blah blah blah.” And if I did that then you’d be getting the story in a crappy, diluted, unpolished, BLECH form. No way I’m doing that. I hate spoilers. And that’s like…spoilers with cancer.

Thus, I wouldn’t be able to illuminate the problem I’m grappling with in any detail. So imagine watching someone solve a riddle that you can’t see. Or, better yet, imagine watching your favorite game show only you can’t see any of the questions, puzzles, obstacles, etc. Not very entertaining is it? It’s just a shot of some person’s face changing expression as they yell out meaningless words. Not exactly riveting blog material.

So what do I have to offer here? I’ve got:

  1. Humor – the occasional humorous post about Daylight Savings Time or Hangovers or Exotic Bird Stores.
  2. Photography – Photography is still my biggest hobby and one that feels very natural to share. And I’m starting to think about it on a more than “point and shoot” level again. I’m not saying I’m Ansel Adams, but I have my moments and taking photos is something I’m going to be doing anyway so why not share? Remember the point is to figure out how to best use this site when I’m writing a book and don’t want to talk about it. Except I tend to do my sharing already on Tumblr. So…yeah.
  3. Marketing Thoughts – I’m still marketing and I’m still searching for my audience and I’m still trying to find other authors taking this same route…I’d rather like to pool thoughts and results. I think this could be a good space for that.
  4. Writing Thoughts – Yes, I just said that these are boring. But I meant boring all the time. The occasional insight or update seems likely.
  5. ???

Can a web presence be based on the fairly random and unconnected items above?

Yes. Probably. There’s a site where people take pictures of cats and add text to make it seem like the cats are asking for cheeseburgers. And it’s like the most popular site on the web. Anything is possible here.

Can I make a web presence based on all of this?

I dunno.

 

Does the Internet Have a Front Page

Beach by davidjmarland on FlickrI’ve heard writing for the internet described as, “Scratching in sand that is constantly being wiped clean by waves.”

Which is to say that “fresh” content is always the rage on the internet and you rarely, if ever, see an old article or post go viral.

Okay. Fine. I not only understand that but I enjoy it. The immediacy of the internet allows for topical posts, popular song parodies, and humorists to riff with one another from all over the world until the funniest of the funniest shit finally makes it onto my Twitter feed.

But is that all the internet provides? I mean every single “How To Blog” post emphasizes fresh content, new comments, daily discussions. Which, again, I understand.

But that’s not what I do.

I write novels. And novels aren’t a daily sort of thing. They aren’t even a weekly sort of thing. They are, if I were to start plopping out garbage without care, maybe a yearly sort of thing. And I hate plopping out garbage.

And, yes, there are short stories. But short stories aren’t  immediate sort of fare.  They’re stories. They’re meant to be discovered in time. They can sit and wait on the shelf until the reader is ready for them. It’s great if you can drop a story into a waiting audience and generate some buzz. That happens. I’m not saying that stories have zero ability for immediacy or viral-ness…but for an author building an audience from scratch that doesn’t happen. And yet I have tons of short stories up online. Good ones. Really good ones actually, some of my favorite work. But they were released, so to speak, when I had a bare minimum of readers.

And they’ve sat there, in my archives, for years now.

Does that make them no longer viable as internet material? Does that make them not worthy of being read online?

I have no idea, but my gut says no. Absolutely no.

Febuary 24, 2012 The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by guidedbycthulhu from FlickrIn fact my gut says that if the internet is going to be a place where fiction writers can thrive, then the archives of fiction writers have to be redefined. For a vast number of the sites online, the archives are dusty places that you only visit to settle bar debates.

But for those of us writing fiction that just can’t be true. The demand for content the internet generates can’t be met by writers of fiction. Seriously. Maybe a few writers can churn it out like that, but I have to imagine that many authors have looked into the ever digesting maw of the internet and said, “Woah! To hell with that. I can’t possibly write enough stories to keep my site fresh.”

To put things in perspective, I currently have more short stories up online than J.D. Salinger had published in his entire career. Sort of. Depends on how you define “published.” But whatever, my point is that the numbers are comparable.

Obviously the quality of these stories is objective. Yet, when it’s phrased like that, I find myself questioning the very basic idea behind this website.

Is it possible for those seeking fiction to embrace a writer’s archives?

Or is the internet just not the place for authors of fiction?