Sunday, February 11, 2007

Is it all just bullshit?

There's a good discussion going around the blogosphere about all these writing blogs. Dave White is frustrated that they're too much about promotion and marketing, and not enough about writing. He says:

But at the same time, isn't one of the best ways to start promoting a book, writing a good one? Why can't we talk about different ways to get better and exchange thoughts about how to become BETTER WRITERS and better promoters? Isn't there a balance to that? Somehow, I feel like writing the book should be the MOST IMPORTANT THING, but when I read blogs, it isn't.

Mark Terry seems to be having a down day about all the promotion blogs, too.

... there's a part of me that wants very much to step aside from the marketing and promotion aspect of novels and say, "We're all pretty much wrong, you know. Nobody knows what makes books sell. N-O-B-O-D-Y." The more rational side of me suspects that this kind of success isn't planned, it just happens.

I suspect that a whole lot of it is bullshit. It sure sounds like BS sometimes, but you know what? It can be some pretty helpful BS at times.

Talking about writing has the same problem. Part of my "dig deeper" motto for the year is to study, analyze, and understand what makes a novel work and why. Most of what I come up with is NOT what the author had in mind when she/he wrote that phrase/scene/whatever. It begs the question: is all this study bullshit?

Even after all that study and analysis, I don't bring it (that often) to my keyboard. I pray that it's rooted somewhere in my subconscious, that it will just fizzle up and through my words.

Besides, someone always comes along and breaks all the rules, and writes an amazing novel that sells spectacularly.

I have a little theory that you've heard me share before. I've noticed that top pianists have impeccable rhythm. They never let the rhythm and pacing falter for an instant. Each of the top pianists also have their own sort of personal rhythm. My theory is that this applies to novels, too. I'm testing it out on Robert Gregory Browne. When he's a NYT bestselling author within the next decade, I'll be able to say, "I told you so."

Or, I could just be full of shit. :-)

Besides, I can name a few bestselling authors with horrid rhythm. Not many, but a few. There's always exceptions to every rule, which is the problem when you're studying something creative.

All the BS on writing and promoting, however, has lots of pros: 1) A lot of it helps. 2) Some of it works. 3) All of it makes us a little (or more) better.

Best of all?

It gives us hope and the illusion of control.

15 bonus scribbles:

Kate S 2/11/2007 11:24:00 PM  

Sigh... now I'm depressed. :)

I think it just helps us keep our fingers on the pulse as best we can.

The Dark Scribe 2/11/2007 11:53:00 PM  

And don't forget the power of the illusion of control. I think the reason so many writers avoid talking about writing is that most of us have no idea why things work when then do, and why things don't when they don't. We're all bumbling along, doing the best we can, picking up helpful tidbits here and there, and in the end, we're all just hoping for the best. It may not be a successful formula by the percentages, but there's really no other way to go about it.

Oh...and you're no more full of shit than anyone else out there in the blogosphere. As long as your shit sounds good (and has impeccable rhythm ;)), we'll keep listening.

spyscribbler 2/12/2007 09:24:00 AM  

LOL, Kate. I didn't mean to depress anyone! I think you're right.

Dark Scribe, you are SO right. Hope and illusion of control can be as powerful as real control.

Hah! Thank you. :-) Rhythm is one thing I need to work on, for sure!

Therese 2/12/2007 11:31:00 AM  

I should say up front that I'm in the camp that says most of what makes a writer successful *can't* be taught.

Like those people who, without ever having had a lesson can sit at a piano and *play,* the best writers are born with a talent for storycrafting.

In some, it's more an artistic talent, in others it's centered in their imaginative creativity, and in some it's a combination.

However, to get *really* good, they have to learn how to make use of their talent, improve their skills--just like musicians, singers, painters, dancers, etc.

And that's why I, for one, like to blog about *craft.*

A good book is always its own best advocate. Trouble is, what makes a book "good" is subjective. The DA VINCI CODE is good by sales standards, not so good by literary ones.

So what's a writer to do? Exactly what you're doing! Write the best damn novel you can, then promote it in the smartest ways you can.

The rest is beyond our control, and thus not worth obsessing over.


Bailey Stewart 2/12/2007 12:27:00 PM  

The average writer doesn't make a lot of money, can't afford a publicist (especially if it's their first book) and so they are forced to promote on their blogs.

The rhythm is good, but remember even the best pianoist must sit down to a new piece some time.

Therese is right - a good writer is born, a great writer comes from learning how to use the gift.

spyscribbler 2/12/2007 02:50:00 PM  

I whole-heartedly agree with you on the Da Vinci Code, Therese. I couldn't put it down, but the craft irked me, really irked me.

You know me, though. I don't hold much stock in talent. I agree with Stephen King. A great writer is born, but a successful, good writer can be made.

(Btw, no one, not even Mozart, could ever just sit down and play the piano.)

"Write the best damn novel you can, then promote it in the smartest ways you can."

So true, Therese!

spyscribbler 2/12/2007 02:52:00 PM  

The average writer doesn't make a lot of money, can't afford a publicist (especially if it's their first book) and so they are forced to promote on their blogs.

This is true, Bailey. It's tough. JA Konrath did a fantastic job of promoting on a limited budget. He's definitely one to learn from!

Therese 2/12/2007 04:42:00 PM  

You are definitely the piano expert, but I'm a little confused by you saying no one could ever sit at the piano and play. I knew a guy in high school who before he began piano lessons, could pick out a tune credibly--maybe that's not "playing," per se?

As for successful *good* writers being made, I'd still argue that those writers have inborn talent--just not at the same level, perhaps, as the greats.

But that's just MHO. :-)

spyscribbler 2/12/2007 05:08:00 PM  

Therese, your spent more than a few hours learning that piece, listening to the song over and over enough to memorize the tune, and picking at the notes until he found a pattern that matched the tune he'd memorized. That doesn't take a particular talent. A Zelda game required the same skill (on a shorter level), a few versions back.

And it's entirely possible that some of the good writers possess some talent. No way to measure it. And I will admit that there are some who seem to have a particular UNtalent for certain things, that's for sure! :-)

Therese 2/12/2007 06:39:00 PM  

Point taken on the piano playing.

In his case, he was a "natural," who, once he'd been taught, could sit at the piano and (at age 16!) play almost any song any of us jealous classmates could name.

Me, I have an UNtalent for piano, even though I'm pretty smart about music and am a capable drummer.

And gee, I've gotten way off the topic of self-promotion versus discussion of craft on blogs!

(Therese resists the urge to self-promote here just for fun...) ;-)

spyscribbler 2/12/2007 07:19:00 PM  

Self-promote away, Therese! Mi blogga, su blogga, LOL. :-)

The word "talent" and I don't get along very well, can you tell? LOL. I don't believe for an instant about your UNtalent for piano, Therese.

writtenwyrdd 2/13/2007 11:36:00 AM  

I don't talk about publishing, but about writing. But I think the pub blogs are useful to help me keep my eye on the prize.

Mark 2/13/2007 02:36:00 PM  

I think you're right about rhythm and I may have to blog about that myself.

I think writers can get rather carried away on this promotion thing. Especially unpublished writers, who should probably be concentrating a lot more on learning to write well (or good, if you get the joke).

One thing that gets me about it, besides the overemphasis on it, is:

1. There's no level playing field. A writer who earned a $100,000 advance can afford to promote more (and needs to) than a writer who earned a $10,000 advance, who can afford to spend more than a writer who earned a $1000 advance. Yet the blogosphere and one suspects, publishers, expects them all to spend a bunch of money and time and energy on publishing.

2. The best promotion possible is if your publisher gets behind you and pays to frontlist your book in their catalogue and pay co-op to make sure you're end-capped or put on the front tables, and if they have distribution to get you on the racks at Sam's Clubs and airports, etc. You have no control over this.

3. Some writers with my publisher, Midnight Ink (an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide) started a listserv just for MI authors. One of the first questions I threw out on it was to ask what percentage of their advances everybody had put into promotion. The answer, almost unanimously: significantly over 100%. In some cases, 2 or 3 or 4 times what their advances were.

This isn't exclusive to MI or this batch of authors (myself included) but it strikes me as being one of the seriously fucked up things about publishing and promotion.

Mark Terry

Rob Gregory Browne 2/15/2007 01:22:00 PM  

I'm coming into this late, but I just have to say this: I think I'm in love.... :)

spyscribbler 2/15/2007 01:59:00 PM  

Mark! I never responded! Goodness, It was such a great comment, too. Thank you for sharing. I want to respond in a post, and I lost it during a power outage. Until Rob stopped by, I clean forgot about it.

And Rob, LOLOL. You crack me up. Don't forget I called it! :-)