Most of the fiction writers I know would rather work on new material than spend their energy promoting completed projects. I’ve had agents; I’ve had publishers, and I’ve generated material independently, but no matter how my stories went public, they all required that I do the chicken dance (imagine arm-flapping, squawking, and other anti-social behaviors) in the hope that readers would find them.
And, just so you know, the chicken dance is tiring. It might not be if I were any good it. But despite reading countless “How-To” articles on self-promotion and agonizing over a useful definition of my target market, I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be smarter to invest in lottery tickets on the off chance that I’d win big and be able to afford to hire a public relations agency to go out and honk my horn for me.
But then I’d worry about blasting out some poor schlub’s eardrums and thereby earning his eternal enmity. It’s not that I’m noble; I simply presume the guy who owns the damaged eardrums is bigger, meaner, and younger than I am. He’s probably got better insurance, too.
Still, I keep crankin’ out books. I’ve got two new ones this year, a novel and a textbook. And, since this is my primary marketing channel, I guess it’s time for yet another chicken dance or two. (Please be kind; don’t laugh too hard. I know I’m a lousy dancer.)
I started working on the manuscript that eventually became Oh, Bits! at a writer’s retreat in the North Georgia mountains. We had running water and electricity, but no TV or internet. My writing companions all had work in progress, but I was starting from scratch with neither electronic diversions nor excuses. At the time I didn’t have a clue what to write about. For reasons I’ll never understand I decided to do a bit of dialog between a gossip columnist and a gravedigger. I thought it might be fun to see some hoity-toity writer type kowtowing to a manual laborer in hopes of finding out some hidden secrets of the recently deceased. It didn’t dawn on me that a gravedigger would be the last person on earth to know anybody’s secrets, short of their casket’s dimensions. Blissfully ignorant, I started writing.
Very quickly, I had the gravedigger taunting the columnist with promises of juicy tidbits about the dearly departed, provided the columnist paid for them. I had no idea where said gravedigger was getting his information. After all, the guests of honor had all assumed room temperature long before he got near them.
And then it hit me; he had to be talking to the dead. Why and how came later, mostly as a result of the continuing dialog between the first two characters. I kept switching between their viewpoints and quickly realized I needed more people if I hoped to expand the story. As I added them and continued to fiddle with the idea of a gossip columnist with otherworldly contacts, the larger story evolved. Motives became clearer for all of them, and the difficulties they needed to face had to be planned and choreographed. In the process, I learned a lot about both urban and rural life in Georgia during WWII. There were POW camps housing German soldiers in my home state! Who knew?
Due to my teaching, blog writing, and editing schedules, I had less time than usual to work on the book, so progress came in spurts. I wrote while we traveled; I wrote when we weren’t packing up our belongings to move to the mountains after living in the same suburban house for 30 years, and I wrote when I had an occasional break between editing gigs. With about a fourth of the book still to be written, I decided a final push was needed. So I recruited a few friends and neighbors to start reading what I already had while I worked on writing the rest. The faster they read, the faster I had to write to stay ahead of them. Somehow, I got it done. I even managed to give our new pup a role in the tale, and a piece of the title and cover action as well.
The textbook was a different story. Like its predecessors in the series — Write Naked! and The Naked Truth! — it’s composed of sanitized versions of posts from this blog. The graphics have been converted to grayscale, and I had a cadre of talented people go over it to help me find and fix the errors I knew were in it. Fortunately for me and my readers, their efforts paid off. The resulting book, The Naked Novelist! is, I think, the best of my three textbook efforts.
So here I am again, right where I was when my very first independently written novel came out. I’m talking to many of the same folks, saying many of the same things. Buy my books, please. If you like fiction, buy my new novel. If you want to learn how to write novels of your own, buy my new textbook. Don’t make me fill up your email with offers and coupons; don’t force me to buy targeted ads that’ll pop up when you least expect it.
And please — puhleeze — don’t make me do the chicken dance next time.