Monday, January 26, 2009

A crisis of conference


Some writers (call them group one) follow the normal reader-to-fan-to-writer pathway and have probably been inoculated in Sf/fantasy conferences at the local con, met some authors, been to how to write panels and workshops, got some shorts into various low/non-paying mags and worked their way up. Then there are the ones (call them group 2) whose careers blossomed from nothing to celeb instantly -- the incredibly rare, lucky or well-connected few that most people seem to imagine we all are. And then there are all the rest (group 3) -- who have blundered into the field without a clue-bat along the way, and now find themselves with a book (or even six) coming out and no idea what a SMOF is or just what they need to do. Often we (because I was one) have deluded ideas about your publisher will do about guiding you through the life of a professional author.
The answer: unless you happen to be one of the rare group of blessed individuals (Let’s be real here, a few of those few are far more brilliant and valuable than you are. And the rest are indistinguishable or worse. Life is just deals unequal hands, and you have to make the best of them.) your publisher is going to do exactly what mine did: Publish your book. Let sink or swim.
Now I was brought up on staunchly egalitarian meritocratic principles. The above would have sounded absolutely fair and right to me. Of course it isn’t. Sales are a lottery of cover, blurb and distribution, even before you get to publicity, not measure of the skill of the writer. And sales are what will determine whether you have a career or not. We all know of authors who’ve written dream books... who vanished. And we all know bloody awful rubbish, that we all wonder how got published let alone onto best-seller lists, and keeps on being published.
Which leaves the average group 3 author wishing he had a better hand for the gamble. It is very hard to fail when your publisher has you sent on a meet the booksellers tour of the English speaking world, and spends a lot of money on getting your book onto displays on the counters or ends of sf/fantasy racks. That’s called push and if you can get it, you’re made. If not, that leaves you with nothing... or the alternative: Pull. It’s maybe 1/20 as effective as push, but it can make that key difference - You see for that first book the line between average and success (to be bought) is.... about 3000 books. And there are various ways of making quite a dent in that. Group 1 authors already have some ideas on this and therefore are the most likely to succeed. Therefore if you’re still at that stage, become a group 1 author.
If it is too late for that... (it was for me) here is what you need to start doing, today. NETWORK. Yes it is going to chew 2 hours out of your writing time every day. You need to join forums (Baen’s Bar for eg) and manage not to be the person everyone regards as a PITA troll. And yes it will chew up most of your advance, because you’re off to conferences, and you’re going to be a nice guy -- not a salesman pushing your book, but a name people remember. And you will do your best to get involved and to make and maintain contacts.
Because if you can’t do this -- you probably don’t relate to people well enough to write anyway. If you can scare up 1000 pre-orders from people who know your name - and that is enough to push your book up the ordering hierarchy at retail book-chains. Nothing like push would have done, but enough to give you another 500 sales. And if your book was any good those extra 1500 will tell enough friends to get you another 300... and next thing you know - you may be negotiating a contract.
Or at least have a lot of extra friends.
See you at Lunacon 2009.

posted by Dave Freer

4 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I'm from Group One Dave. Been going to Conventions since I was 18, had a table in the hucksters room, was involved in Independent Press, worked as a bookseller and illustrator.

Since then I've had 6 kids, been on the management committee of national and state arts organizations, set a national award, run another one, judged for awards for years, run national workshops etc. Infact, I can't think of anything in the writing/publishing field that I haven't done yet.

Oh, yeah. Had a Best Seller. That's on my 'to do' list for this year!

Cheers, R.

John Lambshead said...

Six kids!
My word, Rowena, that's brave.
Val and I stopped after two.
John

Dave Freer said...

Rowena it's the right way to do it, IMO. Bit difficult here though!

Dave Freer said...

Oh and the bestseller will come :-) I have faith and a good eye for these things.