Monday, September 25, 2017

Failing To Deliver

I can think of at least one person I've let down recently.

I have a couple of author Q&A features that were supposed to run on Spinetingler's website.  The problem? Spinetingler's website had been neglected for so long that in order to do upgrades that Wordpress was screaming at us about it meant backing up content, because there was a chance everything would be lost.

We were so many updates behind that before I could proceed I was going through the site, deleting content that was old and irrelevant (upcoming event notices) and copying things we didn't want to lose.

I finally gave up. Somewhere between family obligations, earning a living and working on a new issue of Spinetingler - our first in a decade - I was out of time and energy. I'd hoped to have the site's system updated early July. Instead, I finally had to prioritize, make peace with the possibility of losing up to 80% of our content, and start pushing buttons.

The site survived the first steps. I still have some more work to do, but there's been significant progress.

And still those author Q&As wait. I don't want to put them up and then lose them, so I need another two weeks.

I understand all the reasons. And I also understand all of the realities. We're in a vicious cycle in our industry, because there's a history of giving away our time and money for free. I don't get paid for what I do with Spinetingler. People have always reached into their own pockets to cover expenses - whether it's been me, a former owner or the current site owner. When I was starting out with Spinetingler many writers were happy to have their work published without a cent of payment because the webzines provided critical exposure to readers.

The problem is that we've helped perpetuate a system of free work and in doing so we've undervalued the services associated with publishing. This means that there are a lot of authors who are trying to fit writing in around their careers and families.

As though that isn't enough, the responsibilities of promoting novels typically falls on authors. Publishers aren't asked for interviews about an author's new title; the author's asked to participate. Then there are bookstore events, conventions and podcasts.

It can be very time consuming.

A few years ago I was asked to contribute a piece to someone's literary blog. I actually knew the blogger IRL. Rare, I know, but at the time I was working in the public school system and I worked at the school where the person taught. I was given a very tight deadline and I couldn't work with the schedule and apologized for that.

They got pretty snarky with me. They were happy to rub in the fact that another author, who was so successful that they wrote full time, had been able to contribute.

I remember making a face. How nice for someone who didn't have to spend hours each day commuting, who didn't then have to come home to pick up the kids, handle homework and school paperwork (my gosh, the notices they got in elementary school!) and make dinner and do laundry and all of those fun things before they could even think about writing for pleasure or for free.

I completely understand the challenge of balancing life and author-related duties.

Now, I'm pretty rusty these days. It's been years since I had a new book out. It's been years since we did an issue of Spinetingler. However, I've been reminded lately of the need for my own structure to prioritize.

My tips?

1. Keep a day planner or a calendar. Mark your deadlines. That way, you won't forget them. Gone are the days when I could recite conversations by heart. I've always had a good memory, but age catches up with us all, and being busy just adds to that.

2. Be realistic. If you try to do it all, you'll most likely fail. Politely declining is always better than failing to deliver. I mean, there are times life goes crazy. Last week in the midst of needing to work and having a tight deadline I found myself considering the serious possibility of packing bags to head out of town because of a family health emergency. Things happened so abruptly that didn't happen, but it's on my mind that Brian needs to see his sister, and we have to make that happen. I'm not talking about emergencies. I'm talking about knowing that if you have plans every night of the week and work full-time that aren't going to have much time for other things.

3. Saying no is okay. I recently sent out emails to a lot of authors about Spinetingler-related things. A reasonable-but-approaching-tight deadline of six days was involved for completion for the first ones I emailed. I never heard back from most authors. Some delivered. Some offered more than was asked and still delivered. Some thanked me for getting in touch but had to decline. I really appreciated those responses, because they helped me plan for content without waiting for the deadline, which is what I had to do for those who didn't reply.

4. There are no small opportunities. I know Spinetingler isn't the New York Times, but I also know writers who credit small venues with starting their career. For us, James Oswald is standing alum. He had his first Inspector McLean story published way back when. He has since gone on to enjoy a six-figure book deal writing about McLean. He's a friend, he's a great writer, and no matter how busy he is, he always finds time for us. I remember years ago, Lee Child invited Cornelia Read on tour. I once heard him asked about why he invited new authors and he said that maybe some day when they were the big name and his career was fading that they'd return the kindness. Like it or not, this is an industry of connections.

5. Know your history. Boy, I need to do a better job with this one. Thank goodness Brian knows so many people involved in publishing. He helps me out routinely when I don't recognize a name. The thing is, a lot has changed in publishing in the past decade and a lot of old connections have faded. The discussion lists aren't what they once were (Rara-Avis) and the new crop of writers coming up don't have the history with the webzines and reviewers and even some of the authors who emerged ten years ago. My husband is smarter than I am and has written far more extensively about the genre than I have. Nothing is funnier than when people try to school him on some Facebook thread about how he needs to learn about noir. He's read more books than I ever will in my life. Plus, some of these people have tried to school Brian by quoting to him from articles he wrote. Hilarious. Just because you haven't heard of a person doesn't mean that they don't know what they're talking about, doesn't mean that they aren't part of the community (Brian has more famous author friends than I do) and doesn't mean that they shouldn't be treated with respect. Google searches are your friend. When in doubt, if approached by a publication or website you aren't familiar with, ask for a little background.

6. Know your promotional window. Brian and I disagree. He thinks that with the online marketplace that small press authors have a wider window. I still think that even web-based publications are more interested in talking about what's coming out than what came out eight months ago. What do you think? No matter what, authors can't and shouldn't promote endlessly. At some point the business of writing needs to happen. As one author told me years ago about skipping a Bouchercon, if you're there every year then nobody will be worried about coming to see you, because you're always available. Make the events you chose to do count. Make people choose your event because it's a special opportunity or regret missing it instead of being everywhere all the time so that seeing you isn't a priority because it's always possible.

Now I have to get back to work so that I can meet my deadline today. Today is for Spinetingler.  Tomorrow, I have to actually try to earn money so that I can pay the bills.

No comments: