Wednesday, December 20, 2017

That Writer

by Thomas Pluck

Are you one of those writers who shrinks like a salted slug when someone asks you about your writing?

Let me put on my Andy Rooney eyebrows and ask Why is that?

We should be proud of our work, not ashamed. Maybe we're anticipating those cliche questions?
Are any of your books movies?
You must be rich, right?
I've got a great idea for a book, want to go fifty-fifty?

Perhaps, but I think some of it is that stereotypical self-deprecation, the impostor syndrome, and general shyness. We shouldn't be shy. One of the best books I've read on the writing business was Intent to Sell by Jefferey Marks. It seems to be out of print, but you can get similar advice from Lawrence Block in his Liars series of writing columns, which begins with Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, or David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Or you can ask Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross:

Always Be Closing.

How can you expect people to be excited about your books if you're loathe to talk about them? Of course, you can go too far and become That Writer, who only talks about themselves, their books, abandoned story ideas, interrupting every conversation to link it to their backlist, preferably with an Amazon link pasted afterward. Don't be them. But there is a lot of space between being enthusiastic about your work and being a boorish ass. Jeffrey Marks had some advice I'm not sure I'd recommend, like Vanity license plates that say you're a writer, bumper stickers, and so on. He doesn't tell people to do things like put your book facing out at Barnes & Noble, stick your business cards in books of famous writers in your genre, and leave copies of your book in indie bookstores for people to find and bring to the register, like lost treasure, so the owner will exclaim "Why, I don't carry that book! And you want to buy it? Perhaps I should order two gross, even if it's not returnable and is only printed by an affiliate of a corporation that wants to sup on my bone marrow!"

Those are bonehead moves. What you want to do is have a relationship with local bookstore owners and employees, preferably as "that local author who is always supporting us on social media and buying books at our store" so when it comes time to schedule an event, they might squeeze you in even if the odds are you'll be reading an excerpt to your mother, some weirdo from high school who wants to lock you in his crawlspace, and the local crank who wants to ask why your books don't talk about chemtrails brainwashing us. I mean, we all have to start small, and if you stick around and are pleasant to deal with, your chances of survival go way up.

But I digress. This is going to sound like I have a lot of health problems. Thankfully they are minor. But my dentist, podiatrist's assistant, and dermatologist are all avid readers. So is one of my drinking buddies at the local watering hole. We all talk books when we cross paths. More about authors we both like, such as James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Stephen King, and so on. And of course once they know I'm a writer, they ask a little about what I write, and I mention it. They've all come to my book events. Because now they know a writer!

Yeah, I'm no Lee Child. But they are happy to know me and talk about what's coming out next, and spread the word to their reader friends. And how did I find this out? Even here in New Jersey, people ask how you've been, what you've been up to. And you can say "nuthin'" or you can say, "I had a book signing last week and I was pretty thrilled at how many people showed up. How about you, go anywhere nice lately?"

And after they tell you about this little place in Barnegat with the best fried clams, they might say, "you're a writer? I love James Patterson. What kind of books do you write?"

Now here's the closer. Do not froth in a rage about the self-blurbing one-man industry! Even if they ask if you loved The DaVinci Code, this isn't the internet. People are allowed to like things you don't! Now don't suck up and lie, either. I haven't read Patterson, but I did read Angels and Demons which I thought was pretty ridiculous, but I saw the appeal. When I visited Rome, all I could think of was the priests Dan Brown murdered in overly complicated ways, so there's something there. My answer?
"I write crime thrillers."
\"Oh, like The Godfather?"
"Well I did work down at the port with some guys who were on The Sopranos, and there are some mobsters in my latest book. But they're the bad guys."

And there you go. I didn't say, "Pshaw! Li'l old me? I scribble a little, nothing you've heard of!" or "Patterson? That hack?! My undiscovered genius is worth ten times his ill-gotten fortune!" or "I don't write that kind of garbage, if you want to read some real noir you should read my story collection The Nun's Puppy Was Beaten to Death With Nazi Dildoes."*

*coming in February from BloodNoir Press.

If you've met me, I have a confession to make that will elicit laughter.

I'm an introvert.

What? Tommy Salami? The guy with the beer in his hand bloviating about Krav Maga moves is an introvert?!

Yeah, really. I got better. I trained myself to talk to people. People are scary. They want to know all about you and sometimes they say mean things, and the leading cause of death in humans is other humans. Admittedly, I used booze to make that easier in the beginning, which is an expensive and possibly dangerous solution to social interactions. But in the end, I learned that when people ask you about writing, most are genuinely interested. Sure, some will be jerks about it, or ask the dreaded questions, or make you feel small compared to Gillian Flynn or Jodi Picoult. So what? That's what people who've accomplished nothing do, bring other people down. You'll have to deal with them in your life anyway, might as well learn now.

So happy holidays, and when your relatives ask about your books, guilt them into buying twelve! Make them tell all their friends. Tell your pedicurist while she's sawing off a callus. I came this close to telling my proctologist when I woke up during a colonoscopy, but the the drugs were too good. And I got to see the video, so I know what it looks like to have my head up my ass... and I'll keep trying not to act like it.


Al Tucher said...

I have sold books to my dentist and cardiologist!

M. K. Waller said...

"He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted." ~ Damon Runyon and my mother, but I don't like to do it, and every time I do, it's the wrong way or the wrong time and I sound like I'm bragging. And I appear to be a writer of short stories and might never have a book published, and if people ask about my books I'll have to confess. And I've written only six stories, five of which have won contests and/or been traditionally published in anthologies by reputable publishers, one of which appears on a reputable zine--that's BSP, but I can say it to writers who understand the situation--but I've done it over a period of SEVENTEEN YEARS, and earned approximately $125.00, and if people ask if I'm rich, I can't say, "No, but I'm good," and I'd probably add, "But I may never write anything decent again." And delightful blog posts don't count. And I'm an introvert. I do sometimes say, sheepishly, "Well, I write." I've left autographed books on hotel bookshelves and I gave a copy to the maintenance supervisor who fixed the hotel A/C at Malice Domestic (he was nice and said he reads mysteries but his wife and daughter will probably get hold of it first). And copies to the therapist who told me I had to start writing, and one the internist who asks about my writing. I'm going to give copies to my oncologist, who might not read the stories, but who deserves something in return for the drugs he gave me, and if he doesn't like the stories, that's okay, because I didn't think much of the drugs. If I'd read this before last week's colonoscopy, I'd have taken along a copy for my proctologist. He's never offered to show me my video, but that's okay, because I doubt it has a plot or much dialogue. Goodness knows the setting isn't noteworthy.