Marketing vs Manipulation

Finishing up Shift Tense, worrying about Query Packets vs Self-Pubbing, sketching out another set of Clar1ty Wars stories, looking over two other novels I’ve started/outlined, I’m confronted once more by the challenge of Marketing my work.

I understand advertizing – getting your product and/or services in front of those who need them. I deal with that for my glass studio. It’s pretty basic however: a nice website, a small Super Media ad, and relationships with commercial plate shops and contractors. Mostly, I rely on word-of-mouth. I strive to do quality work, to spec, on time, on budget. I’m not the next Louis C. Tiffany or John LaFarge, and it would be enormously presumptive to bill myself as such. That’s not a lack of confidence or unbelief – it’s a healthy sense of proportion.

Art glass is a niche, luxury item. Stained glass repair is an esoteric trade. Very obscure. Plenty of people don’t appreciates the beauty and potential of custom architectural glass. They certainly don’t need it like they need a plumber or car mechanic or a new pair of glasses. It’s not for everyone and I’m fine with that.

Fact is, it’s the same with my Biblical worldview Spec-fiction. Speaking of niche… ‘not for everyone’ is an understatement. But I also sense there’s an audience out there, and I’d like to get my work in front of them.

My question is how can I do that without crossing the line? (or bankrupting myself) What ways can I expand my readership (and sales) without treating those I encounter like a Wallet to be squeezed or a PR person to be exploited?

I’m not a hype person. I believe in my work, recognize it has strengths and flaws, but it’s not the most daring, inspired, avant-garde thing to explode on the Evangelical scene. It’s not going to usher in a world-wide geek revival. While God might use my art to minister to someone, I’m not going to drape sanctified phrases like “ministry” and “calling” all over it, (as if that contractually obligates God to get me on the NY Times best seller list) or consecrate it with a pretentious pen-name like “Voice of God”.

Steven Pressfield just re-posted an interesting article HERE. My take-away line?

Looking back over a long career in a number of fields of writing, if I ask myself, “Steve, when did your work get its most efficient exposure?,” it was when I did absolutely nothing and the work spoke for itself.

Oh, I’ll be contacting every review site I can find. I’ll be asking some folks – maybe even nagging a little – for Amazon Reviews. I’ll buy FaceBook and Good Reads ads, commission illustrations, take all the press I can get, and generally talk my next release up as much as possible. In the end though, the notion of allowing the work to speak for itself resonates with me. Wishful thinking and hype won’t make it what it ain’t, and maybe my sales won’t be through the roof, but I’ll sleep better knowing I didn’t extort or deceive the people who are gracious enough to read my books.

“So, what kind of fiction do you write?”

It’s a simple question I have either a hard or easy time answering, depending on who’s asking.

The easy answer is I write Christian Speculative-fiction for non-Christians. That means I don’t shy away from faith – or sin – so long as they’re organic to the plot. I (try to) avoid gratuitous sermonizing and/or sordid voyeurism for sanctimony or shock effect. I think that makes my work an anomaly in the heap of evangelical offerings. I write for the outsider, so perhaps it’s Spec-Fiction for people who’ve given up on religion but not on God.

My stories tend to have guns, soldiers, explosions, robots, fire-fights, and more guns, which makes it mostly for guys.

So if you’re looking for an inexpensive, manly Christmas gift…

The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it. – Thucydides

The Next Big Thing

Author Mike Duran tagged me as part of the blog meme “The Next Big Thing”, His Post is HERE. Now it’s my turn to weigh in.

1) What is the title of your next book/work?

SHIFT TENSE. It’s the second installment in the Eshu International sci fi series. SHIFT_TENSE_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches_with_bleeds

2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?

A collision of half-a-dozen books : P. W. Singers’ “Wired for War”, “Children at War”, and “Corporate Warriors”; Ishmael Beah’s “Long Way Gone”; Al Venter’s “War Dog. Fighting other People’s War”, and Sam Childer’s “Another Man’s War.”

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?

Sci Fi I guess, although it’s more near-future action thriller with a splash of espionage.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The Eshu International Crew:

Tam Song: Hiroyuki Sanada sanadapix

Jace Manner: Tahmoh Penikett Jace-tamoh

Poet9: Diego Luna DiegoLuna

Triplets: David Batista (pro-wrestler) x 3. Batista_display_image

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sent to assassinate the fanatical commander of jihadist rebels, Eshu International is caught in the crossfire of a bloody African civil war when they discover they’re gunning for the wrong man.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The jury’s still out on this one. I’m preparing query packets now, as well as investigating potential copy-editors should I pursue the self-pub route.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

One year. Juggling full-time job, family, and church obligations, it’s the second draft that’s taken longer.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Run ‘n’ Gun Mil-Sci-Fi aspect is easy: John Ringo, Ian Douglas, Myke Cole, Steven L. Kent, Robert Beuttner… to name a few. The Spec-fiction/Biblical worldview element is tougher to match. I’m not appealing to the standard ‘family-friendly Christian’ audience. Although they don’t write in the same genre: Stephen Lawhead and Andrew Klavan come to mind.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’m supposed to say “God” here, right? 😉

The honest answer is it was more a sea-change in my attitude than a thunderbolt of inspiration. I started hammer out my first novel, “Running Black” during the last economic adjustment. Custom glass work was slow to the point of distraction, so as a Christian and a fan of good Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I tried to write something I thought I’d enjoy reading. There’s that escapist/entertainment part of me that wants to be thrilled by battles, bravery, and happy endings, so that’s part of what I’m aiming for.

The next element was I grew tired of my faith being overwhelmingly represented as cruel, ignorant, and/or opportunistic in the Spec-Fiction genres. There are and have been intelligent, compassionate, devout men and women who profoundly and positively influenced people and history in the name of Jesus Christ. I wanted to see this sort of authentic, tangible faith portrayed in fiction.

I try to keep my fiction ‘grounded’ in real-world issues, but the third inspirational aspect is that writing allows me to investigate areas where life, imagination, and faith intersect. Exploring controversial, complicated issues forces me to dig deeper for foundational principles and the Person behind them.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Somali pirates, killer robots, child soldiers, mercenaries, firefights… this is definitely ‘guy’ novel. I wove an emotional core and Biblical themes throughout the novel, (really) but there’s something unarguably cool about a .50 caliber sniper rifle.
50 Cal Sniper Rifle (2)

I asked Jessica Thomas, David Alderman, and Lee Stephen to pile on next week.

Thanks for listening.

A little bit…

Came to a realization as I was re-writing the current draft of Shift Tense; I needed to do something. You see, two catalysts for the story were Peter Singer’s Children at War and Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. They rank up there as the saddest books I’ve ever read.

I just finished a particularly difficult chapter and decided not only would the book be dedicated to the thousands of children whose youth has been stolen by war, but I would donate a portion of the novel’s proceeds to WarChild.US. Put my money where my mouth – or pen – is. It won’t be a lot, but it will be something. Doing nothing isn’t an option.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. My grandchildren are on their way over and I’m suddenly a little bit more grateful.

For more info on Child Soldiers, look HERE

Traditional Publishing and the Coriolanus Effect

Worth watching for Ralph Fiennes’ performance alone.

“By Jove himself, it makes the consuls base, and my soul aches to know when two authorities are up, neither supreme, how soon confusion may enter twixt the gap of both and take the one by the other. Thus we debase the nature of our seats and make the rabble call our cares fears, which will, in time, break open the locks of the senate, and bring in the crows to peck the eagles!” Caius Martius Coriolanus. Coriolanus, Wm. Shakespeare

Methinks they doth protest too much – these traditionally-published authors.

I’m not picking on Mike D. but it seems to me the implicit logic in posts like the one here or here is that Self-Pub works are inherently inferior. That self-pubbed writers lack patience, or maturity, or the skill to adhere to the ‘normal’ publishing model. It’s the notion that if you were really good, you’d be picked up by an agent and a big house.

No question there’s a deluge of tepid, banal, pathological rubbish in the self-pubbed offerings. Anyone whoever played D& D or fantasized about a sexual encounter can jump on the internet and add their adventures to the pile. But Mediocrity is no respecter of persons; I’d venture an equal proportion sits on bookstore shelves. Indeed, one of the burrs in my saddle is the unfortunate purchase of what turns out to be an awful book. It’s happened to you, I’m sure. And no doubt you thought, “Someone got money for this? I could do better with a crayon, a pad of paper and a fifth of Smirnoff.” Flannery O’Connor was right when she said many a bestseller could have been prevented by a decent writing teacher. We all know an official seal of approval isn’t a guarantee of quality.

Here’s the real question: Is there really a cosmic battle between Self and Traditional Publishing? Is the enmity valid? Will acknowledging Indie writers (artists of any stripe) really bring in the crows to peck at the eagles?

Antagonism is there alright, on both sides. I just don’t believe the arguments hold up under scrutiny.

The Traditional model has established avenues of marketing, distribution, a level of quality control. So long as the world and technology played along, they were the Gate-Keepers. They passed olive branches to the worthy. Nowadays however, the fences are down completely and the issue isn’t that Self-Pubbed is innately sub-standard, but that those same avenues, those checks, haven’t had time to solidify. What you see now are the growing pains of a new paradigm. (I feel so cheap now, sounding all business-chic, like that.)

I think technology and connectivity has prompted a tectonic shift. The plates haven’t settled yet, but when they finally do, it’s assured the landscape will be significantly different. Recognizable but altered.

Perhaps we need to quit arguing, get back to writing, hone our skills, and pursue whatever avenues are available as individual conscience and opportunity allow. Then when the dust has settled and the lava cools, perhaps we can say with Miranda:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

The Tempest. Wm. Shakespeare.