16 September, 2012
Marketability Means Marketing Part Three: Network
"Don't waste your talent, boy," said Iain M. Banks.
As you may have by now guessed, Iain's words embody everything I know about marketing. It's so dang easy to waste your talent for one very good reason: your job as an artist is to focus on the art. Simple and true.
Here's the tricky part: it's a huge world out there. How will anyone ever know about your work? In the face of billions, how does your face matter worth a smeg?
Here's the wonderful part: it's a huge world out there. There's a publishing industry that exists to find good authors and make their work known to readers. Plus, you are in the face of billions.
Yes, the rules are changing. Industry standards may collapse and if they do, old publishers, with their great amounts of money to invest in such matters will either change, or they'll be replaced by new businesses. Either way, the author's job will be to make good art. Changing rules doesn't change the fact that there are readers and that people will want to make it their job to get writers' work into the public eye. And why are the rules changing? Because you are in the face of billions!
It seems daunting at first. That's natural. But the reason we feel lost in such a vast mire is precisely because we live in an age where everyone can communicate with vast numbers of people if they only try. One thing I've learned to do is mention my blog whenever someone asks me what I do for a living.
I say I'm an author and, to my initial amazement, most people say, "Really? I've got a friend who's into writing."
I say, "Cool. I actually write a blog for--" blah blah et cetera.
They go away with my name and blog address on a sheet of paper and I go away thinking there's a chance I'll have another blog fan. Networking can seem un-artistic, even disingenuous. I feel like that almost every time I open my mouth about myself professionally. I even feel weird admitting this stuff to you now. But the facts are two-fold:
1) It's no different from making new friends. I am a writer, I enjoy teaching, and I write a blog with the intent of teaching writers. In saying this I've only answered a question honestly. Yay me.
2) It boils down to sharing yourself, and that's all any artist does with their work. Again, readers want writers. That's why we exist. How is letting readers know you exist unprofessional?
These trepidations sound insane when displayed in text. If you were to put these in an encyclopaedia of stupidity they wouldn't by under "W" for "Writers' Trepidations". They'd be under "T" for "Top Ten Idiotic Professional Hang-Ups". I still feel them, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if many new authors feel the same way.
It's a daunting world because it's so huge. Neil Gaiman makes the analogy of sending bottles out into an ocean. That's what it can feel like sometimes, but it's an illusion. It's more like chucking stories folded into paper airplanes at a huge crowd of waiting readers. If they like your work, they'll want another airplane. Yes, you must usually get 'past' editors, but they exist because readers usually find good stories via trusted markets, such as book shops and quality fiction magazines. Think about this fact for a second and you realise that, if you're a good writer, it's every editor's job to discover you. They want writers simply because they want readers. Remember the rest of what Iain M. Banks said to me? Let's re-iterate the whole quote:
"Don't waste your talent, boy. If an editor asks to see your work, send them the best you've got, right away. Let Mr Hedgecock decide if it's good enough, before he forgets meeting you." I can't thank Iain enough for saying this to me. In three sentences he taught me everything I need to know about marketing.
It can feel a strange world to enter. What my previous two marketing posts, "Don't Agonise" and "Just Spew It", really come down to is the fact that people in the industry actually are interested in serious newcomers. This is simply because there is an industry. This post is about why there's an industry, and why therefore you can be a part of it.
In three sentences Iain summed it up. Make good art. Let others see it. Let the world decide.
Don't agonise. Just spew it. Network.
In my blog description, I've changed "marketing" to "practicalities of success". This is a far broader topic in which I think falls a great deal more advice. For marketing, the answers are simple and I'd be willing to bet you already own the necessary printer, email access, deodorant and money for travel expenses. Don't be afraid to visit conventions. That's how I met Iain M. Banks. Just make sure you wear deodorant and pay for parking, or your train/bus ticket.