Category Archives: Marketing

Alienating your Audience


I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.




truly, madly, deeply

I will be honest with you– in the past, I have been guilty of writing things that weren’t truly reflective of who I really am. I’ve written things just to try to sell them, just to try to break into a particular market, and written things that don’t actually reflect my ideals, thoughts, hopes, and morals.

Which is why I don’t really like to dig back into my past and publish my old stories and poetry. There’s very little in there that I am actually proud of, very little that I would want my grandchildren to read, so to speak. I wrote things that I thought would please my “market” and they are embarrassing to me now. Why did I write that, I ask myself. Was it really that important to sell a short story?

Some writers will tell you that writing “to a market” is just what you do. It’s the accepted practice– if someone wants to publish an anthology about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, then you write a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, even if you heartily wish that clowns were all stripped of their red rubber noses and forced to work at the DMV.

In some cases, the ideas spawned by certain markets, like anthologies and magazines, may, possibly, once in a blue moon, actually rouse your best creative force and you can write a heartfelt tale that sears the page in its beauty and passion. But mostly you’re just hurriedly grinding something out in the very slim hope that the editor will like it. Even though the editor is mainly counting on their friends and acquaintances to fill the anthology and is only holding out one or two slots for unknown writers, of course. And then you’re stuck with a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, which you now have to try to foist off on another market. (Those other markets know that this will happen, and cringe for months reading freaky clown stories.)

Sometimes, though, you’re just writing in a certain genre and you absorb the mores and cultural assumptions that are common to that market. Cultural appropriation is terribly common in science fiction and fantasy (ask me sometime about alien worlds who all seem to have desert areas with heavily draped peoples who call the area Something-istan. I start to foam at the mouth, I have heard.) So is writing about gay characters even if you yourself are not gay. Being progressive sells, that’s the heart of the idea.

I wrote a story once about a young woman in 1600-1700s Indonesia who was banished from her village, became bonded to a cursed knife, and then had the problem of how to remove the knife. Long story short: she gets her hand cut off, but decides, with the help of her lesbian lover, that the cursed knife must be destroyed for the good of her people. Because of the religious powers that were in that particular region at that time, I ultimately had my character pray to the Islamic god for his help in destroying the knife.

Now, if I was writing the story today, I would have found a way to leave Islam out of it ENTIRELY. Not simply to avoid offending the people of that faith (although that would be part of it) but also because it was just a hasty addition at the end, written under time pressure, and it wasn’t a very satisfying ending to the tale. I would have preferred it if the woman could have found some other ghost of her own people to banish her vile uncle’s spirit.

I guess it was satisfying enough to sell it, anyway– it was published in 2002 in a cd-rom anthology called “Extremes 5: Fantasy and Horror from the ends of the earth.” For, hah, an equal share of the profit. Sadly, after the editor had taken out his expenses, there was no profit, so basically all I got for tacking on this hasty religiously ambivalent ending was a copy of the cd-rom and a cramped hand from signing the sleeve inserts. Oh, and I was out about ten bucks for postage.

I would have made it more clear, I think, that the main character was only “gay” in the sense that she was heartbroken and suicidal and that she was responding to the other woman’s kindness and love. Two broken people clinging to each other in a storm. If it had been a man, she would have probably run in fear after her lifetime of abuse by men. Situationally, the gay character made sense. I don’t regret putting it in, because it was true to the character and the story basically wouldn’t have worked without there being someone else there to help her. She would have just given up and died, otherwise. I wanted people to feel that sorrowful weight upon her, and then to see at the end that she was, in fact, still broken– the love had not fixed the wounds in her heart. It just enabled her to endure the pain.

So I have decided that this week, in celebration of the idea of doing things “right” and true and writing from your passion and not your fear, I am going to republish this story, A Dagger in the Rain, on Kindle. I will be doing some editing to it first, fixing that problematical ending with the unneeded influence of an outside god. As an outsider writing about a distant historical place, and about ghosts in that place, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Even Joseph Conrad had to read several books about the Indonesian peoples before he dared to write about them, because he knew he wouldn’t get everything right without years of experience that he didn’t have.

The first step is going to be to find the disc. I know I just moved it into my closet right before Christmas! Then a quick edit and rewrite, and I will make it available for a nominal price on Amazon’s kindle page. I’d start tonight but I can feel my Ambien kicking in and my typing is starting to fall apart.

I am excited, I think, to try to make a story closer to my true vision for it. There are not many stories that I would bother fixing in this way– mostly my ghost stories, for those have always been the ones closest to my heart. When you’ve lived in a haunted house, ghost stories are always interesting ones.

My novel, thankfully, is only “not me” in one respect: I wrote it with a male protagonist. In hindsight, I still feel that he’s the best character for the job. I definitely wouldn’t want to put a female through all the stuff those guys get up to in their desert journey. But the fact that I wrote this novel to fit in with MY vision of what a fantasy hero should act like and do and feel and dream . ..  that makes it so pleasing to me. I didn’t sell out for this novel. Raban and Valerius are just who they need to be, where they need to be, doing what they need to do. And it was a labor of love to get them there.

I’ll announce the release when it posts. 🙂

States of disgrace

So, I did a little market research into werewolf novels. All I can say is “Whooooo-boy!”

Rape fantasies, glorified rape fantasies, lots of totally non-subtle bestiality hints, lordy, it’s a mess.

So I asked myself “Can I sell a noirish murder mystery in a market that’s super-saturated with sex?”

The answer mostly seems to be “Not unless I am completely in love with the material and willing to fight for it.” And, today, well, today ain’t that day.

I still think it’s an interesting novel, a compelling story, and a good solid book. I’m just feeling more than a little discouraged by the other material that’s out there. It’s like walking into a fantasy bookshop and only finding Gor knockoffs and p0rn. Sure, there are lots of people that like to read that sort of thing, but I don’t want to write it. And writing something else is going to be like walking into the belly of the beast with a torch and poking at the stomach walls. You’re more likely to get digested than to give the monster indigestion.

So, since I’m discouraged and disheartened and generally feeling the “Ugh, where did my sunlight go?” of seasonal malaise, I decided to write something a little less depressing.

I started working on a picture book about a mythological creature that I invented. And then, because that was just too chipper for my mood, I started working on a cheerful little teen novel that starts out with the mother of the protagonist bleeding to death on a couch.

Because sometimes, “less depressing” is a very relative term.

The state of picure books is what I’d kindly call “hyperkinetic” — really, kids can’t have words anymore, just frantic pictures? But I can still feel generally cheerful about the outlook because it IS, after all, for kids. The state of YA is actually fairly healthy, even if the topics are pretty bleak these days. If a book doesn’t have at least one person leaking their life’s blood onto the upholstery, it’s hardly a YA novel anymore.

Werewolf fiction, though . . . oi. It greatly suffers from not having a Dracula to compare it to. Without a trace of a literary ancestry, it’s just completely devolved into pornographic fanfic. Twilight is bad fiction, but I think she was actually aiming for literature (and just coming massively, massively short.) Face it, if a book has a subtitle that explains that, yes, it IS just nonstop animal sex, well . .. you’re not even aiming for the bleachers.

Maybe I’ll feel more thrilled with the notion in another day or two. Until then, I’ll try to finish my new picture book and work some on the YA thing. Taking a break is a good thing, I think, when the spirit is completely unwilling.

That marketing thing

So, I am playing about with Amazon affiliate links. There’s a lot more to it than I had imagined. Apparently, you can’t use them for your own purchases or those of your family members. Dunno about extended family but, who knows, maybe I can link directly to cool things and then even make a quarter here and there. 😉

This book here is one I haven’t read yet but would like to. And I know that the author needs the sales, so if you’re a fan of good worldbuilding and well-imagined fantasy worlds, check Martha Wells’s work out.

And maybe someday I’ll figure out how to do these right. I have my doubts, though.

Advice for young writers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what to tell younger writers and artists about the writing life.

My older daughter, for instance, is 19 years old, which is older than I was when I first started submitting things to magazines. She’s more aware of the flaws in her work than I was, perhaps too aware. She doesn’t feel that she’s ready to submit things to pro markets. I don’t want her to delay the process too much, no matter how anxious she may be about submitting her work somewhere. Maybe it’s a cliche, but you really do develop a tougher skin from getting rejections and critiques.

The writing world is a vastly different place than it was when I first began writing. Everything was paper– no electronic submissions or electronic markets. Networking was something you did at conventions. Mostly, you sat at your typewriter and wrote and then, once in a while, you’d send something off to a market once you made a fairly flawless draft of it. No spellcheck, no grammar flags, just you and a bottle of Liquid paper. Your major marketing move was to find an agent.

Now, everyone is in love with the idea of marketing, of building your brand, and of making word-of-mouth sales. There are a nearly infinite number of markets, blogs to follow, people to link to, and how-to sources.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Mostly, I feel that it takes something away from the writing process itself. You can’t put everything into marketing AND writing. There is only so much of a person to go around.

I think my main advice to any young writer would be to write and write often. Daily, preferably. I know that I didn’t used to believe in that– I used to think that writing was something you only did when inspired. What can I say, I was young and untutored. Now, I know that writing is a craft, not divine inspiration, and crafts must be honed with frequent practice.

As far as shameless self promotion? I’m working on learning that craft myself! I want readers for many more reasons than just driving traffic up and making money. I’ve had a lot of fun over the years with my blogs. I love discussions, I love challenging topics, and I love building friendships with people online. I’d much rather have a great comment from someone than 2 cents for a click on a link!!!

Maybe the younger generation of writers will adjust to the whirlwind of marketing more easily than us middle-aged old fogies. I suspect that, like me, a lot of them are introverts! That makes it doubly hard to build all those networks and connections and revenue streams. We just want to go hide on the sofa with a book. 🙂 But it IS important to make writer friends. And it IS important to let people know that you’re out there. And it DOES require marketing.

(Maybe you should marry or partner with an extrovert? Just maybe. 😉 )

But the writing has to come first. Don’t forget that, if you’re an old writer or a new one. Write more, write better, and the rest will come.

Oh, and read this a few times.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft

Good luck!