Sunday, March 8, 2009

A fish with a bicycle on myspace is still a fish with a bicycle

I generally tend to shy away from posting about my chosen industry, that of publishing (if one can define "chosen industry" to mean something akin to what you'd call it if you keep sticking your finger into the exact same electrical socket, possibly with each new insertion choosing a different angle to approach said outlet, thinking that a new approach, a different technique, might warrant something other than heart-breaking, bone-frying shock), here. It hasn't really been much of a conscious effort, rather my world, after becoming "underemployed", has focused on three things: one, my moving, two, my chronicling of it, and three, finding a full-time job in New York, preferably even before I'm there.

In regards to the third, thanks to a spiffy resume remix by my good friend Wayne Fishell of the wayne fishell experiment and cleaning expert slash resume-rejiggerer for hire extraordinaire, I'm feeling as though what was told to me by the GA Dept Of Labor's Unemployment Office, henceforth called the "unemploymentarium", just might be true: things are looking up.

Don't know what those "things" are yet, or in what relative direction this "up" might be, but it's the name of one of my favorite R.E.M. albums so it has to be good.

About the rest: admittedly, I've not done a very good job of writing about that here, either. Improvements in timeliness and topicalness shall be made on all fronts. To wit, yesterday I fulfilled a year's-outstanding obligation and gave a lecture (I really don't like the word "lecture", it makes me feel like what I was doing was talking in harsh tones to a room full of 3 year olds about why one shouldn't eat dirt and that the poo poo should go in the poo poo place and all that...which, I mean, having taught for a few years, I can honestly say that sometimes rooms full of high school students need to be told the exact same things) on the topics, and oh yes I do mean topics, of book marketing, publicity and events in this weird age of skies falling in and books that you can read on your computer and social networks being more important than leaving the house, at the 2009 Spring Book Show in Atlanta. I put that bit in bold and put it right before the cut so that, in case you're finding this blog as a result of picking up one of my cards at the lecture, you know you're in the right place. Continuing on...

I'd initially been scheduled to talk at the 2008 Spring Book Show, but I ended up breaking the hell out of my foot (that's right, my foot had hell in it and it needed to be released) a week before, and as such I couldn't make it. This year, though, it felt pretty vital for me to wrap my head around what I was going to say-not having a post like Wordsmiths to tie my ship to or some other horse/nautical metaphor that means "not having a steady job means I need to get my ideas out in front of as many people as possible", injected a serious sense of urgency into me to make sure my points coalsced. Ask any of my former students from years ago, or, hell, anyone who has ever held a conversation with me ever-I can digress. I OWN digression.

As you can see, I was scheduled to begin right after Hollis Gillespie ended.

Now, Hollis is someone I'm a bit of a fan of. Reading her collections of very, very personal, very trashy and sometimes heartbreaking essays enlightened me as to the format I want my forthcoming memoir ("forthcoming" as in "whenever the hell I decide I'm going to write the damn thing so shut up") We Give Ourselves Habits In Order To Live, to take. Also, she's a huge draw consistently in this area for the exact reasons I listed above-trashy, heartbreaking, brilliant, successful, CONSISTENTLY PUBLISHED. That last one's key, by the way. In 2008, I was actually supposed to lecture concurrently to her, and it terrified me that I'd be speaking to a room full of those tiny glass bottles of Coke that convention centers love to fill the buffets with and nothing/no-one else. I have no comment as to whether or not that fear actually caused me to break my foot.


Anyway, lingering outside my classroom, going over my notes, head both in the clouds and attempting to get focused, low and behold I saw Hollis, in a rare moment of respite from book-signing/advice-giving. Without thinking, I approached her. Again, without thinking, I actually let myself speak.

"Hollis", I stammered, words falling out of my mouth accidentally like change through a hole in a coat pocket, "I...I...I'm your friend on Facebook!"

This is a nationally syndicated columnist, a best-selling author, someone who has fucking been on Jay fucking Leno for fuck's sake. Your mom's cat is her friend on Facebook, and so too probably is Tori fucking Amos.

The conversation went down hill from there as I proceeded to basically blather all over her. She took it kindly and in-stride, since I can't possibly be the only drooling idiot to ever tell her that her books have "made me think it's ok to write my story about growing up in Marietta eating ketchup off of paper plates."

I immediately had to jump, red-faced from the fan-boy moment, into a sense of authority and give my talk.

The lecture I'd prepared (and I use the word "prepared" very loosely) I titled "A fish with a bicycle on myspace is still a fish with a bicycle" as a way to frame out the thesis statement of all of my points made therein, which was this:

There's no simple solution, no easy way, no quick and fast solution to marketing yourself and your book that works for everyone, all the time, without fail. As such, authors and publishers, playing the game (which is what it is, possibly a highly-intellectual game but also one that's dirty and cutthroat) and wanting to play it well, must be ready and willing to make themselves able to play on any field, with any tools, by any means necessary, at any time.

I asked Barbara Friend Ish, who, with her Mercury Retrograde Press, is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy publisher and one of the few in the industry I've found whose ideas for utilizing new means to make reading a fully immersive and interactive experience for all involved far outweigh what current technology is capable of doing, to accompany me and offer her insights as an editor, writer and publisher. Together, we touched on a handful of points that I know we both feel are essential to the publishing world today: about the value of treating people with respect and dignity, the slow dismissal of the negative connotations of self-publishing (fuck, if Wil Wheaton's self-publishing, why shouldn't you?), and my personal feelings on how Borders is now the single most abjectly useless bookstore in existence. Mostly, though, our joint message orbited around the point that one cannot take for granted the value of relationships. With bookstores, with publishers, with publicists, with authors, the nasty, dirty, lovely game of books is all about relationships.

See, you know I mean it because I have that part in bold.

Lecture concluded, questions answered, I gave out nearly all the RussComm business cards I came with, so I feel as though it was a success. I mean, if I'd come across as an uneducated twat no one would've wanted my card, right?

I'm going to keep thinking that.

Seriously, though, I feel that a publishing shock doctrine: forcing folks to wake up into cold water and realize that the industry has changed so much that adaptations, accommodation and assimilation must be made and made immediately, that there's no time to sit and ponder the ramifications of, for instance, a Facebook page, helps way more than it hurts. But by that same token, there is not, and there will never be, one hard and fast answer to what's going to "properly promote books" or "save" publishing. Although, if one vendor at the Spring Book Show I happened to overhear is to be believed, the salvation for the entire publishing industry will come in the form of crockpot cookbooks.

1 comment:

Barbara Friend Ish said...

The Hollis Gillespie Incident was clearly ten times worse in your head than it was in real life. I thought (a) you were sweet and (b) it's always appropriate to tell another writer when their work has moved you. That's what we live for, after all.

Thanks for letting me play yesterday. I had lots of fun. :)