27 March 2010

My Branding Motto

I see lots of Twitter discussions and blog entries on the importance of social networking and branding for writers. I have my share of sites (just look at my sidebar), and have given some thought to what my "brand" might be (or should be), so I certainly don't knock the idea.  

Yes, publishing's moving. Yes, a writer (any artist, really) should be online somehow. But, how much time and energy do I spend doing this?  Where do I spend it?  More importantly, what about the writing?  Makes me wonder if I have to be Don Draper to figure this all out.

Alan DeNiro (author of one of my favorite short story collections, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead) has also tried to ponder these mysteries, partially spurred on by a presentation at SXSWi, at which the assertion was made that...
An author is no longer an individual working in a room alone, but the leader of an online “tribe” of followers –- the people who comprise the author’s audience. Several example kept coming up, wine guy Gary Vaynerchuck, author of Crush It!, business guru Seth Godin; and Kroszer’s favorite example, The Pioneer Woman, who “could organize a tour on her own without the help of a publisher.” The consensus, from another panel –- “Scoring a Tech Book Deal” was that a potential author needed a minimum of 5,000 Twitter followers.

Now, I have no intention of being John the Baptist in sackcloth and ashes, crying out in the wilderness.  I'm not going to rail about art vs. commerce.  I'm just saying that as I look at my "writers" list on Twitter and the Google Friendconnect bloggers I'm following on the sidebar--which accounts for only a third of the writer blogs I follow on my RSS feed reader--I see exactly the tribalism that's being talked about.  Book and story reviewing, writers of every level interviewing other writers of every level, guest blogging, group blogging -- and I honestly have no idea where I fit in yet.

Until I figure it out, though, I feel I'm doing two things absolutely right...
  • I'm writing what I want to write, and I'm putting it out there.
  • I'm connecting with "the right people."
Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson said his crew was never worried if not everyone would get their arcane references, because "the right people will get it."  Who are "the right people?"

First, I'll talk about how I collect them. I collect them the way I collect comic books after the 90s when people realized they just didn't need 8 variant covers of the same damn first issue of every book with an X in the title.  I invest in the books I want to read.  The ones that interest me.  Same with the folks I follow on any given social network I belong to.  I follow them 'cos I want to.  Because they pique my curiousity, or enthrall me with their points of view, or they're doing exactly what I want to be doing, the way I hope to do it.  And, I strive to be equally interesting to them.  And I accomplish this by putting myself out there, and responding the best I can to what these people put out there.

I read an interview with--well, I forget if it was Ricky Gervais or Eddie Izzard.  To paraphrase my favorite bit of that interview, I'd rather be 1000 people's favorite writer than 10,000 people's 10th favorite writer.  The way I see it, my chances of accomplishing that are better when I develop--okay, a tribe--of people who "get" me.

i.e. "The right people."

I guess you could say my branding strategy so far can be best summed up in the poem "Motto" by Langston Hughes...
I play it cool
And dig all jive
That's the reason
I stay alive.
My motto,
as I live and learn,
Dig and be dug
In return.

Now, I did say "so far."  So, tell me -- am I missing anything?  What else should I be considering?  I want to hear especially from my peeps that have blogged about this in the past (don't make me go back through all the Read items in Google Reader, pleeeease?).  Am I thinking too hard about all this?  Or not hard enough?

Educate me.

17 March 2010

Hail to the King, Baby

Two songs and two thoughts went through my mind as I sat in this chair, getting this picture taken at a local winery.
I've got to keep my image while suspended on a throne
That looks out upon a kingdom filled with people all unknown
Who imagine I'm not human and my heart is made of stone
And I've never had no problems and my toliet's trimmed with gold

Spencer Davis Group, "I'm a Man"

What that idiotic smirk on my face doesn't show is the inner realization that if those lyrics resonated with even the smallest part of me, then I have only myself to blame.  If I do portray this image, it's because I've developed a Game Face.  I wondered if the Game Face may be part of some psychological defense mechanism that may or may not be needed anymore.  I wondered if maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that my life might be better off without it.

But then, I remembered the words to another song...
I was the king of the world
I had every thing thrown at me,
That the judge and jury could hurl
I was the man of the hour
I would claw and scratch my way up,
To the very top of the tower

-Toto, "King of the World"

Then I realized there were reasons I was the way I am.  No, I haven't been severely traumatized or anything, at least no more so than your average Joe.  But somewhere along the way, I decided the Game Face became a handy tool for helping me get back up whenever I was knocked down.  I decided that maybe it was the price of doing business in life.  I decided that it wasn't making me hard or calloused in the way people don't like - the way that makes you slow, closed-off, and numb.  I decided that it made me stronger - like a fighter who's not only conditioned to take a hit and get back up, but is willing to step back into the ring and tell the next chump (read: bit of disappointment) who wants a piece, "Come get some."

I decided it's good to be the king.

14 March 2010

Tough Love

Been awhile since I've attended the literary vivisection that is my biweekly critique group with something to read.  This week, I brought in a 996-word flash fiction piece, written to a story prompt I found online--sorry, but due to the rules of the forum, I can't post the prompt here.

Anyway, here's what the gang had to say...

  • I was unsatisfied with the working title I gave the story, but at least one reader thought it fit just fine.
  • As usual, at least one reader called my story "intriguing."
  • People liked my description of "bad college behavior," especially in regard to one peculiar substance.
  • That certain peculiar substance didn't click as much for a couple of readers as much as for the rest.  They understood how I used it; just didn't resonate, it seemed.
  • Only one reader out of eight seemed completely satisfied with how I ended the piece.  Most, even those who understood the implications, still thought the ending could've been "stronger" or "more clever."
A short critique for a short piece.  Sometimes, though, I don't feel I deserve the praise I sometimes get for my flash.  Flash seems to cover a multitude of sins, where my writing is concerned.  It makes sense--the more I write, the more that can go wrong.  But sometimes, I feel like the success--or lack thereof--of my longer pieces is more representative of my current abilities. Oh, well...

05 March 2010

Getting Things Done, For Longer Than I've Been Alive

Jim Lehrer, host of the PBS NewsHour (formerly known as, among other things, The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour) for over 35 years, is one of my biggest writing influences. During his long and storied career in journalism, he's written and published nineteen novels. This makes him one of my writing heroes, despite the fact that I haven't read word one of his books.

So what makes him my influence? He wrote those books while he was anchoring, reporting in, and producing award-winning news shows. And he's not some Johnny-Come-Lately who decided to "follow his real dream" once he got the NewsHour gig and after getting a bit of fame behind him. His first novel Viva, Max! was published in 1966, seven years before he teamed up with Robert MacNeil, at the beginning of a career that would garner him numerous awards for excellence in journalism.

Do a thought experiment with me. Lehrer's books get fair-to-middlin' reviews but let's assume--purely for the sake of argument--that each and every one of his novels is utter crap (Again, I don't know this, because I haven't read any of them). Imagine how much work it would take to produce and publish nineteen bad novels, and you'll see why I'm impressed.

In short, he's a guy who gets his writing done, and in the interviews I've seen over the years in which he talks about his fiction, he gets it done anywhere and everywhere he can, every day.

I've met writers who hold down day jobs and/or are parents (some, of kids with special needs), and/or who are adult caregivers, and/or who are dealing with their own or someone else's medical/mental/emotional problems. And I look at these folks, and at Jim Lehrer, and ask myself, "What the fuck excuse do I have?"

Does it make you ask the same?