9 August 2017

Why I Am Really Bad At Marketing

If I was an author hip to the world of marketing then I would have really dragged out the reveal of the cover of my new book. I would have "teased" it. I would have built audience anticipation. Oh man, if I was good at marketing you wouldn't have slept for at least a week wondering what the cover of Starfall would look like. You would have had a little calendar on the wall counting down the number of "sleeps" until the cover was revealed.

Man, if I was good at marketing the release of my novel would be the single most important event that has ever taken place in your life. The reveal of the cover would be the anticipatory hors d'oeuvre of the whole thing. I would be the king of author foreplay.


Unfortunately I am terrible at marketing. I'm so bad that the cover of the book has been visible on the Smashwords preorder page for the book for almost a week. I was confident no one would "leak" the cover because no one really cares. This is because I am terrible at marketing.

It's not like I lack confidence in the product. It's taken me over a decade to get Starfall ready and I am confident that the work stands up to scrutiny. If you like dark fantasy, mythology and learning new things then this will be one of the best books you read this year, I absolutely guarantee it.

But that's not really marketing, is it?

This is probably the main part of the problem. I have no idea what the difference is between conversation and marketing. I have no line between self-consciously advertising something and just telling people: "Hey, you know, you might enjoy this, I have to charge you for it, I like to eat."

I do know that authors on Twitter annoy me like you wouldn't believe. At one time I guessed that I too might have to rack up 20 different ways of saying "Buy My Book" on a tweet scheduler and leave it to howl it's robo-sales pitch into the Social Media maelstrom, hating myself for doing something to make the overall intellectual quality of the internet worse than it already is.

But then I thought, no, forget that. Not because I'm better than that, but because I am bad at marketing. I cannot, in good conscience, message all my friends via Facebook to buy my book, regardless of whether I think they'd get a kick out of it or not. I cannot see myself morosely repeating my sales message on my Facebook author page. I am using Lulu for print copies and Smashwords for e-books because I like to support business that isn't Amazon, monopolies are bad for everyone, the monopoly holder included, I am trying to save Amazon from themselves.

All of this because I couldn't identify an effective marketing strategy in a line up if one had mugged me in a dark alley yesterday evening. I'm sorry officer, it all happened so fast, I didn't have time to see how many engagements the perpetrator could convert. I have no funnel strategy. I just wanted some people who might enjoy it to read my book, and I wanted to get paid, because people do cool, creative things, they deserve to get paid. That's what I thought.

Yeah, let's face it, I am bad at marketing. Hey ho.

7 August 2017

What's Happening At The Dark Tower?

I was rather looking forward to the movie adaptation of The Dark Tower. So much so in fact that I began prepping my viewing last summer by beginning the series on audiobook from the first volume. When I finished my epic ~130hr journey with Roland et al I was just amazed...

I was amazed at how something so technically awful could remain both compelling and engaging.

It wasn't always both, or indeed either. However it was consistently a laundry list of things an author should on no account do, unless they're Stephen King. I was interested to hear King describe himself as more of a "situational" author. To my knowledge that's not a thing, he just made it up. However, it does have a clear definition and could be a thing, if other authors were to adopt it as their approach.

For the record situational writing is about putting characters in situations and leaving them to work their own way out of them. This, I think, does present a sufficiently different approach to distinguish it from being "plottish" or "character-driven". It makes a lot of sense when you consider works like "Misery", "Gerald's Game" and "Cujo". It actually explains a lot of King's writing, because he sits down there in the dark of his character's psyche with them and reports the news as it happens. That's the major part of his apparent approach.

As someone who read a lot of King in his mid to late teens I have a place for that in my writing, the approach to one character or another is strictly situational, not about the plot or the character themselves but defining character by describing their reaction to the apparent circumstances they are presented with.

So situational writing gets a thumbs up from me. However, it does also explain why it's so hard to adapt King for screens of any size. As soon as I got my head round the "situational" thing my mind flashed to the middle segment of the King anthology movie "Cat's Eye". In the segment a rich guy forces a poor guy to work his way around the ledge of a sky scraper to win the life of the woman he loves. It's a flat, uninspiring piece of film making, but you can see how it could work in prose.

Even so, if you're going to make situation the keystone of your writing then you have to go hard or go home, as in you'd better be writing at a King level of proficiency or it will fall flat.

There's so much wrong with the Dark Tower series that I actually thought there might be a project involved in decomposing all the things that writers who aren't King should not attempt contained within its labyrinthine narrative. Maybe I'll have time to devote to that at some point, maybe not.

But it's the key exemplar of structural snafus, clear failure to plan, indulgent insertion of self-reference, spoiling other novels on a whim, you name it, it's all there. If you were to measure the work somehow, put down how many words were devoted to walking across deserts, or fighting giant lobsters, or having dinner with completely unthreatening senior citizens, a cold appraisal would tell anyone that this rambling behemoth of a narrative should leave people cold.

But it doesn't, because it's King at peak-King.

If anything convinces me that even the impeccable credentials of best-selling, world-beating, uber-author qualify you not one jot to help other people write it is the Dark Tower series. So, kids, remember The Dark Tower was written by a highly practiced writing wunderkind. Stay safe and never try to recreate the writing style of Stephen King at home, in the playground or anywhere else.

20 July 2017

Why The 13th Doctor Makes Total Sense

It was at about the time of the 50th Anniversary that I first noted how the path of the Doctor's regenerations, completely by accident, make a huge and logical character arc. The announcement that Jodie Whittaker is to become the first female doctor has received polarized responses but, man-baby whinging notwithstanding, it does make complete sense.

Let me take you on a short journey which you probably won't care much about but may while away a couple of minutes.

The Doctor's Arc

The uber-arc for the character of the Doctor falls into four parts.

Part One: The Man Who Knew Better AKA Classic Who

In this part of the arc the Doctor is a brash, alien being who has rejected the aloof nature of his people, the Time Lords, but is uncertain how to become anyone else. This part of the arc covers Hartnell to McGann thusly.

  • Hartnell: Assuming the persona of an older, wiser man the original doctor meddles and shouts his way through adventures finding that his mantle of academic authority is too harsh for the persona he wants to project.
  • Troughton: In his first regeneration he pushes things into harmless clown a little too far, deciding, overall that he would like to be seen not as a stick-in-the-mud, or as a trickster but more of a man of action leading to...
  • Pertwee: Employing cars, gadgets and, occasionally, light violence to adventure his way through exile the Doctor backs himself into a bit of a corner. Adventurer is a fine persona, but maybe too limiting.
  • Baker the First: At last a persona he can really embrace, somewhat clownish, ostentatious, pompous but endearing, this Doctor has that Willy Wonka trait of abivalence and humour meaning you're never quite sure what he's thinking. In the end though, too entrenched.
  • Davison: A more staid persona, and notably much younger than before. Almost a mantle assumed to see how people would treat a younger, less flamboyant version of himself.
  • Baker The Second: All that underlying creepy weirdness, repressed during the Davison regeneration floods through the Doctor, he is almost a sociopath, he begins to not like himself.
  • McCoy: Sinking deeply into almost self-parody, the initial Doctor becomes a sinister clown, manipulating even his assistants in order to achieve his ends. He learns how to control his manipulative side.
  • McGann: The Doctor believes he is complete, he becomes a handsome man just before middle years, urbane, sophisticated, but always thinking ahead and with just enough flamboyance to communicate the other-ness he wears as a badge of honour, then, the Time War.

Part Two: The War Doctor

The Doctor's persona is tested in a war with the Daleks. He does things he never thought he would do. He becomes traumatised.

Part Three: A Good Man AKA Nu Who up to Capaldi

This part of the arc covers a Doctor who has tried to be a hero, but has seen things, and done things in the Time War that have radically re-defined what a good man is within the Doctor's psyche, this part of the arc plays between the poles of trauma and aspiration from Eccleston to Smith thus.

  • Eccleston: The Doctor emerges from the time war damaged, trying to assume his old jaunty demeanour but prone to fits of rage and fury that scare even him. He relies on his companion to ground him and retreats into a fantasy version of himself.
  • Tennant: Outwardly this doctor continues the pattern of his eighth regeneration but inside he is wracked with an unstable emotional angst. He clings to this persona but it slowly crumbles.
  • Smith: Back to his other persona, the clown, now more integrated with his dashing, heroic side. At last, in what is supposed to be his final regeneration the Doctor begins to wonder what else he might have done. He faces mortality for the first time. He wonders if he was all that he could have been. He wonders what he might do differently if he had it all to do again.

Part Four: Second Chances

Given a second chance the Doctor is, at first shocked into a kind of summation of all that he has been, at first unable to overcome the cold, callous personality and slowly rediscovering a deeper verison of the good man thirsty for re-definition and open to new experience.

  • Capaldi: Surprised by a second parcel of regenerations the Doctor reverts into a kind of ur-Doctor, brash, callous, self-important. As the shock of the new wears off he discovers the good man is still there and now with a world of opportunities to push the boundaries of what he can be, he is determined not to waste a second cycle of regenerations.

And that leads us up to the present time. In a way if you look at this madly re-inventing persona, trying to have authority and power (with a side of responsibility, natch) while at the same time being a kind of heroic facilitator, occasionally falling prey to a worrying harsh brutality, you can see it so clearly.

In the Doctor's worry about what kind of hero to try to be and a natural concern about some of the traps and dead ends from the first cycle of regenerations it is completely appropriate to head straight into the most fundamental difference the Doctor has perceived. This time lord has widened the possibility in its personal development and there's no reason to suppose that femaleness is where the Doctor's new comfort in experiencing life as something other than the first idea will end.

Man-baby whiners may want to buckle up, the ride looks set to be bumpy from here on out, gender and racial identity wise.

21 February 2017

Arthur... but, you know, from "the streets".

The moment I'm talking about is about 2:44 in a caption flashes up that states, unequivocally, "Raised on the streets". At that point my worry that someone had stepped up to fill in the space formerly (in fact, now, still) occupied by Boorman's Excalibur evaporated, straight up.

My ongoing but still insubstantial Arthur Redux project seeks to unite all the various strands of Arthurian mythos into one (hopefully) coherent narrative. I'm currently stuck at the beginning of Book Two: Merlin having been strict with myself that I should pump out no more new content until I had properly disposed of the old content. That, it transpires, has been quite the mouthful, in retrospect.

But another time for that discussion, maybe never. Where was I? Arthur being "raised on the streets". Sigh.

The reason for my project is just this kind of unmitigated bollocks. Why do people think it's okay to just re-work the King Arthur legend on a whim? Well, I suppose that's obvious, it's so old even the current ridiculous limitations of copyright put him in the public domain and finding out exactly what the deal is with old Artura is the work of beardy scholars and other obsessive weirdos.

(Why are you looking at me like that?)

Anyhow, if you were thinking that this would help the lay man unpick the once and future king of Britain from  a bunch of made up cinematic trope du jour BS then you will be disappointed. Still, at least it isn't just Clive Owen mumbling on a muddy field this time, there look to be actual monsters in this one.

20 February 2017

Monkeys Check, Typewriters Check

It's all a massive production. Even when it looks so small. So much calculated off stage. So much time poured into the sugar frosting...

19 February 2017

The Windows Are Dusty

The interior of the store is lit by a single weak lamp. The tables are pushed up against the walls, the chairs are stacked up on the tables, resting one on top of another, seats kissing.

There's a brighter light coming from the office out back. It just makes the shadowy figure sweeping the dusty floor even harder to focus on. This business does not seem to have opened its doors in a very long while.

The windows are clean but there are marks here and there, the residue of tabs of sticky tape, the remnants of old notices. Now they have all been taken down. There is only one notice here now, in the centre of the door window, in the place where you might expect the word "open" or, in this case, "closed".

The notice says neither of these things. It says, rather, "Coming Soon, more things."

You guess the store will not open today. Probably not tomorrow either, but apparently things, more of them, are coming, and soon. You are not sure you believe this. Still, you will keep an eye on the store because you could do with more things, and this looks like the place to get them.