FULL BLEED: THE HOWLING PIT AND THE CONSUMING SEA

July 28, 2020

 

 

It's time to do book promotion. Mostly for BLACK TRACE, which I'm nailing down a release date for (probably November given lead times needed). But also for my mother's science fiction books, which were originally printed over a period of time from 1975 or so until 1987-ish. These were printed long before anyone thought to include ebook rights in perpetuity, so she actually retains those.

 

The first thing, just in case you don't know this already: there are a LOT of books being published in any given month. I'm not just talking big five publishers (it's five, right or are we down to four). I'm talking all of the indie presses and micropresses and every single author like myself who has the gall to put out books all on their own. It's a lot of books. An unthinkable number. To even contemplate it is to force you to ask "Hey, does this world need another book this month?".

 

Honestly, it's absolutely draining. Yes, it's my book, it's special and precious and gosh darn it, I chased my dream right off the edge of the precipice. I'm falling and oh well, this is what I must have wanted because it's where I am. If the rule was what got me here, then of what use was the rule, y'know?

 

I don't blame most book bloggers and outlets saying simply "Yeah, we're not looking at self-published books at all." I get it. Life is too goddamn short. If you tried to dip your toe in that sea, something huge would end up sucking you in and crushing you over time to something the size of a sugarcube. It's a defense mechanism. You can't possibly gaze into that abyss, ford the Howling Pit with its thousand thousand voices clamoring for attention. The influencers are in a position of power, and who can question that they can offer something of pretty substantial value, so yeah, of course they can be choosy. They have to be choosy.

 

Hell, I have to be choosy with what I point my attention at. You want cosmic horror and insignificance? You want a hit of that? Go look through just the LOCUS publication announcements on any given month. And these are the projects big enough to actually get their attention, that of one of the premiere outlets in the field. They've got no choice but to swim through the Howling Pit, but I suspect they're protected well-enough that they can survive this on a regular basis. They have to. Honestly, though, every time I do this, try to take in the breadth (not depth but I'll get to that later) of even just SF genre fiction, it's overwhelming. I suppose this is a good problem to have, right? SF is incredibly healthy. Just look at all these books coming out month-in, month-out, forever. Healthy, healthy genre.

 

There's no way to read even a meaningful fraction of it. There's no way to read even a meaningful fraction of horror books that come out in a month. Or even if you narrow it down to cosmic horror. Yeah, no way to keep your head above water if you dive in. I've got a lot of other things to do, namely try and write and then try and sell what I've written. Not to mention being Mr. Mom, as I have been for the whole of this millennium (minus the summer and fall of 2000). Yeah, can't keep up with it. Sorry. I'm a bad genre champion.

 

No, really, I am. But I don't think any genre needs to be saved. Saving is what misers do. Books and people need to have their own lives (and yes, books have a life, one for each person who reads 'em, but again, that's a subject for another dispatch.)

 

I read what I can and what seems interesting (and that's a lot more nonfiction as opposed to prose these days. Last couple things I read were BEYOND ANTHROPOLOGY, an ethnomethodological examination of anthropology as a practice and phenomena written by a professor I had in classes more than thirty years ago, and I'm currently reading Colin Dickey's THE UNIDENTIFIED, which tackles why we believe weird things and how we've come to believe some of them -- it's very good). I follow some authors whose work I already know and sometimes have time to latch onto a new author entirely -- S.A. Cosby's BLACKTOP WASTELAND which I hope to start this week maybe? Don't have a lot of other time. I'm a slow reader. Sorry. So I can kinda stay sane in a world I've sized off.

 

But when I have to go do book marketing? Yeah, back into the Howling Pit and the Consuming Sea. There's a lot of book blogs out there, y'know? A lot of people running Instagram accounts and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and YouTube accounts where they talk at the camera about you. Oh yeah, this is pure Howling Pit territory. (And if you're not familiar with the terminology of Howling Pit, well you could buy the book and read it or you could understand that the term is just the shorthand I use for the Internet of Ideas and Opinions in all its myriad forms. We're convinced that we have to participate in it (just like I'm doing right now -- whoops) and give it free content in the hopes of going viral and people buying the thing you're talking about.

 

Aside. I once had a tweet go actually viral. 41k likes and something like 10k retweets. It was baffling. When I saw the ball rolling, I quickly added a "here's a link to my Amazon page and here's my latest book" link like you're supposed to do. You'd think 41k likes, that's getting your name out there. That'll get you some traffic.

 

It got maybe two books sold. I know one for sure.

 

Even in the thankless world of direct mail, that's a horrible return figure. But you know, you get the publicity you pay for.

 

Oh, right, I'm supposed to talk about promotion. About getting your name out there. Ah, that's the joke, I've been doing that since the start, right? Ever since I started writing a blog or a column for a period of almost ten years for absolutely free or kept writing the blog or serialized books online. I've spent way more time marketing than writing and honestly, that's draining. When in an attempt to stave off actual existential despair a few years ago, I started up a tumblr blog where I took close-up pictures of old comic book pages and that got me way more feedback and interest than any post I ever did on my writing. That is a thing that'll rearrange your head when you think about the currency of likes and attention. But mostly it'll suck you dry if you consider it for any length of time, so I try to limit when and were I do that. I'm indulging a little right now.

 

 

So, time to audition. Oh, you know what I mean. Every single email or contact form or direct message to one of these sites or accounts or people or groups, it's an audition. Just like sending books in over the transom if you're going unagented or uninvited. (I did a lot of slush submissions -- I've had two work out. I know better than to try and chase down an agent.) So each of these is another resume in the mail and hoping to get an interview or a call-back.

 

I try not to think about how the book I'm promotion, whether it's mine or someone else's, just becomes another piece of shovelware, for lack of a better word. Because that is one of the sad facts of the Howling Pit, where anyone can publish and does. Hell, it's what Hollywood was doing for everything but their tentpole films. Get those first week numbers and then move in the next rank. Go take a look at Amazon/Tubi/Netflix streaming sometime. Whole rafts of movies released that get out there to become a postage stamp size image (or three in rotation) and jaunty/teasing capsule description to maybe become enough of a fishhook for the eye to get you to click.

 

No. I haven't looked at what's been released just on Kindle Unlimited. I'm sure if I did, I'd throw myself off a(nother) cliff. Wave after wave of words unleashed. I'm sure some of it is good. I'm sure I'd even like some of it (very much not the same thing.) There's no way to drink from the firehose and not have it blast your teeth right out. That said, I'm sure it's about like the overwhelming and crushing vastness of content that's out there on any of the streaming services. So yeah, wide seas, but perhaps not terrifically deep. Daunting all the same. You get tired walking miles of thigh-deep water, even if there aren't going to be megaladons in there to snap you up in a bite.

 

Now, this isn't questioning the basis of writing, in particular keeping me writing and putting work out there. Though I do wander those woods sometimes, and I even end up snagging a sweater on a branch or bramble and get stuck there awhile. But I'm mostly through that. This, however, (points at everything) is a lot to deal with. Even as a reader of this stuff. Let me repeat this. Even as a dude who enjoys a lot of this stuff (that being a variety of genres, but more in particular voices), the world is a lot to take in. I'm happy to contribute my voice to the chorus, even if it ain't ever gonna get heard. But playing the marketing game? That's significantly harder. Mostly because I question the fundamental issue of marketing (that being using something other than the thing to sell the thing.) Yeah, tough knot to chop in half. But here we are, sword in hand.

 

Don't worry, I'll talk about my mom's first release shortly. And I should note that her being a writer of SF in the early seventies (while not unheard of) was kind of a big deal. Which is why I gotta laugh at folks who say that JK Rowling made it okay for women to write genre. Go read a little wider next time. Expand your world.


Lastly, my publisher is running a Kickstarter for another day or two, for an anthology they're planning. But in that, there was a reveal about MY DROWNING CHORUS, you know, the second HAZELAND book. It's due out next spring/summer.

Here's that link.

 

Until next time.

 

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