Monday, April 09, 2007

What I Really Wanted To Say…

My blog post yesterday gave the impression something had just happened that had set me off. This was not the case. The post was born out of a lot of long-term thought based on some experiences I’ve had, but I did not get an email this weekend that inspired it.

The perils of self promotion have been on my mind a fair bit recently. I think it’s because of a couple discussions that have happened on Crimespace.** I can’t read them anymore, because they’re driving me mad.

I’m a community-minded person. I have little tolerance for self-serving assholes. You want to know what I believe? Here’s what I believe:

1. When you’re a decent person others will feel positively about you.
2. When you maintain a certain level of humility and stay down to earth people will find you approachable and likeable.
3. People are more likely to want to see nice people succeed.
4. What is good for one can be good for all. When a crime fiction author makes the NY Times bestseller list they can draw new readers to the genre. That’s a fantastic thing, not just for the author, their publisher and their agent, but the whole community.
5. The only person you’re really in competition with is yourself. You push yourself to do better, to grow, to learn. You’re only as good as your last book, so if all the readers say it was “meh”, even if you sold more than 90% of the other authors out there, you have work to do.
6. Not all publicity is good publicity.
7. When you’re pushy it turns people off.
8. I’m interested in great writing not great gimmicks.
9. Your name sinks or swims on its own merits, not your friends.
10. If you think the way to get ahead is to step on others you deserve a mighty big fall.

There are probably lots of other things I could say here, but as usual, I’m just winging this. The reality is that I have seen the heavy-duty promotion tactics from multiple angles. I was on the phone with my friend Marsha earlier and telling her some of my recent experiences and I said, “It drives me mad.” She said, “Get used to it.”

It wasn’t very encouraging, but I know what she’s saying. You see, my mantra is be part of the community. Do things for others, not just for yourself. We’ve just produced our 11th issue of Spinetingler. I’ve lost track of the number of interviews and reviews I’ve done. If I’m enthusiastic about an author’s work you couldn’t get me to shut up about it – that’s just the way I am. I could never be a commissioned salesperson – I endorse what I’m passionate about. But if I’m enthusiastic I definitely spread the word.

How much good does it do me? Well, who knows? Plenty of people certainly know of me. I am officially a name on a checklist that some heavy-duty self-promotion types try to check off at conventions. But the interviews and reviews produce more traffic to the books/authors being featured than to me. Our stat tracker proves that.

More than anything, I just love the fact that I get to interview authors I’m interested in. I try to read most or all of their books before interviewing them. Doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal. I read other interviews they’ve done so that I get a sense of the routine questions and then try to move in to fresh territory.

I love having the opportunity to talk to my favourite authors about their books. To me, that’s such a huge privilege. If there is something I can do to bring any awareness to an author I love and expose them to a wider audience consider me thrilled.

I was so naïve that it never occurred to me that people were going to start to see our little ezine as a stepping stone they could use to advance themselves. Here’s my rules about interviews:

1. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. I don’t typically take offers to interview people. If you’ve seen me talking about your books on my blog, or reviewing them, and you’d be willing to do an interview, great. I read you, you’re probably on my list of people to get to sooner or later. But if I’ve never reviewed your books, never mentioned your work, what you’re asking is for me to get your material, bump it to the top of the tbr pile, do the background research, conduct the interview, transcribe and finalize it… You’re asking a lot. Look at my interviews – they tend to run 14+ pages. And it’s the cart before the horse. I interview people who produce work I’m interested in. That list is hardly conclusive, as I can’t interview everyone. But if you want an interview start with offering a review copy. And for the love of Pete, follow the reviewing guidelines.

2. Tell me to call your publicist and we’re done. Sorry, I know that sounds unfair, but my experience with the few publicists I’ve tried to coordinate with has been that it never works. They make the options for how to conduct the interview so restrictive, as well as the timing of the interview, that it never works out. There are a couple publicists I’m friends with who would probably be the exceptions, but in general I find if it’s a headache to even try to coordinate a time the entire process turns into a nightmare…and this is my free time. I’ve got better ways to spend it.

So don’t corner me at a convention and stick your book in my face. Don’t tell me the intimate details of how you decided to write your book within 5 seconds of meeting me…

Be a person. Is that too much to ask for? I can only imagine how really successful authors feel, because I am not an important person in the grand scheme of things, and people won’t just talk. It’s all got to be about the book.

You know, I find that if I end up having a conversation with someone and they’re a really interesting person and I warm to them, I’m more likely to go pick up their book. Same when I read listservs and forums. If they’re interesting and entertaining and not taking every opportunity to stick their book in my face then I’ll be more inclined to check them out.

I really just don’t like being seen as a commodity. You know what? It isn’t personal. Follow our guidelines for sending in an ARC. If we’re interested in the book we’ll consider it. Fair enough. Don’t try to be my friend just so you can sneak one by. I give some preference on odd occasions to people whose work I’m a fan of, because I really want to read it, but my reviews are always honest to my impressions of the book so being insincerely chummy isn’t going to get you anywhere.

And when people try the friend route and it becomes clear they’re just trying to use us they’ve formed an extremely negative impression on me. It’s one of the few things that I have a hard time forgiving.

Frankly, I think anyone who is so over-the-head in the bsp arena doesn’t need my help anyway – hell, they’re shouting loud enough it isn’t that people can’t hear them, it’s that they’re covering their ears and running away because they’re sick of it. And when they’re turning me off, why on earth would I want to review their book and talk about it? I’m sick of it without ever cracking the cover.

I’m a low-key sales kind of person. I don’t like being helped in the clothing store, I hang up on telemarketers when they keep calling and calling and I don’t like door-to-door salespeople either. You’ve all got sucky jobs and I know it, but I just like to be left alone.

The reality is, I’m thinking about not doing any conventions next year because these things really undermine my enjoyment of the events. This stuff never happens to me at Harrogate, which is why I’ve always enjoyed it, and I hope B’con this fall will be small enough so that it won’t be a problem.

You’re welcome to have a different opinion and disagree, but stick your stuff in my face and I guarantee you won’t find my reaction favourable.

A couple authors who’ve recently gotten on my radar the right way? Sally Spedding and Carol Anne Davis. Which reminds me that I have a book order to put together…

** Changed to clarify - not all discussions on Crimespace. But there's too much bsp and promotion discussion lately IMHO.


John McFetridge said...

"When a crime fiction author makes the NY Times bestseller list they can draw new readers to the genre. That’s a fantastic thing, not just for the author, their publisher and their agent, but the whole community."

This is the part I wanted to comment on. Sandra, you are so right. I wish people would see that (and the part about only competing with yourself).

Years ago (many, many years) I was involved in the movie business in Canada and I was amazed how happy and excited people would get when a Canadian movie flopped. Finally a producer said to someone, You know when people leave a movie they loved they want to go see another movie right away. When they leave one they hated, the last thingthey want to do is see another movie.

I bet everyone who bought the book that ended up in the NYT list went out and bought another crime novel.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's a great example John, and it's the truth. A big part of the reason I don't go to the theatre often anymore is a string of "meh" or outright bad movies. At current prices I can afford a few trade paperbacks or several mmpbs instead, and books provide several hours of enjoyment.

You're another example of someone who got on my radar in the right way, and as much as I'd set my sights on being the catalyst for a breakthrough for Canadian noir and hardboiled fiction I'm thrilled you beat me to it John. I now feel like (hopefully) I'll get to stand in good company. Several friends of mine have enjoyed success recently and I think it's wonderful. I'm delighted for all of them.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of fun Canadian movies- Fido is pretty darn funny.

Someone gave me the advice recently: be careful who you share your down moments with and even more careful about who you share your tales of success. Not everyone will be happy. The comment made me sad- but I've seen other people have the difficulty.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Eileen, sad but true. I think there are more people interested in seeing someone fall than in seeing them succeed. My experience this year has definitely demonstrated the truth of that to me.

I'm not in a hurry to publicly share any good news anymore.

Steve Allan said...

"...stick your stuff in my face and I guarantee you won’t find my reaction favourable."

I get that from a lot of women.

Sandra Ruttan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandra Ruttan said...

Sounds like the beginning of a column:

Steve's Dating Don'ts (is that a word?)

s.w. vaughn said...

Thanks for this post, Sandra. Very insightful! There is a whole lot of BSP going on lately... and some people (not you!) get kinda pushy about it.

Writers aren't built for this kind of stuff. Honest. We're generally introverts and promotion sucks.

Sigh. What we do for our writing...