Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I’ve never been any good at selling myself. When I started writing, publishing was a lot different. Publishers promoted their writers, even lowly midlist guys like me. I didn’t get a lot of promotion, but there was some. In addition to that, I attended a lot of conventions back in the 1980s. But most of my time since 1983 has been spent writing. (That was true before 1983, too, but I wasn’t doing it for a living then.) I was laid up for eight years with a bad hip that required all kinds of medical procedures and three operations, and I was lost for a long time in a haze of prescription painkillers. When I recovered from that, I discovered that things had changed. The publishing business had become a different world and suddenly, when it came to promotion, I discovered I was on my own. This has required an adjustment that has taken me a while to make.
I received a lot of advice on how to promote myself, but the hard part was actually doing it. The internet provides a vast array of outlets for promotion, and I started looking into all of them. The social networks were an obvious choice, but I didn’t want to put myself out there and become some kind of endless one-note promotion machine, like that Jay Sherman automaton in The Critic that kept saying, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” over and over again, because after a while, that can get on people’s nerves. And I’ve never been the type to talk about my work process much because I’m of the opinion that knowingly boring the hell out of people is rude and I just can’t imagine why on earth anyone would give the slightest damn how many words I’d written on any given day. But I had to do something.
I started on MySpace. It was difficult at first, to say the least. I winced every time I posted something to promote a book and an angry voice in my head kept chewing me out. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Everybody and his plumber has a book to plug! What makes you think anybody’s going to pay attention to YOU? The response was ... weak. I blamed myself. I was taking the wrong approach, I was turning people off, I had fucked up!
But friends told me I wasn’t the problem. MySpace, they said, was the trailer park of social networks and I belonged on Facebook. I couldn’t understand what possible difference that could make, but I reluctantly decided to give it a try. I got a Facebook account, but I thought I’d try to get a feel for the place before I turned on my red light and started dancing in the window like an Amsterdam whore. I decided to be myself. This was a risky prospect because, as many people have pointed out to me over the years, I’m opinionated and some of my opinions tend to send the villagers after their torches and pitchforks. But I’ve never had a problem voicing my opinions — my problem is saying, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” So I decided to try being entertaining. Funny, even. This is a tactic I had used in school to avoid being ostracized like a leper and/or picked on by bullies. I began to work in some promotion now and then — links to my books online, to reviews and interviews I’d done.
This worked surprisingly well. In fact, Facebook has turned out to be a great experience. I’ve reconnected with old friends and made a lot of new ones, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve gotten to know some wonderful people with whom I share interests, opinions and backgrounds. I have some of the funniest and brightest friends on Facebook. A day does not pass without at least one big out-loud laugh from something posted by someone on my friend list. But most importantly, it has allowed me to connect with my readers. Writing is a solitary business. You sit in a room creating characters, populating worlds with them and, if you write horror, making terrible things happen to them, and if you write for a living, you do that a lot. I mean, a whole lot, because writing doesn’t provide huge paychecks unless you’re one of the relatively few who write blockbusters, so you have to keep producing steadily. That’s why I stopped attending so many conventions — I needed to work.
On Facebook, I’ve met a lot of my readers, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised and deeply moved by those who’ve expressed their appreciation and have told me what my work has meant to them. I honestly never expected anything like that. My religious upbringing programmed me to be ashamed of my likes and interests, and that was later extended to my work. My family and many friends, the people closest to me, preferred that we all just pretend my work didn’t exist. It was treated like Sloth in The Goonies. That’s a significant part of the reason I’ve found self-promotion so difficult. But communicating with my readers has helped to change that. And it has made promoting my work much easier.
But I digress. The question is, has Facebook worked as a promotional tool? In the words of a well-known American stand-up comic and mythology expert, you betcha!
As my self-promotion skills improved, I could no longer ignore one very significant fact: I was the last writer in the known universe without a website. Along came my web designer friend Vince Fahey to save the day. Good thing, too, because I don’t know the first goddamned thing about making a website. And now ... I have one.
RayGartonOnline.com is now live with a message board where I’ll be hanging out, information about and links to my books online as well as links to interviews, a full bibliography, and starting in the last week of September, we will be having contests and book giveaways. I’ll be keeping my villager-stirring opinions on my Facebook page. The website will focus only on the work and on starting an online community, which I hope you'll join. Come over and log onto the message board, say hello, start a discussion and maybe win a book! See you there.