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Archive for March, 2009

Want to get published? Don’t do things like this.

READING: Natsuo Kirino — REAL WORLD
LISTENING: Weakling — DEAD AS DREAMS

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Release the fans!

Guy Gavriel Kay’s article is illuminating for a number of reasons. We live in an age where everyone is expected to be connected to the rest of the world through social networks and blogs, but I would argue that this intense connectivity is not necessarily helpful to writers, and might in fact be harmful. Sure, a writer’s blog such as this one is useful as a way to keep potential readers informed, but maintaining such a personal connection with your readership can lead to unexpected consequences, as the article points out.

For nearly fifteen years, I have published a music-related webzine called THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL. In the beginning, I actively encouraged reader participation (although I was smart enough from the beginning to invest in a post office box so none of the more deranged readers could easily discover where I live, natch, which turned out to be an excellent move). What I was hoping for was some kind of dialogue with interesting musicians, and this did indeed happen from time to time… but more often what it resulted in was wave after wave of eccentric people bombarding me with “articles” having nothing to do with music (such as one guy’s feverish declarations of his secret knowledge regarding the truth behind the assassination of JFK), random spurts of anonymous hate mail, and — the crowning glory that led me to give up such an intense connection with said readers — a package sent to my post office box containing a copy of the Iain Banks “classic” THE WASP FACTORY accompanied by the dead body of a headless bird. I think that was the moment I decided it would be much better to publish in a vacuum whenever possible.

I’m an intensely private person by nature, which leads to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance when I realize that, thanks to fifteen years of publishing a webzine that’s relatively well-known in underground music circles, an awful lot of people I don’t know happen to know who I am (or who they think I am, anyway). As readers of this blog have probably already figured out (assuming I have any readers, which is a generous assumption), I am not keen on divulging much about my personal life, partly for reasons related to the debacles listed above, and partly because I find the cult of personality repugnant and even dangerous. Where writing is concerned, I think the only thing that any reader needs to know is what is within the pages of a book; it is not necessary to know about an author’s personal life and habits in order to enjoy a book, nor should it be. In fact, knowing too much about an artist can actually diminish the enjoyment of that artist’s work, whether we’re discussing books, music, or films. As far as I’m concerned, in a perfect world books would stand or fall on their own merits, with nothing known or said about the authors themselves. Realistically, this is unlikely, given the nature of book promotion (unless you’re as brilliant as Thomas Pynchon, in which case you can rewrite the rule book with impunity). The publishing world’s need for writers to have a “platform” means that the future of far too many books is tied up in what readers think of an author, rather than the quality of the books themselves. (This is why Paris Hilton can make millions selling “books” that are nothing more than puffed-up celebrity diaries while genuinely brilliant works of literary art written by old people who aren’t terribly photogenic can go unnoticed.)

One other item in the article particularly interests me, and that’s the idea that the writer of a multi-volume series has some sort of implied contract with his or her readers to put out those volumes in a timely fashion. I have to admit that it doesn’t make much sense to devote yourself to an extended series if you’re not going to release the parts on a regular schedule; that just invites readers to give up on you and move on to something else. I know how it feels to have to wait, too — I was a huge fan of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER series, and there’s no question it was maddening to wait (and wait… and wait…) for the next volume in the series. It didn’t help that it took King 22 years to publish the seven books in the series. As a direct consequence of that excruciating experience, I’m no longer willing to read any similar series until the entire cycle is completed.

I’m not a big fan of Martin’s work, and I frankly don’t care about the series he’s writing, but while I can understand that life has a tendency to disrupt any writer’s plans, I’m considerably more sympathetic to the fans who have been left hanging. My advice is writers of serial novels is simple: either write everything first before publishing the first one, or be ready to put the books out in a timely fashion, unless you want to be on the receiving end of lots of hate mail.

READING: Flannery O’Connor — THE COMPLETE STORIES
HEARING: Locrian — DRENCHED LANDS

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useful knowledge

WMLA on the point of writing effective query letters.

READING: Jonathan Lethem — THE WALL OF THE SKY, THE WALL OF THE EYE
HEARING: Eric Leonardson and Steve Barsotti — RAREBIT

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