Robert Brockway writes regularly for Cracked, penning hilarious lists and indictments of culture (pop and otherwise), which means you’re probably already familiar with his work even if you didn’t know it. Brockaway penned a guest post about what it took to drop-kick his new DIY novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, through time and space and into your face.
The first thing you should know is that I am an author with a new book out, and you should not trust me. Everything an author with a new book says to you should be regarded with the same wary eye you might cast on an unsolicited email extolling the virtues of “PENIS DEMOLISH YOUR FOE!1!!.” Yes, the content may indeed be helpful to you — it may well contain information on how to destroy other human beings with an unyielding and merciless dong — but it also contains a sinister agenda. That link to wangholocaust.cz will certainly infect you with malware in the interest of making a cheap buck, just like every word you read from an author exists to infect you with the desire to check out their awesome new novel. It’s insidious, underhanded, impure, and if you want to write for a living, it’s going to be you.
You’re going to develop Marketing Tourette’s. Apropos of nothing, you’ll find yourself spewing:
“Hey, have I told you about my new novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity? It’s about a dystopian skyscraper-city where the chief form of entertainment is a custom hallucinogen that simulates time travel and-“
Oof. Shut up.
In the abstract, writing is all about character, structure, metaphor and meaning. In reality, that’s the easy part. It’s easy because you want to do it: You want to tell your story, you want your characters to be compelling, and you want your story to impart both entertainment and meaning. And so the work, no matter how technically difficult and exhausting, comes easy. What does not come easy is finishing that book and finding out that you have to whore yourself out every single day for a paltry dozen sales.
“-the protagonist, Red, is a mixer: He assembles high-end custom drug cocktails for discerning customers, and tests new corporate prototypes on the side. After beta testing a mysterious new strain, he finds himself slipping away to-“
If I sound bitter, I promise that’s not the case. It’s worth it, of course. If you’re lucky and persistent, you may get to write for a living, and reporting to Imagination Land without pants every morning sure beats dragging yourself into a sickly fluorescent office while being strangled by a necktie. But I’m fairly new to the publishing game, and the biggest jolt for me wasn’t how hard it was to write a book – I was mentally prepared for that – it was the realization that all those gross marketing and promotion duties fell squarely on the shoulders of the author.
“-with his disturbing and increasingly real hallucinations literally tearing him apart, Red must find the truth about this new drug, a truth that could topple the entire cit-“
GOD DAMN IT.
My first book was released via traditional publishing. They put forth a good initial marketing effort: Got me a few guest blogs, some tie-ins on a little sci-fi site, a handful of guest spots on small town morning radio shows. And all of that lasted…about a week. I have not heard a word from them since. It’s not that my publisher was bad. I spoke with other authors and that seems to be an industry standard effort – maybe even a little above. It’s just the unspoken rule that, beyond a small initial effort, all promotion (and therefore the ultimate success or failure of your book), is up to the author. I didn’t even know I had to build my own book’s website until a week before launch. I thought somebody would do that for me.
I had no idea how to build a website.
I did not know that particular skillset was part of being a writer in the modern world. I did not know I’d be staying up late looking up book bloggers and emailing them at random, trying to get reviews, pull quotes, or cross promotions. I did not know I’d be soliciting guest posts and trading feedback and researching distributor pricing schemes. And that was with a publisher. For my latest book, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, a mad, relentless charge through a post-cyberpunk nightm-
For my latest book, I decided to explore self-publishing. If I was going to do it all myself anyway, I might as well have complete control, right? This time I did it right. I exploited every avenue. I released Rx as an inexpensive serial novel to build momentum, and incorporated reader feedback into the final product. I held a Kickstarter to provide pre-order awards. I scoured review sites; I networked; I made contacts. I could have written an entire other book in the time I’ve spent promoting this one, and I’ve only just this month released the final version.
I don’t say this to dissuade you, or to complain about how difficult it is being an author. I worked at a gas station; I worked breaking down rundown buildings with a hammer; I even worked in customer service. I know how rough a real job can be, and I’d take writing any day.
I only say this in case you’re like I was: My conception of the modern author was somebody holed up in a romantically derelict office, banging away at a typewriter (never used a typewriter in my life, but it’s so much more authentic looking in my imagination) until they collapsed from exhaustion. And then, when it was done, they trudged to the open window and let their beautiful newborn book flutter away into publishing ether. When in reality, being a modern author is more like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. When it’s all done, you pick your beloved novel up in your arms, wade out into the angry, uncaring crowd, and kick down everything in your way until you reach the relative calm and safety of success.
Or else you get distracted, and the apathy of the oversaturated market tears that novel out of your grasp. In which case you walk back to the beginning, spend a few years pouring your heart into another book, lace up your kickin’ boots, and try to hold on a little tighter this time.