Doing the Numbers

I went to the Litquake panel, “First Time Authors Reveal All,” last year, but it was worth going again. Five new authors, five different stories.

In the past, I would go to panels and conferences expecting to learn “the answer.” How to get an agent, how to get published…I approached this whole writing thing like I was making a loaf of bread and left frustrated when I didn’t get the recipe.

Finally, though, I’m getting it. Not the recipe, but that there isn’t one! Yeah, I know I’ve said this before but this time I get it AND I’m okay with it. I was actually relieved to hear the five authors tell widely different stories of how their first books made it out into the world.

What they all agreed on was the perseverance and persistence are crucial, even more important than talent according to one writer! I don’t totally agree but I do understand. I have some amazingly talented friends whose creative works will remain in a drawer because they don’t have the energy/confidence/motivation/discipline/etc. to take the next step.

I sympathize! Not too long ago I had one of those weeks of feeling totally overwhelmed and angry. This is bullshit! I thought. I’m a writer. I’m supposed to create a fictional world in my mind, translate that onto paper and then I’m done! I’m not an editor, marketer, PR person, social media coordinator, and on and on. This is nuts!

Once I pulled my head out of my ass and looked around, I realized anyone trying to start their own business is scrambling and trying to deal with these same issues. A chef loves to cook, but becoming a caterer means hiring and firing people, doing accounting, managing supplies, advertising, networking, and all the same web/social media stuff I’ve got to deal with. It would be lovely to hire someone to take care of everything, but when we are starting out, the budget for all this is zero.

For me the key is to take the time I need. Slow and steady. My novel is one thing, the business of selling it is another, and I’m taking the advice of experts seriously. I’m making a plan. I’m not following any one guru’s “how to” list, but rather picking elements from many that I believe I can do, and acknowledging that I might not do them well at first. Can I make a website? Yes. Will it be the best site ever? Probably not. Can I tweet? Sure. Will anyone follow me? No, but that’s okay. Can I blog? A bit. Will anyone read it? Nah. Right now the reason I have any views in my stats is because I check on it from the ipad downstairs. Can I network? Not really, but I’ll show up with a drink in my hand and see what happens. Can I make business cards and promo postcards? Technically, yes, I’m a graphic designer, but oh my god, you should hear writer me and designer me going at it. “That doesn’t look sci fi enough.” “I hate cliche sci fi imagery! Wadda ya want, a starfield?” “Well, kind of. I like space and planets and all that, and there are lots of references to stars in the book.” “Sorry, we aren’t going that route. Consider your audience. You want smart readers who read all kinds of different things. A black cover with a spaceship will totally turn those people off.” “I know, but a sunny daytime scene doesn’t feel menacing enough.” “There are drones everywhere! It’s the juxtaposition of the drones with the seemingly idyllic city.” “Fine. We can always redo it later.”

Next step: create a mailing list. I’m a little nervous because my first email will be my first “push” to the outside world. Recruiting friends to read was a bit pushy, but we’re a tight-knit group and we help each other out. I expect that I’ll get about a 30% “unsubscribe” rate…though it might be higher. Ah well! This is a business as well as a creative endeavor and I need to be a professional.

I am a professional, and I’m going to do this!


Argh…day four of Litquake and I’m feeling guilty. I haven’t written in days. I’ve got to get The Perfect Specimen in shape for e-publication and instead I’m listening to authors read from their novels! I don’t know how famous authors like Neil Gaiman get anything done. After today (I’m attending three Litquake events) I’ve got to get back to work.

Yesterday I heard Robin Sloan read from his book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The excerpt was great! I bought the audio book the moment I got home. (Audio books don’t count as procrastination because I can listen to them while I do other things.) I asked Robin if he narrated the audio book (he was a great reader) and he said the publisher advised him not to, as the work is time consuming, difficult and tiring. He did do a small bit though. There is an audio book within the audio book and he read that part. He said he was very satisfied with how it turned out and glad he didn’t have to read the whole thing.


After this I caught BART to the Makeout Room for “Barely Published Authors.” I was worried this might be hit or miss, something like an open mic night, but it turned out to be really well curated and all the material was great.

My hand’s down favorite? Trent Tano, reading from his first novel, Paris High NoonCowboys fighting Nazis in Paris? I want to read this now! I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo because this guy is all in…cowboy outfit, gun, ammunition, hobby horse. He really brought the story to life.

Makeout Room turned out to be a surprisingly good venue for a literary event. The space was festive and the sound, very good. Kalpana Mohan reads, below.


During intermission I was treated to a cautionary tale. A woman began chatting with a friend of hers who was sitting next to me at the bar. She wanted to join a critique group, but wasn’t ready to expose her work to strangers. The guy was really helpful, giving her lots of ideas, all of which she rejected. “Too many people,” “Too far from my house,” blah blah blah. The guy asked questions, trying to determine what she’d written and how far along she was. She monopolized what could barely be categorized as a conversation.

The punchline? SHE HASN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING!! She has an idea. Oh my god. This is where I reveal I’m not a very nurturing person: I wanted to grab her and tell her to shut up and stop wasting that nice guy’s time.

Then, chagrined, I realized that my next piece of writing should be a strongly-worded admonition to myself to NEVER do this to any of my friends again. Oh yeah, I’ve done it. All those hours up by myself in the attic, working in solitude. Give me a room full of people, a Jack and Coke and some poor soul is going to get an earful. I think it’s time to join a writer’s group!

The Future That Never Was

The San Francisco Litquake opening party? GREAT!

Thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and sponsors. It was a really well done event.

outsideZspaceWaiting in line outside Z Space right at 7pm. This event was sold out so I wanted to get in and get drinks and snacks before the crowd arrived.

lquakepartyZ Space is a gorgeous venue. Dramatic high ceilings and plenty of room for everyone. You can just make out the band, The Mark Growden Trio, in the background. They were really good.

ginI’m not one to gush about a sponsor, but the Hendrick’s gin people went above and beyond. First of all, I theoretically hate gin, but these cocktails were delicious! There was never a line at the bar, and the bartenders were super nice, especially considering there were no tip jars out.

booktable2The Hendrick’s gin “spokesmodel” helps straighten the Borderlands Books table. As far as spokesmodels go, these were quite classy, going for an old-timey vibe rather than the usual “I’m a sexy chick that wants to get drunk.” Plus, they wore tiny hats. I love tiny hats.

JCV_speaks2Author Jean-Christophe Valtat gives some facts about Jules Verne. Isn’t this a great room?

I chatted with M. Valtat later. I was amazed that he flew from France for this event! (His publisher paid). In addition to writing, he teaches. I’m really glad that my “day job” is graphic design. Teaching seems to work for many writers, but I find doing something visual and stepping away from text gives my writing brain time to recharge.

I bought Aurorarama, had it autographed and plan to start it as soon as I finish Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I need to stop going to author events so that I can catch up.

alanJeanTalkAlan Beatts, owner of Borderlands Books in San Francisco, in discussion with M. Valtat.

Unfortunately the sound system seemed to be optimized for the band, so it was close to impossible to understand what they were saying. Fortunately, this was recorded, so I’ll take a listen to the podcast later.

I met a couple of authors I’d seen speak at Litquake last year, and forced poor Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte of Porchlight to take a photo with me. I’m a big Porchlight fan and am looking forward to “Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer: Stories about doubt, drugs, and determination” on Monday night.

Overall, it was a perfect San Francisco night. I’ve gotta say, in the past few years San Francisco has started to get the buzz of energy I usually only feel in New York city and I’m really happy about this.