Before Meets Girl.
I wanted to talk a bit more about the project before the launch, though. Because, honestly, I’m basically doing it completely backwards at this point. Ask any of the so-called or self-proclaimed writing gurus or marketing Internexperts or anyone else on Facebook and Twitter . . .
Look. Am I the only one completely exhausted by all the writers nobody’s ever heard of expounding their advice on how best to reach wider audiences? I can’t be, can I?
The situation is daunting at best. In terms of social media and networking, at least, never before have so many people said so little so loudly. The signal-to-noise ratio is crazily lopsided to the latter. There’s so much advice out there and so little of it actually sound. Anyone would tell you, if you want to become a successful author, you need a platform. You need a steady readership, which you gain from getting on Twitter and Facebook and updating your website and creating a fanpage and all those sorts of things.
In an ideal situation, of course, the implication is that all those things come after producing a solid novel, but I’m not sure how many people infer that fact, nor even that it’s true. In many cases, platform is the primary gauge of saleability. Indeed, corporate publishing is less a vehicle for writers and authors than for people with platforms who wrote books. There’s a huge distinction there.
According to most advice, I should have posted endlessly about how to write. How to structure. I should have reviewed more books so I could be a book blogger, and I should have posted links to other writers’ blogs. I should have done it daily, or nearly so, or even more frequently, an endless push of writers talking about writing and bloggers talking about blogging and let’s not forget about marketing and buzz and et cetera (and let’s be frank and call it ad nauseum).
Obviously, I didn’t.
Because honestly, I read too many articles on how to write better novels by too many writers who haven’t actually done so. I read too much advice on marketing from people who wouldn’t know a systems archetype from systems architecture or a press release from an invitation.
And frankly, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to read advice from people not actually in a position to offer it. Bill Goldman–famous screenwriter of Marathon Man and The Princess Bride wrote a memoir called Adventures in the Screen Trade, but he is also famous for noting that nobody knows anything, and now the Internet seems to mean that everybody who doesn’t know anything gets to share all that nothing with everybody else.
To be candid, I’ve been quieter for so long than I had been before because I didn’t want to be that guy. I managed a successful blog once upon a time when MySpace was actually the place to be, before Twitter and Facebook took off like they have. I wrote frequently. Sometimes every day. I had thousands of subscribers, and when I published a book–a short story collection, no less–it sold thousands of copies and even more people downloaded it. I’ve since lost track, because Lulu no longer tracks it, given that it was free for so long, but at some point I realized I wanted that collection to do what my old blog had.
The problem with a blog is its nature requiring constant stimulation, constant updating. Always on, always new, always fresh. It’s like Lady Gaga and her Fame Monster, paparazzi following celebrities hither and yon; no amount of attention is ever enough. No amount of hits is sufficient, no pinnacle of blog traffic sufficient. Nowadays a blog to book deal has to go on to sitcom. Maybe syndication.
I realized, not long ago, I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t build a platform without, to my mind, legitimately demonstrating I know what I’m doing. I couldn’t aim at the stars without first demonstrating I could build a decent starship.
My collection was close, but it was always more experimental than demonstration. I’ve always been a scientist by heart, and maybe I needed a better data set than a MySpace blog could provide.
I’d say the Internet is different now, but that neglects that everything is different now. Three years later, I’m not teaching at USC anymore; I’m a personal trainer in Manhattan. The president is different. The economy is different. Publishing is different.
What’s not different is what matters. I’m a writer. The words aren’t different, and they never will be. I held off offering advice and counsel for so long because I thought, at that time, I hadn’t yet demonstrated how well I can write (given that so many people seemed to like my collection, that’s saying something). Stories aren’t different. I’ve been reading Aristotle’s Poetics, and last year I taught Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone alongside The Great Gatsby, and I can legitimately tell you that in several thousand years, as much as the world and time and life and civilization have changed, what makes a good story has not.
Good stories are simple. Good stories are true, no matter how many of the details are made up. Good stories matter, and indeed, in our crazy world of bail-outs and bipartisanship, our scary world of climate change and corruption, may well be what matter most. Good stories remind us who we are and what we can do.
I don’t often make promises. Promises scare me, because they make me worry I can’t keep them. They’re made to be broken, after all, and so I won’t promise you I know how to market your novel. I can’t promise you I know how to choose the best literary agent or how best to publish your book. I won’t promise you I have all the answers, nor even that the questions I ask are the right ones.
But I will promise you one thing, right now, and that’s that, come Monday, I’m going to tell you a story the best way I know how. I promise you that story will mean something to you, and I promise you, no matter what you expect, it will both satisfy you and surprise you.
You have my word right now, and beginning Monday, you’re going to have all of them.