The Great Marketing Debate

I can’t take a compliment.

My uncle pointed this out to me when I first told him I was accepted to Mercer University. He praised my intelligence and my decision to pursue a viable career, and I made some dodging comment about how it’s not that difficult (It wasn’t, btw. They didn’t require an essay for their application. STAYING in Mercer is usually the difficult part; For me it was scheduling the workload of three majors). He chastised me, and told me to “just take the compliment!” It actually frustrated him that I dodged it, most likely because he is rarely sincere, and at that time, my cousins and siblings were not pursuing such opportunities (that has changed since). Even if I worked hard on something, I have trouble accepting praise for it. I have a hard time allowing myself to shine, even if I’ve earned it. I brush it off, or share it, or accept it bashfully.

I also have trouble promoting myself. Referring back to college, Mercer was actually the only one I applied for. I am a bit complacent, but also paralyzed by fear when it comes to change and rejection.  I have a difficult time putting myself out there and pursuing opportunities, even when they are held out to me. My current job is a great example: I have the opportunity to hop into another department, one where I can actually use my education degree, get a permanent position, and possibly a pay bump. However, it is unfamiliar territory. And will I have as much time to write if I transfer? Probably. Despite the overwhelming positives, and reasons to scream YES!, the idea still causes me anxiety. (That being said, I must choose TODAY if I wish to pursue it, since that department manager just happens to be visiting, and I just happen to be dressed a bit nicer than usual.)

I read recently, in one of the posts from @TheUnNovelist (who is the cat’s meow, btw), that writers struggle with being natural introverts, because the nature of the career requires them to promote themselves. This is one of the many reasons we have agents and publishers. However, it is also one of the great struggles to get accepted by an agent and/or publisher. For this reason, writers are flocking in droves to self-publishing, for which the author is completely in charge of promoting themselves. Eek!

Despite the scenes I’d like to add to resolve the trope issue described in my previous post, my manuscript for My Name Is Not Heather Stokes: Colossus is finished. I started the query process earlier this week. However, I’m still considering self-publishing. There are two reasons for this:

1.) Control. I get to choose the cover of my book, chapter breaks, how the books are divided, etc. I won’t have anyone telling me that I need to change this name, or pull that scene, or even choose a different title for my book.

My poetry professor, Gordon Johnson, once told me that he had a poet friend who wrote a chapbook called American Minuet. The title was perfect, due to the way the poems played out – it was like a little dance. However, her publishing company said, “No, let’s call it We Can Just be Friends,” or some such nonsense.

Likewise, when J. R. R. Tolkien first submitted Lord of the Rings, it was a single book. The publishing company split it into a trilogy, but did not consult him on how to split it up. This is why it seems unintuitive where the books end and begin (Personally, I think the movies did much better).

When it comes to my work, I love hearing advice and constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive). However, I want creative control. If someone tells me something doesn’t work, I want to decide how to make it work (The Biscuit is a perfect example of this. I followed the editor’s advice, but not the ways she suggested. I wanted to keep it all my own, and I think she liked it. She approved it, at least.) I designed a cover, which my brother is going to illustrate for me. I want to be able to choose several of the things that a publisher would normally decide, or at least be the last voice in the decision process.

2.) Content. My sister-in-law made this comment recently: “If you want to sell your book, make it not about rape.” There is really no way to do this without the plot unraveling and the story becoming unrealistic. I could allude to it, which I do in several scenes, but that would be cowardly. In fact, a friend of mine had this to say about what he read:

You like to cliff-hang scenes with the suggestion that what happens next is something the reader can’t bear to look at.  Well, the whole story is something the reader can’t bear to look at — that’s its risk, its gamble on the reader’s sensibilities.  When the camera pans away, to use cinematic jargon, this risk is undercut, with the result that the whole preceding scene (or what implicitly follows) is romanticized.  Think of mainstream film’s romanticizing visual rhetoric: a steamy scene fades out or cuts away before it gets too graphic, camera shots depict some things and explicitly avoid others.  What you’ve got to bear in mind is that most of the sexuality in Heather Stokes is decidedly not romantic.
Letting the pornographic horse have its head — selectively — might achieve a few improvements.  First, getting really graphic can push romance out of the picture in scenes where even the suggestion of it really doesn’t need to be there.  And it can really up the ante on the “romance” playing out between Heather and Rhodes.  Finally — and this is the opportunity for things to get really twisted — it can take us into the heads of characters as they suffer violations.  The scene where Rhodes [spoiler omitted] is, for me, the most chilling in the story, for just this reason.  The scene plays all the way out, albeit not as graphically as it could, and I’m forced to look at it.
In short, if you’re going to go this far, you might as well go the whole hog, without flinching.

And he points out exactly why an agent or publisher would be reluctant to accept MNIN…the whole story is something the reader can’t bear to look at — that’s its risk, its gamble on the reader’s sensibilities. But that’s also exactly what many want to read, but cannot find – readers looking for graphic, violent, and visceral. (I’m not a horrible person in real life, I swear.)

“Well, what about Kiss the Girls?” I countered to my sister.

“Who wrote it?”

“James Patterson.”

“That’s why. He already had a name when he published it.”

She suggested that I put MNINHS aside and write something more socially acceptable (You know, without rape), and pursue publication of that – or those, as may be necessary. She used City of Bones as an example (which I haven’t read). Publishers told her there wasn’t a market for that material, so she made her name with something else first, then pitched City of Bones.

I have piles of unfinished materials and un-pursued plots that do not involve rape – some actually don’t involve murder! – that I could hash out if I put my mind to it. (God knows, I could finish The Afflicted, which I was hot and heavy about writing before I moved from Florida to Georgia. There is definitely a flooded market for zombie(-ish) and post-Apocalyptic literature.) But I feel like that would be like having another baby because your first child didn’t choose the career you wanted it to choose.

(Another perk to self-publication is that I have a coach in the process. My other brother – not the artist, Brett D. Bullard, self-published Ash Oakenheart and the Tree of Light. He has told me a great deal about the process.)
As I write, the decision between self-publication and continuing to query comes down to this: Am I willing to wait? Am I willing to be able to sit on MNINHS after the trilogy is finished, and work on other projects until either I build a platform or find an agent/publishing house fearless enough to publish it?

Or do I take the plunge? Hold my nose, thicken my skin, and learn to promote myself? The risk here is the matter of reviews. I’ve been told that you need to have about one hundred reviews before anyone will consider looking at your book (on sites like Amazon, Kindle, Nook). If my book assaults the senses of someone who didn’t know what they were getting into, what then? If someone reads the blurb and gives me a one-star review without even reading it, what then? I heard of a writer who self-published on Amazon, who had one- and two-star reviews before the book had even been released, because there is no moderation of reviews, and the reviewers were going off the blurb. (Despite the blurb, one should never review a book without reading it.)

Now, I must turn to my new mantra: What’s the worst that can happen? All I should really care about is making my book available for the niche market that wants to read it. I am far from making that decision, (I want, at least, to finish the second book) but saying this to myself over and over will make things easier when the time comes. Meanwhile, it won’t hurt to continue querying. You know, just in case…

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