By Spencer Dryden (Guest Blogger)
The day I received the acceptance letter from Breathless Press for my novella Bliss was one of my top ten days on the planet. Strangely, the day came sooner than I though and on a different work than I thought would be my breakthrough. There are some lessons there. On the other hand, there is no greater self deception than believing it was your magnificent plan and not dumb luck. There is some of both for sure.
For those of you who have not read my precious yammerings, I am new to writing fiction, but arguably an old guy for a first time author. I had just turned 64 when Bliss was accepted in early 2014. I have been writing for about two years. Before Bliss I had placed two short stories in anthologies, one with my host today, Lisabet Sarai, who remains one of the goddesses I worship. We've even been between the covers together. Of all the erotic places in the world we both chose to use North Platte, Nebraska (USA) as the setting for our stories that appeared in the charitable anthology, Coming Together: Through the Storm. I wonder if the people in that tiny prairie town know.
Writing for anthologies was one piece of early advice I followed. For the most part I ignored standard advice and I think it's one reason I got to a contract faster than expected.
In real life I am an avid DIY'er. (Do it Yourself) I am a field editor for a prestigious DIY magazine-the title sounds much more important than it is. The editors use a bunch of us for story ideas and product testing. I don't mean to brag, but rather to say that my skill level has been recognized by seriously handy people. I also came late to that party. I was 41 when I discovered I should have been a tradesman and not the repeat failure of a white collar guy I had been. I learned my skills, and continue to expand and refine them by 'doing'. In all defense to the DIY media blitz, you can't learn all that much by watching DIY TV or reading articles. You gotta do it. I say a handyman is someone who screwed up enough times that they finally figured out how to do it right. When a friend encouraged me to try writing fiction, I decided I would take the same approach—just do it.
The standard advice to new writers is to read, read, read; to become familiar with writing conventions like the Chicago Manual of Style, study the proper preparation for a submission and to never do this or that or whatever. I ignored all that and decided I would simply write a lot, become comfortable with my voice and style, then compare my work to the field at large, mostly by making submissions. In place of agonizing over the fine details of submission, I followed the instructions provided by the anthology editor or publishing house.
Bliss was one of three different works I was peddling. It is very different from the main body of my writing. In all honesty I hadn't done nearly as much research as I do now before submitting material to a publisher or an anthology. That's no doubt part of the luck thing I mentioned before. No question in my mind, some part of success for an unknown author is your stuff hits the right editor at the right moment. But as Wayne Gretsky (The Great One) says, the scoring percentage on pucks you don't shoot is zero. I shoot the puck. I've signed contracts for two more stories since Bliss was published in April of 2014.
Quick success isn't sustainable unless you are fifty shades of something. After the pure delight of seeing a book with my name on it, reality arrived in the form of "marketing". Marketing is about making things happen. I used to be in marketing. I never made enough things happen fast enough. My bosses decided there was more more opportunity for me elsewhere. I think they meant food service. I'm not going there in this post. However, it's one thing to break through with editors and publishers, it's another thing entirely to break through with readers.
These days author marketing is about building a "platform", which is nothing more than a coordinated presence on all manner of social media. I joined Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Goodreads, built a website, I've balked at my own blog but it is a necessity. From this platform you have to stage events, conduct contests, giveaways, cover reveals, take over of others' Facebook pages, cross pollinating from one site to another. There is even an emerging trend to build video promos for your book. You help yourself by helping other authors, reading and reviewing their releases, hosting them on your blog, retweeting their posts.
The marketing people at Breathless Press arranged for a dozen guest blog appearances-each requiring a different post and they sent copies to countless review sites. Because of the way the social media sites funnel your subscription information, all of your contacts are other writers trying desperately to do the same thing.
It's frankly a little off putting to see authors repeat posts ad infinitum on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. But we are all flapping our arms as fast as we can. It's a wonder that anyone succeeds in the marketplace. My wife bought a copy so I know I have sold one, but Charlie Rose hasn't called so I'm sure I haven't broken through yet.
It's hard to remember that real success takes time and consistent effort. When I was ten years old I fell in love with basketball and wanted to be a big star. By the time I was eighteen, a few people were beginning to say, 'you know that kid's got some talent after all'. I was always labeled as too short. (I am 5'9") By the time I was eighteen I had a 36" vertical leap, and could almost dunk a basketball. (Yes, some white boys CAN jump) I made all-conference as a senior, was captain, leading scorer and most valuable player for my high school. But it took the equivalent of half my life and rigorous training to reach that pinnacle. Why should publishing be any different? In is wonderful book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of time on task to achieve mastery.
I'm really just getting started. (Two words as authors we are advised to avoid, really and just). But really, I am just getting started.
Blurb - Bliss by Spencer Dryden
Some men are born great, others strive for greatness; still others have greatness thrust upon them. Spencer Dryden is none of these men. In fact, he is so unimpressive, he leaves no footprints on newly fallen snow. He was trained in fiction writing on the job with the many sales reports he produced for his managers, winning the coveted “keep your job contest” three years running. His expense reports are still considered masterpieces of forgery by the bankruptcy trustee of his former employer. He lives an unremarkable life in a suburb of a northern city. His friends and family would drop dead in horror if they knew of his secret life as a writer of erotica. He hates the family cat but still loves to pet his wife.
Visit Spencer's Fantasy Island.
Quick trips to adult fantasy. Leave your baggage behind!