Takin’ Care of Business

I enjoy writing fiction. Or writing almost anything, really, but when it’s going well, fiction is a special kind of fun. Sometimes a plot gets tangled up and I get discouraged, but sooner or later I always seem to get back to it. At the moment I have four large projects that are more or less on the front burner, and another that’s waiting in the wings. I’d like to finish them all so I can turn the page of my life and find out what happens next.

Also, I’m 71 years old. Hell of a thing, old age. I don’t know how much longer I have. Could be six days, six months, six years, or sixteen years. What’s worse, I could live for years but be laid low mentally by some dreadful malady, and not be able to write.

As I finish these projects, I’d like to make them available to readers. This is not terribly difficult in a technical sense. I can afford to hire good cover art for the books. I know how to do book interior layout in InDesign. Uploading to Amazon is a doddle.

The tricky part is letting potential readers know that the books exist, and that there might be something between the covers that they would enjoy reading.

It’s possible to do this sort of thing: It’s called marketing. The Internet is well supplied — nay, all but overflowing — with websites that instruct authors on how to do their own marketing in the 21st century. The trouble is, I’m constitutionally averse to marketing. It’s not just that I dislike the activity. If I believed in the soul (I don’t), I would say that marketing actually hurts my soul.

Just to be clear, I don’t despise people who enjoy marketing. I don’t understand them, but I may even admire them in a dim and perplexed way. If marketing comes naturally to you, or if you have the gumption to overcome your reluctance and get good at it, I’m sure it can be a marvelous, life-fulfilling thing for you. But at the risk of paraphrasing Sonny & Cher, it ain’t me, babe.

I need a serious website upgrade; musicwords.net is hand-coded, not mobile-friendly, not fully cross-browser compatible, and not attractive. The cost would be perhaps $4,000. But spending the money would be absolutely pointless if that’s all I do. A website is just a bunch of html files gathering cruft on a server somewhere. In order to drive traffic to the site, you need to do a lot of synergistic marketing-type stuff. You know, twitter and email lists and instagram and blog tours and soliciting reviews, and this year we can’t talk about conventions or bookstore appearances, but next year all that will probably be going like wildfire again.

It’s not that I couldn’t learn to do this stuff. The problem is, it hurts my soul and it takes away from whatever time I have left to actually write. Tonight I was looking around at author websites, trying to imagine what I want my site to look like, and after half an hour I hated everything I saw, but especially the enthusiasm with which these writers promote their work.

I mean, even the author photos! These young, attractive people with professional hair styles and great careers ahead of them! I’m neither young nor attractive, and there’s no help for it. I do have a professional portrait photo on my website, and I purely hate it. It’s so slick it makes me want to barf. It’s not me. On the other hand, those videos of me reading portions of my epic, on this blog a couple of months ago — that’s me, all right, but it’s not an improvement on the slick photo.

This is just one factor in the marketing equation; but if nothing else, it will serve as an illustration of the emotional logjam.

My attitude has always been, my job is writing. It’s what I’m good at. Marketing is somebody else’s job. For 25 years, while I was working at Keyboard, that was how it was. I was a writer and editor. The marketing department was somewhere down the hall. They did their thing, I did my thing, and all was well. Every month, 20,000 people or more would read what I wrote. You could say I got spoiled.

It’s not that I think I’m an on-fire prose stylist whose scintillating books should be on everybody’s to-be-read list. I’m not John Updike. I’m just a competent professional wordsmith, and I’m fine with it. Occasionally I even whip out a good sentence. Nor does my fiction invariably crackle with reader-electrifying tension. I know how to do plot and conflict, I can generally manage to avoid digressions, but I’m not obsessive about packing in so much action that the pages will turn themselves.

No, I just want to write because I enjoy doing it. And I’m pleased enough with my stories to think that a few other people might enjoy reading them.

So here’s the deal: I need a manager. If you’d like the job, let me know. If you know somebody who might like the job, mention it to them. The deal is, I will pay my manager 100% of the income from all of my fiction work, for some period of time to be mutually agreed upon. There are things I can do to assist the marketing effort (writing website copy, for instance, and paying for the site development) and things I can’t do (such as soliciting reviews and running an email list). The details are negotiable.

I have a four-volume fantasy epic, which I released in 2018. I have a reprint of The Wall at the Edge of the World, which was published by Ace in 1993 and has been out of print for 25 years. All it needs is one more proof-read and I can upload it. I have a murder mystery set in ancient Rome that’s complete and ready to be shopped to agents. I have a story collection that still needs some retyping, an interior layout, and a cover. I’ve started working on a floor-to-ceiling rewrite of Walk the Moons Road, which is going to be amazing but won’t be ready for maybe six months. I have a half-completed third draft of a fantasy YA murder mystery that needs some attention.

Literary property, in other words. What I don’t have is the person down the hall in the marketing department who is taking care of business while I write.

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