A few hours ago, the deadline for a 72-hour flash fiction contest arrived. (fictionwar.com) I actually submitted my piece for the contest last night. All contestants were given the same prompt, and had three days to write a story based on same of 1,000 words or less. Mine clocked in at about 800 words. I went with a science-fiction theme.
I had big plans this year to enter many contests this year. I wrote that goal down and everything. But this contest is actually only the second one I have entered this year. There is time, perhaps for one or two more, if some of my ready-made stories are good matches, but I will almost certainly fall quite short of my goal for 2016.
What happened? I don’t have an exact answer. In 2016 I met my several of my writing goals. I published my mystery novel both as an ebook and now in paperback. (The latter wasn’t even a concrete plan for this year, but I got it done.)
Though for most of the year my short story quota wasn’t looking likely, but in the last two months or so, I attained it after all. Might even publish some of those before year’s end.
Yet when it comes to contests, I haven’t made it. Part of it is being lazy, I guess. In some cases it’s the money. I’m not wild about paying to be in a contest. (Though I did pay 35 dollars to enter this recent one.)
I’ve been thinking that the bigger part is perfectionism. I’m not usually susceptible to it, to be honest. I insist on quality, I work hard to attain it and I am sometimes disappointed in the results of any given effort. Still, I don’t generally allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, as the old saying goes.
Except with contests. I never quite feel like what I’ve produced in way of short stories is “contest ready.” Even when I really like something I submit, I’m not as at ease with the final product as I am with say, the novels. The novels aren’t perfect; nobody writes perfect novels, but I am nonetheless satisfied with them by the time I make them available. It feels like less of an act of supplication when I work on a novel and at last offer it, than it does when I submit something directly for the approval of a board or resident writer, or whoever a judge of a contest is.
Same things happens when I submit to a publication for mere inclusion, but seeking to be declared a “winner” has an extra ounce of apprehension associated with it, and I’m not one to feel great about losing.
I know, I know. Contests are an excellent, proven way to get one’s name into the publishing world and so on. I’ll do more of them as time goes on, I don’t doubt it. I may even get over my perfectionism for them. But just as nothing else in my publishing history has been conventional so far, neither has my relationship with contests.
I spent much of last night reworking this website. To be more specific, I was reworking some of the “permanent” copy on the informational pages. The design, as you can see, is the same for the most part, though some of the content for several of the pages of the site (as opposed to the blog) has been consolidated, and there are now fewer information pages linked on the homepage. I’ve also renamed some of the remaining pages.
It may seem a bit boring to write a blog post on my site about tinkering with the site. It’s significant enough to mention, however, because this wasn’t just about updating some copy. This was about increasing authenticity.
When I first launched TyUnglebower.com about five years ago, it was with conventional wisdom regarding self-promotion in mind, and more than a few trends in same as well. My (always reluctant) dedication to such “universal” requirements as brand recognition and clear U.V.P. statements had faded somewhat from their zenith during my brief golden days as a member of Brazen Careerist (back when that site was actually brazen). Still, I was determined to make the commandments of modern salesmanship work for me when I launched this site, even if it meant saying and doing and representing certain things with which I was never 100% comfortable. That, in fact, was something I was told over and over again I had to accept…being uncomfortable.
I used similar tactics in the attempted selling of my first self-published collection of short stories, Thank You For Ten.
Well, the results for my book, as well as my position as a freelance writer were not what I had expected them to be. Truthfully, not half of what I expected they could be. No doubt, I have certain flaws and lack of resources that have over the years contributed to a lack of successful promotion of any given aspect of myself, or any given product, but having followed as many of the so-called rules of the road, and paying the price of feeling awkward and inadequate at times, I expected there to be much more return on my investment. (R.O.I. in marketing jargon.) It didn’t happen.
And continuing down the same road forever, it was never going to happen, and I knew that. I have known it for quite some time. Much longer ago came this realization than the actual work of changing the copy for this site. But the old messages and presentation held on…until last night.
Give the pages a look if you like. That’s what they are there for. But if you want the short description of most of these recent changes, here it is: it all feels more like me now. Not that I was ever lying before, but whatever I was presenting initially through the promotional and informational copy here on the site was a version of me that was too polished, too business-oriented, too used car salesman for who I am today. I can be any of those things at any given time, but to have all of those bells and whistles firing in your face as soon as you come to my online home just doesn’t cut it for me anymore, if it ever really did. Plus, I wasn’t selling my products or promoting myself any more effectively anyway.
So, all of that copy is now more frank. More down to earth. Less about marketing and more about introducing. It’s a greater share of the me you would see during a meet up for lunch, or during an interview. Closer to who I am by default than it used to be. Closer in attitude now to my blog posts.
I still am a writer for hire. I still want to network as best as someone like me can, and I still want people to buy my books, or book my one man show, or ask me to speak. Those goals are not dismissed. It’s just that now, TyUnglebower.com has more of the “everyday” me, and less of the guy-working-an-angle me.
Will it work? Will more people follow this website now? Will more of my followers start commenting on my posts? (Rare.) Will it increase book sales? Truthfully, in the short run, probably not.
But perhaps in the long run, a display that feels more like me, even if there are holes and oddities in the so called “brand presentation” is a lot more important. I know that some of the high-flying marketing experts with whom I briefly rubbed elbows years ago would shake their heads at this naivete. But then again, I don’t talk to any of them anymore, and am no longer a name in those circles, if ever I was one. There’s probably a reason for that. It’s not me.
So the worries about self-promotion, and the research into methods that are truer to who I am continue. Some of the stress about doing so will continue. Perhaps my obscurity will continue. But at least my page will sound like me, up or down.
If I can’t market that, I probably have no business trying to market anything else.
Translated into English, the will of Alfred Nobel, founder of the annual prizes that bear his name describes the literature prize as being:
“in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”
There is some debate as to what exactly “ideal” refers to, with some indications that it has been mistranslated. But no such controversy exists about the first words- In the field of literature.
Bob Dylan, popular as he may be, does not operate in the field of literature. Authors do. Perhaps straight poets, (that is to say, not lyricists) belong there as well. But the best written songs in human history would not, by their quality or even cultural impact indicate a transformation into literature, no more so than the life’s work of a great dancer translates into literature. If that were so, Mikhail Baryshnikov would be entitled to a Nobel Prize in literature. If you want to describe Gary Kasparov’s chess playing as poetry in motion, and couple that with his activism, you could give him one too, I suppose.
It’s true. Within the writing world itself, the definition of what qualifies as “literature” is somewhat fluid. It’s one of the bigger arguments within our field, in fact. But it is our field. That is, those of us who are authors and writers. Singer/Songwriters have their fields, and no matter how much we might insist that our words are, when read properly, music to the ears, we’re never going to be able to crash those gates. Why? Because music is not our field. Nor are we intending to compose music when we write our novels and short stories and such.
I won’t argue the quality of Dylan’s lyrics. Arguing the quality, the impact, the uniqueness of any art form is to me a fool’s errand. What moves me may move millions of others, or it may move only 20 other people on Earth. We can quantify sales, longevity, impact, influence, but in the end we cannot truly quantify quality. My own view on Dylan, or yours for that matter is irrelevant. This is about the encroachment of someone who is, (like it or not Dylan fans) a rock star that is just as commercial as any of the others into an aspect of the arts he has no business occupying. Maybe not by his own choice; he didn’t give himself the award. But so much of Dylan’s position, persona, alleged mysticism and quasi-prophet status has been achieved by his semi-passive riding upon the adulate waves of his fans; adding the Nobel Committee to that ilk only seems to cheapen the prize, not elevate the recipient.
Call Dylan’s lyrics brilliant, if you like. Call them perfect. Call them art, if they speak to you on a deep enough level. Exquisite art. Art on the scale of Da Vinci and Beethoven, even. It’s not literature, and giving him what has been considered for over a century to be the highest honor in literature smacks just a bit of populism to me.
This isn’t elitism on my part. In fact I have read very little material written by Nobel Laureates for Literature over the years. But as obscure as I am, I do feel a degree of solidarity with fellow authors of all stripes, and I get the feeling our toes have been stepped on here.
In the end, it’s nobody’s business but the Swedes, I guess. They have their platform and I have mine, such as it is.
Bob Dylan should not have the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I wanted to take this chance to let all of my readers and followers know that my latest novel, Murder. Theatre. Solitaire. is now available in paper form, here. (Sans my cool cover. My skills don’t extend that far just yet. But the cover template is actually very nice and matches the mood of the piece quite well.)
So if you are not part of the ebook crowd, do please order a printed copy.
They say ebooks are down over the last year or so, and that paper books are “making a comeback” as far as sales are concerned. This wasn’t the impetus for me venturing into paperback territory, though; I’d been thinking about taking this step with this book for a while now. Ideally the ebooks and the paperbacks would have the same cover, and perhaps one day I will learn how to do that so I can publish both e-copies and paper copies of each of my books each time. But seeing as how this time around I’ve written a mystery, I thought it would be nice to have available for Halloween in physical form.
I’m not as successful so far as some of you have been in both mediums. Indeed, I’m not as far along right now as I’d like to be for myself, either. But the beauty of indie publishing is that one can take one’s time, and get used to certain processes before deciding to proceed with same on a regular basis. Based on this experience, though I will probably remain mostly an e-publisher, I feel more and more comfortable with the paper side of things.
The ebooks will of course remain available. Whichever you buy, please leave a review of it on Amazon. This indie-author and blogger would deeply appreciate that.
Yes, that is the title of a mellow love song from the late 1970’s. It’s also indicative of my concerns about discussing upcoming works.
I’m in middle drafts for my next novel, and I have one or two trusted people reading it. I’ll probably publish spring of next year. Of course, I want you to read it. I want to tempt you with an overview of the story, so you’ll check it out. Then again, I don’t want to reveal so much of it that you no longer feel the need to read it. I have to strike that balance as an author and indie publisher between building interest and keeping the secrets of the novel safe.
Even if I determine a good balance for that, the when remains an issue. Talk about it too early, too often, and I’m likely to drive people away out of sheer exhaustion. Keep the plot basics to myself until a week before I launch, and I have no hope of creating anticipation.
So, there is a danger of sharing too much or too little, and doing so too late. Or too early. Or being to vague or detailed or…
Plus there is always the deep-seated fear that if one share’s too much about a novel still in progress, somebody will swipe the idea. It might be like being afraid of the harmless dark as a child, but it’s real fear nonetheless.
If you were hoping for an answer to the question that you also probably struggle with if you’re a writer, I’m sorry to disappoint; I don’t have the answer. Only a show of solidarity with those of you who have the same questions. Murder. Theatre. Solitaire as any mystery, has a built in tease of sorts; someone is murdered, read to find out who! If you like mysteries, you already know the draw of that novel and others like it without much difficulty. With Flowers of Dionysus I posted to this blog about the settings and characters leading up to the launch. It does not appear to have worked, based on the sales numbers of that one, despite my social media reach.
Trial and error, is it? Or is there something else to consider. I’d appreciate any thoughts on the matter. What do you think is the balance? When to start sharing specifics? How have you fellow authors gone about doing it?