Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fame and Fortune

Much in Common
As writers we would like to have two things: recognition for our work and to get paid for it. Often these are at cross purposes and like artists, sometimes you have to be dead a long time before the dollars equal the recognition. As an extreme example consider Shakespeare. My guess he would love to have 0.05% of the gross from all the movies made from his plays. Even those movies that claim he didn’t write any plays, was a plagiarist, and some even say he didn’t even live. Yes, but we do know his name!

For my money, I’ll go with recognition. Ah, to be known far and wide as the creator of Hercule Poirot, Jack Ryan, Sam Spade, and even Dr. Hannibal Lecter (and in the wings, Sharon O’Mara). Characters and recognition, if well-conceived, will equal sales. But what comes first: the story or the character? Did Jack Ryan, savior of the known world, leap, fully armed from a supply room at the CIA, or did he evolve into the President of the United States? Under Clancy's pen he evolved, and yes, there has been a continuous improvement of his GS rating since page one of The Hunt for Red October. Was Dr. Lecter just looking for a dinner partner, or did Thomas Harris have bigger things in mind for the masked avenger? I’ll go with story, then character. I believe that the story will push and drag a character into and through its pages. The author then has the opportunity to flesh them out, arm them (in some cases literally), and make the role fit the story. But be careful, sometimes the character can be to strong and will try to take over the story and drive it.

But the character I’m most interested in is the author. How can they build a story around themselves and their craft that becomes as interesting as the “Fava” king or the “Stuff dreams are made of!” detective? As authors we are looking for the Holy Grail (an agent with all the unlisted numbers at Scribner’s and Random House). We have to bide our time with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and lord knows how many other disconnected medias to get reader facetime. There is no road map out there, no matter how many bloggers write, "This is the way to go." There is no right way or, for that matter, no wrong way either. I have been, for three years, trying to discover or build a business model that can achieve fame and fortune in this new world. So far, it’s just not happening. The model is as elusive as those damn phone numbers.

But there is a glimmer on the horizon, the newish phenomenon of the on-line book review and interview. Sometimes for a fee (they have to eat too), and sometimes not, these reviewers have set up both Skype and phone interviews that are live and take the time and energy to really get into the writer’s head (as messy as that is). They allow the author to talk about what they do the best, their craft. This is one area that I’m going to concentrate on over the next year, we will see what happens, and will keep you posted on the results.

Other face-time opportunities are book clubs (again some of these are going viral and are on the Internet). The discussion, one-on-one, with a group that has read your books, is both challenging and enlightening. This is another action point on the marketing board this year.
Lastly, recognition can come from the strangest sources. Last week, Smashwords and Mark Coker (its founder), announced a marketing program celebrating Ebooks. Smashwords is the largest distributor of ebooks in the world (my guess). Their simple on-line program allows for any Word document to be converted into all the formats that the ebook industry uses (Nook, Kindle, PDF, IBook, Kobo, etc.) and then they distribute those ebooks to all the major players. They handle the billing as well, all for a small piece. This marketing event allows the author to list their books in this program for one week. The price of the book is “Free.” I know this is counter to my statement in the first paragraph but the idea is to create a hopeful buzz and gain recognition. Since last Saturday all the O’Mara Chronicles have been free and will be until this Saturday. I’ve had over one hundred downloads since then (Go Here). Ah, I see fame and fortune on the horizon!

More Later . . . .

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