On the Dreaded Topic of Self-Promotion

Firefly Avatar

I am in the process of taking a much needed mental break in the midst of lots and lots of editing. Having a fantastic time, really, but because I don’t have anything “big” that’ll be released until next year, I thought it was a good time to revisit my goals and topics related to my career. One of them is about marketing and promoting both myself and my work.

So here’s the part where I get all real and gritty with you. I hate telling you all the reasons why I’m awesome and why you should invest in any project I’ve been a part of, simply because “I” did it. I would much, much, much rather show you why you might be interested, than command you to buy my books. This, I feel, is an important distinction because it really comes down to a matter of trust for me. You are the reader, and you are the reason why I’m writing. (Doubly so if you’re a fan of a license I’m working on!) Thus, I feel it’s my job to pour every ounce of passion that I have, that excitement I don’t know how to shut off, into everything I do because I feel I need to earn your dollars and your support. I’m guessing this partly comes from the way I buy books. I’m not someone who has ever bought a book because it’s popular. I might get a book from the library, mind you, but when it comes to dollar signs I feel that every one of them is a vote. I feel that every time you star a book or review it or talk about it or recommend it — that’s another way to vote.

The lessons I learned this year, however, forced me to rethink this philosophy. (Or, I should say… This is what I’m currently going with.) I cannot ensure that every person who comments actually reads the entire contents of the books I work on, nor will I make every fan happy. I found that obsessing about the comments and reviews is a path to madness and procrastination. That way is shut. It was also not easy for me to realize that often, fandom isn’t related to the specific details of things like which character wore what and when. It’s about the emotional connection to the story, the characters, and who you/me were at the time. Sometimes, fans are reacting to an actor who was in the movie, or the angst toward what a director did, and that’s got nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of how a project is put together. Often, however, authors don’t have control over every step in the process for the production of a book, comic, or game. I do my part, and then I watch it fly away into the ether, until it becomes a real live book–and fans don’t necessarily care about logistics, because reminding people that the production of any show, book, game, etc. has business mechanisms in place robs those beautiful things of their glamour. This did break my heart a little bit, because I’ve always been a DIY’er to varying degrees. Yes, now I know that there are fans who may have loved something I did, but will never get around to connecting with me or writing reviews. Now I do!

I would love/kill/sacrifice my mac-and-cheese addiction for the illusion of control over what happens after a book is released. The brutal honest truth is that I have none. Yes, marketing can help boost visibility and get people interested in a book. Certainly, self-promotion can benefit this, too. That? That I can control. How then, do I talk about me being “me” without wandering around dazed and confused even though there are no mind-altering substances in my system? Or, to put it another way, how do I talk about me being “me”, other than what I’ve already been doing to encourage you to check out my work?

Oh, I’ve heard the mantras. Fortune favors the bold. Fake it until you become it. I’m going to let you in on a not-so-big secret. I suck at being fake, and I have my own way of doing things. You took the stickers off your Rubik’s Cube? I had a screwdriver, took it apart, and reassembled it. The need for me to “pretend” has gone the way of the stegosaurus, unless I am specifically tying an appearance to a performance on stage or at a con. It is boring, uninteresting, and a waste of my time (and yours) to pretend to be one person in this one instance and another somewhere else. I can be polite and professional, but the vast majority of the time? I’m just me with all my quirks and oddities.

Okay, applying this to Firefly… I am scared to death of being funny when talking about The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse. My normal state is sarcastic, mind you, and this setting is a breeze to write for because of that. Why, if someone were to invite me to write for the comic, I’d… Yeah, okay. Not going there. Anyway! Sometimes My Big Fat MouthTM likes to crack a joke before my brain has the opportunity to catch up. I’m not even kidding. Offensive? Um… There’s been a few instances where I may have potentially said the wrong thing at the worst possible time…

You get the picture.

Here, though, I feel that being funny about the language used in the show is both inappropriate and disrespectful to Joss Whedon and his team, Fox, and my publisher. My role as a language analyst is after the completion of the work, and I felt that this meant I had a responsibility to look as deep as I could into the subject matter. I feel that if I’m being a smart ass, I’m sending a message to you that I didn’t take this project seriously — and I can assure you that is most definitely not the case. It’s the exact opposite, in fact, and I can guarantee that my editor feels the same way about her contribution. This, too, is me being me. It’s just a serious flavor of what I have to offer you as a writer. Even though I am thrilled to be a part of this setting again, I don’t want to F-bomb it up. I love Firefly. Always have. I am proud to be a part of the ‘Verse, and it is my wish that you’ll take a chance on this book when it was released because of that, too.

I better end this post today before I wax even more philosophical. I really don’t know if I’ll ever figure out this self-promotion thing, and I have no clue how to even go about asking you to help me boost the signal. I’ve been doing that, it just hasn’t been consistent and pushy, ’cause that’s annoying. Still, I often feel like my time is better spent writing All The ThingsTM than talking about writing them, but I know that’s not always a good approach. I guess only time will tell.

    Mood: I’m having a bad hair day. Ergo, crabby.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Yeah, well ixnay on the okecay erozay?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH
    In My Ears: That would be Pandora, of the Nightmare Before Christmas variety.
    Game Last Played: Diablo III
    Book Last Read: SON OF A… I forgot the title. Again.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
    Latest Artistic Project: Can’t think. Editing.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

Recommend Me Books For A Change

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

It’s no secret that I feel, in order to be well-rounded both as a human being and as a writer, one must read books (and a lot of them). I get a sense and deeper appreciation of culture when I read works set in locations only seen on. . .well, it used to be Encyclopedia Britannica or National Geographic. I suppose it’s now Google Maps?

Anyhoo. My feeling is that there’s always one book that you feel defined “X” for you. For example, it’s no secret I feel American Gods defined urban fantasy. Published in 2001, I feel it was a landmark novel and extraordinarily influential on the genre. For other examples, I feel that Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice set the stage for paranormal romance and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster offered an exemplary take on tie-in fiction in a way that influenced other books in the Star Wars extended universe for years to come. Another one comes to mind, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series was a powerful one and I feel a shining example of historical romance and time travel. Humor? Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, sure, but even before that, anything written by Erma Bombeck.

For modern horror with supernatural elements, there’s a scale of books that begins with the unabridged version of Stephen King’s The Stand, followed by the co-authored Peter Straub/Stephen King The Talisman, and winds up ever-so-neatly with The Great And Secret Show series by Clive Barker. (What’s he up to, now-a-days. Anyone know? And yes, I realize that the trilogy I just mentioned is billed as “fantasy,” but to me, it’ll always be dark fantasy teetering on the fringes of horror.)

For fantasy? Oh, there’s also a scale given how well-read I am in that genre, too. Where to begin? The Death Gate Cycle series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, The Dragonbone Chair series by Tad Williams, and pretty much anything by Tad, because he writes about characters that are more diverse than the traditional Anglo-Saxon Protestant living in a world where magic exists. (Sorry, folks. . .that’s a button for me. I like diversity in my fiction, especially in fantasy, because my world is diverse. Though, there is a lot to be gleaned from stories where the characters are homogeneous, too.) My list, which goes into never-never land, goes on and on and on.

Because of how I read (and when) no doubt my take on the cultural zeitgeist is a personal one — but there are gaping holes in my library at the moment, reading I lack either because I have no idea where to begin, I’ve forgotten what I had read, or because I fallen out of reading experimentation due to laziness and default to whatever’s lurking about on my shelves. Mind you, my walls are quite literally bleeding books, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And reading experimentation, my friends, is what this post is all about.

Today, I am asking for your recommendations on a single tome, a work of fiction, that YOU feel is the best indicative of one of the following categories, cultures, professions, genres, etc. It does not have to be a best-seller or a modern work, mind you. It just has to mean something profound to you and available via Ye Olde Library. Now that I think about it, try to limit works published since the 1950s, unless I noted the word “literature.”

* Feminism
* Modern Romance
* Gay/Bi-sexual/Lesbian
* Transhumanism
* Post-Apocalyptic
* Werewolves
* Fairies
* Arthurian legend
* Modern conspiracy
* Ghosts
* Middle-Eastern literature (Please, not Arabian Nights.)
* Italian science fiction or fantasy (can be written in Italian)
* Norse mythology
* Mexican literature
* Steampunk
* Virtual reality
* Hard (no floofy hand-waving, please) science fiction
* Speculative (e.g. something that has its own category and doesn’t fit anyplace else)
* Pick a culture, any culture I haven’t mentioned here, and recommend a work I absolutely have to read. For example, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one I highly recommend.

Please comment below and share your recommendations!

    Mood: *laughs maniacally*
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I think there’s something in my coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO. (Or not.)
    In My Ears: Other voices.
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

What’s in a Licensed Setting? Covering the Details When Writing a Book

Wrapped up my novella work last week for the licensed setting based on the game Aletheia. In this world, there were characters with psychic powers, mysterious villains, and a highly detailed setting–a sprawling, remodeled Victorian mansion called Hepta Sophistai in the town of Seven Dogs, Alaska. Inside the house, there were portals within the house that opened up to other parts of the world in unique environments, a long list of signature characters, a solid history of events as well as a general sense of what the possible future might be.

What I just described is not uncommon to any licensed setting. Ensuring that your story’s details match what’s in the setting can be exhausting, painstaking, almost data-driven work that can suck the creativity right out of you. My particular style of writing is more of a weave where I often take small details and mention them throughout the story, to provide a more subtle backdrop. It is extremely easy to fall into the trap where you spend more time describing the setting than providing an actual story because as a writer, you have two goals. One goal is to ensure that you are appropriately translating someone’s intellectual property (IP) and the other is to tell a story.

I resolved the technical details of the setting I was writing for by focusing on plot first. What story did I want to write? What kind of characters would I want to develop? From there, I first mapped the character details, to make sure they fit the setting, and then focused on the world-“deconstructing.” In my case, this was especially useful because I chose to write in the first person so that their voice reflected the world around them.

As a side note, I should mention that first person gives you a bit more flexibility when you’re working with a licensed setting because, as a character, the point-of-view (POV) by default is through one person’s eyes. One character’s POV is limited because of what they see so the emphasis is more on “thoughts” or “feelings” of that character. On the flip side, a reader’s expectations of a third person narrator may require more setting details because of the narrator’s omniscience.

I feel that many of my setting limitations were self-imposed, even though this is not a common or mainstream property, because of the way that I view IP. Within any licensed setting, there may be any number of signature or iconic elements that readers and fans glom on to; with the amount of dedicated fans out there, I feel that even if one IP isn’t as popular as another, there still may be that one fan out there who doesn’t want it screwed up. (Or the publisher for that matter).

Take, for example, the difference between Superman and one of the movies I really like–Pitch Black. Superman, by himself, is an iconic character who has other, signature characters around him with a few, key setting locations. Riddick, by contrast, is also an iconic character who initially has signature characters surrounding him in a key setting. Now, remove a few signature characters through death and the key setting by escape; you’re left with Riddick as the primary component of the setting. In the second movie, the setting around Riddick is completely removed from Pitch Black, and takes on fantastical elements. Is this still a Pitch Black movie? In my opinion, it’s not–it’s a Riddick movie.

If you were to write a story about Superman, you’d have a lot of flexibility within the boundaries of the IP to make your story ring true like the big man in blue. Writing a story about Riddick, on the other hand, may not be that easy because the elements that surround this dark hero (of sorts) need to somehow tie back into Riddick in a believable way that isn’t formulaic. An interesting challenge, in my opinion, in a setting that I feel hasn’t been explored all that much. Sometimes, just because you have more creative flexibility doesn’t necessarily make a project less difficult.

Of course, you aren’t the only person responsible for how well your story matches a licensed setting. There are layers of editors and other folk who do a lot of work to ensure that a story fits. In my experience, it’s part of being a professional to try to fit within the confines of what you’ve been assigned to regardless of what you’re doing. The easier you are to work with, the more work you’ll get.

By prioritizing your project into a plot-character-setting format, you will be able to save yourself some headaches in the long run and provide an entertaining story for the reader. It may sound cliche, but it more cases than I can count, story should come first.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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