Booklife Excerpt for a Busy Wednesday

I’m busy on a dozen things this week–Last Drink Bird Head, Booklife ARCs, Shared Worlds business, fall book tour schedule, a book review for B&N, an antho proposal, and a book proposal–so bloggin’ will be light. But I thought I’d give you another Booklife excerpt today. I just got the PDF of John Coulthart’s layout, and this will be one writing book that doesn’t just have a functional and useful interior but also a beautiful one.

Oh, and advance blurbage is beginning to come in, like this one from Minister Faust: “Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife is a frank, revealing, riveting manual by a writer for writers, not simply on how to be a better wordsmith, but on how to be a better human being. I’ll be recommending it to all my writing students. I don’t know how to praise a book more sincerely than that.”

Creating a PR Plan

How you combine [redacted as proprietary by Evil Monkey] to create leverage will be unique to your book, your personal commitment, your publisher’s commitment, and the competition for attention in your area of emphasis, among other factors. Many writers choose to think tactically and use tools for leverage or use opportunities for leverage, but they don’t create a strategic plan. Sometimes, this is because they are working in concert with their publicist, who creates the strategic plan. Other times, it’s because the writer doesn’t have the time to do more than be proactive in one area and reactive in most others.

What does this mean in real-world terms? Here are two scenarios based on real-world anecdotes.

Writer A has an event that draws one hundred people to a library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The writer did a lot of the legwork and made sure that the people he knew who lived in the area got information about the event. The library itself handled getting a listing in the local papers and online guides. The writer sells thirty-five books at the event, blogs about her experience, and travels to the next gig.

Writer B has an event that draws twenty people to a bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina. She didn’t do much legwork and relied on the fact the reading was part of a series that attracts a regular crowd. The bookstore managed to get not just a listing but a sidebar with her photograph in the local paper. She sells five copies, signs stock for the bookstore, manager, blogs about her experience, and travels to the next gig.

Which writer had the more valuable gig in terms of her career, Writer A or Writer B? On the face of it, Writer A had the more successful event. She sold more books. But the truth is more complex. For example, it would depend on knowing the details of the individual plans each writer had created for their book. Five books sold with a small feature in the local newspaper might mean more in terms of Writer A’s plan than thirty-five books and no feature might mean in terms of Writer B’s plan. Writer B’s blog audience might be much larger than Writer A’s blog audience. Writer B’s plan might have included inviting a writer from some national media outlet — and if that one person came, a gig that netted five copies sold might in time turn out to be much more valuable. Maybe Writer B also managed to get attention from a major news site because her plan specifically stated that she wouldn’t do readings from her book but instead a unique presentation based on its subject matter that then would be videotaped and posted on YouTube.

I’ve raised a lot of hypotheticals in defense of Writer B only selling five books, but what I’m trying to do is make clear the value of planning in not only having a clear vision for your efforts but also a way of measuring your success.

Doing only what you can because of other commitments or because you don’t want to do more are legitimate reasons for sticking to a largely tactical battle plan. You should not feel pressure to put yourself in situations that will result in failure.

However, if you decide to coordinate your efforts and look at them holistically, you should create actual planning documents.

…and then I go on to talk about the ideal high-level and detailed plans, etc., etc…

12 comments on “Booklife Excerpt for a Busy Wednesday

  1. Doreen says:

    With this and the earlier post, you have already sold me this book. Although I’m not a writer, I’ve always been interested in writers, writing, the writing process, and all of how writers do what they do. To clinch it, the excerpts contain much of value and interest to any self-employed creative person. I’m looking forward to its release.

  2. Felix Gilman says:

    Imagine a hypothetical Writer C, whose overall strategic plan is trying not to think about publicity stuff because it’s too stressful oh god oh no. Writer C organizes an event consisting of sitting at home in a dark room freaking out. It draws no people and results in no sales; on the other hand it involves very little legwork, unless and until Writer C runs out of cigarettes.

    My question is: oh god oh no arrggghhh

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    RAOTFL. Actually, that scenario is also covered in Booklife.

  4. Doreen says:

    Oh, good to hear that Scenario C is covered because that would be me, only I don’t smoke so no legwork at all. Or, I might well have the event, but in my living room, with dolls and stuffed animals, never mind my age. I’m still nearly as shy as I was when I really had dolls & stuff animals. Could always borrow some from my grandchildren.

  5. Larry says:

    What if there were a hypothetical Writer D, who has set out to create a new religion and has created a bunch of “holy texts” and seeks to market them to a wider audience. Would it better if he went around on various street corners waving his book and shouting while dressed like a cross between Moses and Vegas Elvis, or should he be aiming to get his product talked about on The View? How should a borderline psychopath with god-like delusions best market his work?

    If this too is covered in Booklife, I will begin to wonder if you’re about to open up a tertiary career as a psychic medium for primates and felines…

  6. Felix Gilman says:

    Imagine a hypothetical Writer E. Writer E’s long-term strategy is to re-create several pages of Don Quixote, not simply to transcribe them but to re-create them as a product of his or her own mind, through a process of total identification with the original author. The first method Writer E conceives is relatively simple: know Spanish well, recover the Catholic faith, fight against the Moors or the Turk, forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 2009, be Miguel de Cervantes. But Writer E rejects this method as too easy; instead, he/she sets out to go on being Writer E and reach the Quixote through the experiences of Writer E. In pursuit of this goal, Writer E goes to a sci-fi convention in Asheville, North Carolina, where he/she participates in a panel discussion about writers and their cats, which draws a crowd of seven. Later that night, Writer E produces four sentences of the Quixote, in which Sancho Panza falls down some stairs.

    Question: can the futility of this exercise be justified? Can anything?

  7. jeff vandermeer says:

    OMG yer killing me, Felix. I don’t like it when laughter hurts. And yet, oddly, that too is covered in Booklife.

    Gotta take this on the road.

  8. Larry says:


    Yes, any futility can be justified by absinthe and ‘ludes. Isn’t that what worked for Rimbaud?

  9. Divers Hands says:

    What if there is a hypothetical Writer F. I mean genuinely hypothetical, in that he is the creation of hypothetical writer G, who is writing a novel that stars Writer F. If in a fit of serendipitous inspiration, Writer F realizes that he is a puppet of Writer G, and sets out to write a novel devestating the life of hypothetical Writer G within hypothetical Writer G’s own novel. If hypothetical Writer G than begins wandering the streets scrimshawing walls and sidewalks in his city with his own self-pulled teeth, writing random lines about hypothetical Writer F’s extradiegetic activities, at what point have you reincarnated Borges?

  10. Hellbound Heart says:

    sheesh, are we going to work our way through to writer Z??? what does HE do?????

    there’s some very funny buggers around here….

    peace and love….

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I think we should.

    Also, what happens when Writer A and Writer C meet?

  12. Andrew says:

    Divers Hands–Isn’t that the plot of Peter Straub’s “In the Night Room”?

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