So, about a year has passed since Nights of Villjamur hit the shelves in the UK, and it’s now about to be launched in the US. What a learning curve this year has been. This blog has gone from being a quiet little corner of the interweb, to a gobby mouthpiece with a good-sized audience. I’ve made some interesting observations along the way; so here they are, in a full stream-of-consciousness splurge (well, with paragraphs), and with a little advice for any new kids out there.
You can’t control reader response. Believe me, I wanted to at the start – I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to the text, and that kind of carried on to when the novel was on the shelves. But once it’s out there, it’s out there. There’s nothing you can do about it. You cannot control the response of reviews or on forums, but the Internet tricks you into believing you can by letting you be a part of the community. In reality the best you can hope for is that your publicist has a good mailing list (mine has) and that you have a shit-hot book cover (I think mine has).
There is no such thing as a good book or a bad book, only what people say about a book – and this is all outside of our own heads, of course. I’m working on a bizarre theory about book culture and what is perceived as a good book, and it has something to do with having enough of the right kinds of people saying positive things. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that a book is just there, neither good nor bad, just there for interpretation. I don’t for a minute believe my books deserve any more attention/praise than another. (Edit: for clarity, the important thing to note is we’ll never find objective truths in a comments thread.)
It’s better to be talked about then not talked about. Every little discussion of your career, be it in hate or admiration, on forums or on blogs, will keep you afloat. Only when you’re not talked about is your career over. Every time someone moans about one of my blog posts, they send a few hits my way, and some of these new readers stay. (Best thing to kill a book? Silence it.)
Never reveal your age if you’re under thirty. I don’t get it, and in discussion with other youngish authors, this isn’t an uncommon trend – people rarely take you seriously when you’re an author in your twenties. It’s absurd that anyone under that age should have the right to be published. What were you thinking? Because it’s not as though you sacrificed years of your life to get where you are, youngster. Oh hang on.
Being compared to great authors brings out the freaks. In online debate, that is. If some newbie writer DARES to have their work compared to MY favourite author, then I WILL DESTROY THEM, is pretty much the style of response. I like to think upsetting a few people is a good thing, ultimately – it keeps the conversation going, at least, and shows that people care enough to complain, but many readers are hugely territorial over their favourite writers. I actually think a bad thing for me was when The Times made a vague Gene Wolfe comparison due to the dying earth thing – he has a very particular fanbase, and they expect that same dense writing style in any text that dares to receive such a comparison – in the 21st century marketplace, to have a career, that isn’t really possible. I’ve think I’ve disappointed more than a few readers after that.
Do not feed the trolls. Just don’t. Don’t get into flame wars. Don’t get into debates you can’t handle. There are more haters out there than there are of you. Following such debates, Joe Abercrombie once told me, brings only tiredness. He wasn’t wrong.
That said, a little controversy goes a long way. So long as a) you’ve got the chops to back it up and b) you don’t deliberately set out to insult people. Miraculously, internet debate can be a good thing, with pleasant exchanges. That particular exchange brought me several thousand extra hits for the month, and most of them seem to have stuck around.
Blogs are as important as the books, and authors are a brand. Just looking at these web stats, over 80% of searches are for my author name (frequently misspelt…) and only a small percentage are for book titles. That in itself deserves a full blog post. And in meatspace, so many people have complimented me on this blog – possibly as many as have commented on the books. I don’t know if they’ve read the books afterwards and, to be honest, that’s not actually important to me. Blogging is a fun, instantaneous activity. (Though it’s far from the notebook I originally wanted it to be. Maybe it will change in the future.)
You can’t complain about the industry to anyone other than another writer. Who cares about the fortunes of a poor published writer? Never mind that it takes a year to build something but just a few minutes to take it down to Chinatown. You can’t complain about that. And who’s going to understand such moaning? Certainly not people who would love to be poor published writers.
No matter what you do, someone will hate you. They’ll hate you for having a book out, being on the internet, looking like so-and-so, engaging in debate, not engaging in debate, whatever. And Lou Anders once told me that if no one hates your book, you’ve not got big enough distribution.