You Will Fall Off the Horse: Professionalism vs. Artistic Expression and More

**Some warning for strong language**

It is hard to know what to say on the internet, how to balance honesty, personality and humor with respect, tact and professionalism. It’s challenging enough for most people, but creatives have an additional skill-level to maintain.

Most professionals have a business face and a personal face. They take one off at the end of the work day and put the other one on. Creatives seldom wear just one face. Our personalities are part of our brands, our business is an integral part of our life.

This can be wonderful, as it allows us a freedom and dimension of expression not often found in business or personal lives.

It is also sometimes deadly, when the two are not kept distinct enough.

Because, while we always wear both faces, they cannot be the same thing. We’re artists—from the project manager at the multi-national corporation to the editor/developer/author/artist who just produced a game all by themselves. We’re also business people, and that must come first if we are to succeed personally, and as an industry.

Balancing Art and Business and Life

The toughest part of the entire equation is the initial balance. Where do you draw the line between funny and offensive, between expressing yourself and being an ass? When does it stop being free speech and become bullying? How do you separate friendship and professional obligation? At what point do you stop shrugging off someone’s faults because they are your friend and admit that they are genuinely problematic?

That is something every creative individual will have to figure out for themselves. It isn’t an easy battle plan, it’s definitely going to hurt some feelings, and you’ll make some mistakes doing it, but you’ve got to establish those boundaries and expectations fairly early on.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have to let them grow and change along with you and your career. That requires constantly revisiting those standards.

If you’re part of a small company, that balance gets trickier. When it’s just you, there’s some leeway. When other people become involved, the mixture can become explosive. You’re not just looking out for your own welfare anymore, and you’re not just dealing with your own issues.

Suddenly you’re not just balancing a ball on your nose, you’re juggling half a dozen of them. What happens when you start dropping them?

Everyone Can Fail, Everyone Will Fail

There’s an old horseman’s saying: “If you ain’t been throwed, you ain’t rode”. Grammatical color aside, it’s true. Every time I get on a horse, I risk being thrown off, whether from a lack of attention, a mistake in communication, or something outside my control. It’s a calculated risk I take, but I do everything possible to make it a lower probability.

More importantly, I know how to react when I fall. I know to protect my head, to roll, to go boneless, to suspend time and make sure that I’ve got various body parts untangled and am falling away from powerful hooves, to use hands and feet to steer my roll, and so on. I’ve acknowledged the possibility, double-checked all my gear, and planned for the worst.

Failure in other endeavors isn’t much different. You’ll fall. Get used to that idea. Accept it. Plan for it. Admit that you’re human, come up laughing and apologizing for scaring people. Be graceful and dignified so that even a nasty mistake can become a benefit.

But don’t set yourself up for it. Don’t become someone who falls off for the attention, because sooner or later, you’ll break your neck, and no one will be around to see it.

Censoring Is Not What You Might Think It Is and Assholes Are Not Awesome

Some people make a very viable persona out of outrageous behavior and a nasty attitude. I don’t need to name names here, they’re some of the most visible figures in the industry. Some of them are genuinely nice people, others appear nice while they quietly plan how to spin the situation to cast themselves as the victim.

Don’t do that. You’re throwing yourself off the horse now. See the last sentence above for why that’s a bad idea. Some people can get away with it. Those people are usually well-known, quite talented, and already established. But even they miss out sometimes. A newer author who makes the choice to present themselves this way will, most likely, wind up regretting it.

There’s another angle, too: don’t be the victim. Don’t post something offensive, call it a joke when someone gets offended, and then cry ‘censorship!’ when they don’t laugh it off with you.

“It’s a joke” does not absolve all your sins, and trying to hide behind that excuse just makes you a spineless dick.

If you have an opinion you want to state, make sure it’s backed up by knowledge and understanding. If you want to make a joke, make sure it doesn’t exist solely at the expense of or for the belittling of others. And if someone says ‘hey, that’s hurtful’, it’s not censorship. You might have fallen off the horse, and you’d damn well better acknowledge that and get up gracefully.

The internet has a long memory, and the long hours of BarCon are full of stories. Make sure the ones about you are good.

Tune in tomorrow for some tips on how to fall gracefully and manage a crisis.

Promote Yourself Like a Rockstar

Tammy Brackett is the owner of Moonstruck Promotions, a solo publicist, consultant and writer,  booking agent and former tour manager and performer. Over the past 16 years, she’s crafted a business from the music industry. Tammy is the author Another Nightmare Gig from Hell, Fifty Ways to Tour Without Getting in the Van, Fifty Rules of Rock, Backstage Pass: Organize Your Band, and Backstage Pass: Book Your Band. She’s an expert in practical music matters and writes blog for musicians at http://alunatunes.wordpress.com.  She can be reached at tammy@moonstruckpromotions.com.


The art of marketing, whether your product is a piece of music or a new novel, is essential to increased sales and visibility. Without proper publicity and promotion, your work of art stands a chance of remaining in packing boxes or on store displays growing sad and dusty and terribly alone.

A good publicity plan doesn’t have to include the expense of a professional publicist.  Consider how the music world promotes and publicizes events, adapt their marketing model, add a dash of your own creativity and you’ll be promoting yourself like a rockstar in no time!

A bare-bones publicity plan should include the following:

  • A brief press release. Be sure to include contact name and information. A great press release is short, informative and appropriate for publication. Many publications no longer staff dedicated reviewers. Keep in mind, your press release may be printed verbatim. Keep it short and simple and interesting. Follow up your email press release with a phone call to ask about setting up a review or interview. Be sure to have sample books on hand to send to interested writers and reporters.
  • Flyers, posters, quarter page handbills still remain a staple in getting the word out for bands and musicians. A simple informational poster or flyer works wonders and is inexpensive and easily distributable. A small table tent announcing your new book can be easily placed in coffee shops, restaurants, museums, art galleries and other non-traditional outlets.
  • Explore radio possibilities. Many NPR affiliates have book-related programming. Take time to explore sites and find contacts. Radio is still a viable medium in many markets.
  • Don’t forget wonderful social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The trick here is to not slam followers and friends with constant information about your new work. Post quotes from your book, interesting tidbits but eschew the desire to continually try to get people to purchase. The Facebook and Twitter communities are invaluable marketing.
  • Collect quotes and reviews and create a one sheet to slip into your new book as it’s mailed out. For you to talk about your book is one thing, but for other people to be talking about it is quite another. Collect your quotes and reviews and make them work for you.

Innovative marketing ideas can also include cross-promotional opportunities. Consider sales outlets outside terrestrial or online bookstores. Many art galleries, museums, natural history sites, and local attractions have gift shops. Put pen to paper and really explore the angles of your new work. An exercise book may have a market outside the fitness community. Maybe it could be marketed to belly dancers or boomers. A new cook book may be attractive to the powerful market of stay at home moms. Learn to explore and develop new markets and new customers outside a target audience.

With a bit of thought, a creative publicity plan is easy to conceive and implement. Have fun finding new customers and fans. Give yourself a round of applause for a job well done. Heck, you deserve a standing ovation!

Learn from the Stories You Hate

Monica Valentinelli is an author who lurks in the dark. She has over a dozen short stories out in the wild, two novellas, and more on the way. Recent releases include “Don’t Ignore Your Dead,” which debuted in the anthology Don’t Read This Book and Redwing’s Gambit a science fiction adventure novella.


I don’t like every story I read and I’m guessing you don’t either. In fact, I’m quite certain there are some very popular books that make your blood boil as soon as you hear about them. Maybe it’s a story about a vampire who glitters or a tale where the relationship is based on bondage. Maybe it’s a tome about a teenager hunting down other teens or a zombie apocalypse series.

There are a few well-known stories that have caused me no uncertain amounts of angst over the years. To make my peace with them, I critiqued the work and tried to understand why it was so popular.

For the purposes of this article, the popularity of a book isn’t just about book sales. It’s also about word-of-mouth advertising. Imagine readers who are so blown away by a story they have to share it with someone else in their life. Commenters who hate a book so much they have to talk about it. (Both are forms of publicity, by the way, especially online where the value of publicity is the volume, not the quality, of the chatter.)

So what makes people talk about a story? Well, to understand that, we have to go back to why you or I would get upset about a tale in the first place. The answer is really very simple because it circles back to the books we love. It all boils down to that emotional connection with the reader. Powerful stories invoke strong emotions. The more potent the feeling, the greater the chance we’ll need to express what we think or feel about it.

Knee-jerk reactions occur even if we haven’t read a story – especially in cases where the contents of that book are so bizarre or are outside our personal tastes. I am not a fan of Twilight for many reasons, but I don’t begrudge Meyer her success. (Good for her!) Since I have been embroiled in the vampire genre ever since I can remember, I am hyper-sensitive to changes in the vampire mythos. This simply means I am not the audience for her books.

Being that engrossed in a genre or subject matter isn’t always a good thing, because to reach that general consciousness, to achieve mass market popularity, the story needs to have a broader, less-specific, appeal. To do that, sometimes old techniques like tired genre tropes work really well. Other times, it’s about taking a universally-recognized concept like religion or forbidden love and twisting it in such a way that it touches many readers. Can that be done intentionally? Well, the only real evidence we have originates after-the-fact. If everyone knew how to write a wildly popular book (or which ones to publish) I’m pretty sure we’d all be millionaires.

Regardless, the point here that I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t matter what makes a best-selling book popular. That’s just one example of something I took away from a series I can’t stand. So what does? Well, maybe (just maybe) it is possible that the books we hate are learning tools that can help us craft a better story. I feel that statement applies to every author, regardless of experience, because the more we continue to write, the more our work evolves. I also believe that there is a lot we can get from stretching outside of our natural parameters and reading books we would never write (but a lot of other people love).

It’s easier to think critically of a book (or genre) we normally wouldn’t read because we have some emotional distance from it. Mind you, negative emotions color our perspective significantly, so if you are diving in to a work you don’t appreciate, I’d recommend reading it a few times or discussing it in a book club. Then, ask yourself this question: “What’s so great about this book that so many other readers need to buy it, talk about it, and share it? What am I missing?”

The answer may surprise you.

It Never Rains But It Pours: Boosting Your Signal In A Saturated Market

Congrats! You’ve gotten an agent, sold your book to the publisher of your dreams, and received a tidy little advance.

“So, when’s my book tour?”
“Eh, we’re not going to worry about that. We’ve got this great advertising plan instead. We’re going to advertise on Facebook, GoodReads and Reddit.”
“Um, okay…but how am I going to talk to fans of the genre?”
“What?”
“How am I going to reach into the community that I came from, where people know my name because I’ve blogged for all these awesome sites like Booklife Now and SFSignal and sold stories to all these genre magazines?”
“Well, we’re sending out about 50 review copies!”
“Oh that’s great. Where to?”
“Well, like 10 copies to the New York Times, and 5 to Washington Post and 5 to Times Magazine, and one to the Religion Reporter at–”
“Uh, guys, genre! That’s where people know me and would buy this awesome book!”
“…”

Now, this is based on the experience of two of my clients, amalgamated and exaggerated a little…but not much. It isn’t a hypothetical exercise for my amusement, it’s how the industry works.

Promotions and book marketing are a tricky sport. Profit margins are thin enough when things go well, even for the ‘Big 6′. Publishers need the best possible results for the least amount of money. The best results are, of course, going to be if the New York Times or the Washington Post pulls it out of the towering stacks of submissions and writes a glowing review. That happens just often enough to be worth the resources and effort.

It isn’t just a crapshoot on the higher levels, either. Reviewers and bloggers are inundated with unsolicited copies and requests, and time is limited. Will and skill aren’t always equal, so while there are hundreds of reviewers, not everyone will fit your needs. This is where knowledge and research are vital: Bitten By Books will have no interest in your Sword and Sorcery, while Monster Librarian probably isn’t the best place for your YA fantasy romance. The more you know your market, the better your results will be.

And, too, there is a fine balance between sending out more copies than will be bought, and not sending enough copies out. Send too many out, and you might cancel out your sales. Don’t send enough out, and you may end up hearing ‘wow, I didn’t even know your book was out yet!’. Neither one is desirable.

So, say you’re an author handling your own publicity, or wanting to bolster your publicist’s efforts. What do you do?

1.) Before you do anything, check with your publisher, agent, editor and publicist, or any combination of the above. Every situation varies, but you need to maintain both transparency and communication. Ask your team if you can help, and then go from there.

2.) When you talk to your team, ask them for whatever materials they have: a ‘tear sheet’ with the official info, e-books or NetGalley info, or a press kit. Also ask for a list of places that they are sending your books. There’s no point in sending multiple copies to the same place, it just wastes resources and makes you look sloppy.

3.) Research your market. Tor.com posted an excellent list of review sites, but don’t just go down the list, mailing a copy to each person on the list. Read the requirements. Check the list of books they’ve reviewed.

4.) You should be aware of books similar to yours, and authors in your subgenre. Google reviews of their work, and see who covered them.

5.) If your resources are limited, create a hierarchy. Who do you absolutely HAVE to have cover your book? Who is a potential? Who is just overflow, get’em if you’ve got extras?

6.) Social media is your best friend and your worst enemy. DO NOT follow the advice that so many self-help websites promote. Be genuine. Talk about things other than your book. Limit yourself to, at maximum, two ‘my book is for sale’ posts a day…and that’s your upper limit. Less is more, in this case, and if you power too often, you risk alienating potential fans in a hurry.

7.) Speaking of the ‘learn how to promote your book today!’ sites…avoid. Avoid at ALL costs. Instead, focus your efforts on industry professionals. Do your own research. Don’t fall for cheap mailing lists, or guarantees to get your book on a best-seller list. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Even the best publicist can’t guarantee you a spot on the best-seller list.

8.) And if you do hire a publicist? Make sure you have a good contract. Specify how much you’ll pay, and when. Leave an escape clause. Err on the side of overkill, because it protects both the author and the publicist.

The book industry throws an incredibly steep learning curve at you, as a new author. It’s a learning curve that doesn’t ever level off much, either.

But, just maybe, with a little luck, a lot of very hard work, and copious amounts of alcohol, you can make it through this ring of hell, too.