On Marketing

Marketing is more or less telling people that you’ve written something and maybe they’d like to read it.

At a commercial publisher about half the staff will be in marketing. (Any time you hear someone say that commercial publishers don’t (or no longer) market their books and authors, you can discount anything else that person says … they don’t know what they’re talking about.)

Marketing consists of advertising and promotion. Here’s how to tell the difference: Advertising costs money. Promotion doesn’t. Thus, authors may do promotion but shouldn’t do advertising.

Here’s how to tell if you, as an author, should bother with marketing: If you enjoy it and do it well, you can market your books. If you enjoy it but don’t do it well, you shouldn’t market your books. If you do it well but don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t market your books. If you don’t enjoy it and don’t do it well, you definitely shouldn’t market your books.

What should you do instead? Write another, better, book and publish it at the best place you can. The number one reason anyone buys a book is that the reader has read and enjoyed another story by that same author. All the other reasons fade into single digit or fractions of percentages.

My Boskone Sked

This weekend I’ll be at the Boskone science fiction convention.

Here are my panels:

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?
Friday 17:00 – 17:50

When we finally meet the aliens, how will the encounter affect the Earth’s religions? Does their sentience guarantee a soul capable of salvation? Is it likely that they will be creatures of faith? Will they adopt our creeds? Will we convert to theirs? Will they deflate old beliefs, or inspire new ones? How have SF writers handled these questions so far? What frontiers of faith have yet to be explored?

Guy Consolmagno Janice Gelb, James D. Macdonald

World War I and the Literature It Inspired
Saturday 11:00 – 11:50

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. How did the war affect literature, including SF and fantasy? What topics and stories have come out of it? Panelists discuss not only the history of WWI, but also the literature inspired by it — including alternate histories that explore what might have gone differently.

Tim Szczesuil (M), Myke Cole, Tom Shippey, Michael F. Flynn, James D. Macdonald

Writing Workshops: What’s Right for You?
Saturday 12:00 – 12:50

Thinking about attending a writing workshop or an MFA program? Wonder how to pick which one is right for you? Once you do, then what? There is no magic formula to elicit an acceptance letter, but a solid application is a good place to start. Join representatives from various writing programs and learn how to present the best of what you have to offer as a student.

Jeanne Cavelos (M), Alexander Jablokov, James D. Macdonald, Theodora Goss, Shahid Mahmud

Autographing with Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald & Darrell Schweitzer
Sunday 11:00 – 11:50

Reading by Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald
Sunday 13:30 – 13:55


I hope to see y’all there.

On Not Being Scammed

I might as well bring this up now: I have another rule: Yog’s Law: Money Flows Toward the Author. While information wants to be free, entertainment wants to be well-paid, and we’re part of the entertainment industry. “Show business” has two words: “show” and “business.” Despite some hilarious efforts by notorious scammers and bottom-feeding vanity publishers (who have even gone so far as to set up web pages trying (vainly) to “disprove” Yog’s Law), it’s held true ever since I formulated it more than twenty years ago.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying, “how about self-publishing? The author pays for everything there!”

Only, not really. Even if the author is the publisher, the publisher still pays for all the editing, formatting, cover art, advertising, distribution, and so forth and so on. The author collects royalties from the publisher. This may be money moving from one pocket to another in the same pair of pants, but it’s moving from the “publisher” side to the “author” side. If you can’t afford to take 15% of the cover price of each copy sold and put it into a fund labeled “Royalties” (or “Retirement,” or “Vacation,” or “Groceries”), may I suggest that you can’t afford to self-publish? Not including “author’s royalties” as a line-item in the business plan is the #1 error I see among self-publishers. (For those who are interested, I’ve been self-publishing since 1978 and 100% of my income since 1988 has come from writing; I like to think I know what I’m talking about.)

That self-published work is still available (for values of “available” that may not include “able to get a copy”) here.

On Advice

Writers are forever giving writing advice. This is because a) writers are a chatty bunch (we like to write stuff) and b) one thing that we all know is how to write. We like to talk about things we know. And new writers are forever looking for advice from the old hands.

First thing, before I get started: McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.
–Vonda N. McIntyre

That isn’t going to stop me from giving advice, just like all the other writers out there. If you happen to be a newbie, remember this when any writer tells you how to write: It isn’t actually ‘how to write,’ it’s how they write. Perhaps it’ll work for you; perhaps it won’t. Take what’s useful and leave the rest. Which leads me to my first (and only) actual rule of writing: If it works, it’s right.

Just below that, I have two Strong Guidelines:

  1. Don’t bore your readers.
  2. Don’t confuse your readers.

Everything else is Art.

I’ll leave you today with another couple of laws:

Watt-Evans’ Law of Literary Creation: There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently-talented writer can’t get a good story out of it.
–Lawrence Watt-Evans


Feist’s Corollary: There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can’t screw it up.
-Raymond Feist

and …

Sturgeon’s Revelation: 90% of everything is crud.
–Theodore Sturgeon

That includes 90% of advice about writing.

On Plots

What is a plot? It’s a sequence of events, with one special property.

A sequence of events is this happened, then that happened. A plot is this happened, then that happened, because.

Some say there are three basic plot engines:

  1. Person against nature
  2. Person against person
  3. Person against God

“Person against person” includes as a sub-group “person against self.”

Some say there are five basic plot engines. They are:

  1. The brave little tailor
  2. If this goes on
  3. The person who learned better
  4. Who am I?
  5. How do we get home?

Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is an example of “The person who learned better.” Dickens’ story has such a strong plot engine that it’s survived everything from Mr. Magoo to the Muppets.

Some folks add “Reader, I married him” to the list. Others add “A person leaves town” (and its inverse, “A stranger comes to town”).

I like to say that the oldest engines pull the heaviest freight.

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