Have you ever had one of those discussions where everything in the conversation hinged on the definition/ interpretation of a single word or phrase? When I was a teacher, my side gig was as the Speech & Debate coach; in debate we call this a topicality argument. The idea is that proper conversation can not take place when the parties involved do not have a baseline of the terms being used to relay that discussion.
An entire layer of depth was added to this part of my interview with Kevin Lucia, because in my original introduction to our discussion I used the word obsolete as a descriptor of parts of Stephen King’s On Writing. (In my feeble defense, I do have a tendency to try to condense what in my head are more complicated and connected ideas into overly simplistic, if not often times too strongly worded, phrases.) I certainly do not think the memoir of the greatest horror writer of our time is obsolete. However, my use of that word sparked a fantastic discussion about the changes in our current writer’s market. In that regard, I am glad I used the word, although… I certainly lost the topicality debate. Rightfully so, Kevin, rightfully so.
So there it is, the context, for what proved to be the most lively part of our interview. Enjoy!
RYAN B. CLARK: Question three is about building audience. Specifically, let’s discuss, for purposes of offering our how to spin for other artists, our use of GoodReads, Social Media, Personal Websites, and Patreon. How do you propel yourself as a brand in today’s market? The days of building a writing resume, through short stories and pay per word small magazines, as King describes, are they a thing of the past? How have we evolved, or devolved….. adapted?
KEVIN LUCIA: First, I don’t believe the days of building a writing resume are a thing of the past, at all. The nature of it has certainly changed, without a doubt. Most of King’s advice in On Writing about forging ahead in a professional writing career still holds true. It just needs some tweaking, is all.
RYAN: Specifically, King addresses in the autobiographical section of the book his pursuit of small publications that offered pay-per-word return on short stories. Magazines like Amazing Tales, Fangoria, Tales from the Crypt, hell even M.A.D. Magazine had a much larger market for unsolicited manuscripts. Much of my early days as a writer, as if those have ended, has trying to navigate the writer’s market exactly like King describes, without realizing the changes happening in media all around me. This led to a belief, at least in my experience that these avenues had dried up. In context, even Rolling Stone and National Geographic, both major world wide publications, are a fraction of the size they were even ten years ago.
KEVIN: Here’s the thing, though there a fewer zines, there are still many, many venues to pursue. For example: I did it the Stephen King “way.” That has worked for me, and continues to work for me. And it still works for a lot people, and I still encourage that route to all my students.
RYAN: That is actually fantastic news! It is certainly not the case that On Writing does not offer a vast wealth of continued relevance, so long as it’s viewed through a different lens. King’s path, which you have followed with much more direct success, is certainly not the only path – which is the reasoning for this discussion in the first place.
KEVIN: Now, keep in mind: this worked for me. It may not work for others. I can only offer my experience about how it turned out. Your mileage may vary, of course. In any case, in my previous answer I talked about folks knowing me as the “Shroud Review Guy” when I started traveling to conventions. Long before I started reviewing for Shroud, I reviewed for local newspapers, the free ones no one ever reads, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was a byline.
See, I could approach publishers for review copies, saying, “I’m Kevin Lucia and I write book reviews for The ______.” Not long after, I landed a few gigs writing for book review blogs and entertainment sites. My visibility increased dramatically.
I found myself on publishing companies’ marketing contact lists, actually receiving emails from authors themselves, asking if I’d review their book. I transitioned from this to writing a paid weekly book review column for our city newspaper. Now I had an even better byline, and more local visibility.
This experience was important for other reasons, also. During this three to four year period, I was still struggling to finish stories. Having to write reviews which had to be 550 words or less on a regular basis helped me learn a lot about word economy. It was also my first experience sending my work to an editor. I didn’t get too much feedback, but I knew I had to meet this word count, and there was the feeling that if I turned in sloppy work, the editor would most likely send it back.
I eventually transitioned to writing reviews for Shroud Magazine, and running their review blog, because I wanted to focus mostly on horror. As I already mentioned, by the time I started attending conventions, Kevin Lucia was at least a name a few folks had heard, even if in only a “I know that name. Why do I know that name?” kind of way. Again, this growing writing resume most definitely helped, because I once again found myself on publishing companies’ marketing email lists, with authors either wanting to thank me the reviews I’d written of their books (thankfully, none of them wanting to kill me), or authors asking me if I’d review their work.
RYAN: I have seen some of this in the public space with your use of GoodReads as a review medium. In many ways the effort that I have thrown at Facebook is a mirror of your effort on that platform. Here, after a solid run of months, the limits of the latter and the wisdom of the former are starting to become apparent – in terms of building audience.
To put it bluntly, the realism of digital relationships can be placed on a spectrum when it comes to the quality of those relationships. Building a Facebook audience, under the framework of trying to build a group of independent artists, across platforms, that could help propel and promote each other’s work, worked. My friend list increased by 900 in the last nine months. This growth propelled the popularity of the website, eventually Google Ads were approved, and the goal of building an on-going blog style/ magazine site was underway. All of these are good things.
However, when it has come to the actual reality of that aspiration – the success has been hit and miss. When it comes to most social media, in this case mainly Facebook, one is continually having to face the realization that most people are “liking” what they see on their newsfeeds because they are bored, and they are addicted.
This does not, in hardly any measurable way, translate to true data on your fan base. In that context, if the entire point was to build audience, Facebook can only reach so far. This lack of reach has been proven very obvious on this Spirits of Jerome Book Tour. Marketing on Facebook, via events, shares, likes, sponsored ads, gives a business owner a lot of data about reach and about people… but that data does not translate into the real world with any degree of predictability.
In juxtaposition, your digital following, is rooted first in the interest of reading good writing. That in and of itself starts off your friends list at least in the right lake for the type of fish you are trying to catch. To drill that metaphor home, in context, I am continually trying to figure out if I am even the fisherman… or just somebody else’s fish in somebody else’s lake.
KEVIN: And I think maintaining a writing resume is important. I write a monthly column for Cemetery Dance Online called “Revelations,” highlighting horror authors who’ve had an impact on my growth as a writer. I also used to write a quarterly essay series for Lamplight Magazine called “Horror 101,” which examined the historical roots and evolution of the horror genre. Aside from the obvious benefits – cash – it was nice to still have something with my name popping up in the industry on a regular basis in between fiction releases, or during a dry period.
RYAN: In some ways it is frustrating to try to negotiate both trains of thought, but they are directly connected. One needs to submit work for publication in order to build the resume, and at the same time try to build audience – which should go hand in hand. The difficulty of my route, is that the writing credits that come from the articles that I write are only truly credits if they are seen as valuable over time. Otherwise, I am just another blogger that thinks he has something to say. The idea is for the quality of these offerings to eventually build and promote interest in my other writing – namely my books, which house the vast majority of my writing anyway.
That said, regardless of my early frustrations, I have plenty of short stories that are floating in the ether without a project that are simply needing a home. There is a lot of wisdom in the approach of trying to be multi-faceted.
KEVIN: The thing is, though, it’s still a very viable route for many people, and always will be. Yes, it takes longer. Took me seven years to crack my first pro sale. But it’s what I wanted. So, if we’re offering advice to newbies, it’s best to offer ALL the routes. This year, I’ll be bringing in both traditionally published and self-published authors to speak with my students. It comes down to what a writer wants. For me, it was always going to be a traditional path. I just wasn’t going to settle for anything else. But hey – now that there are more options, I’m not above trying something experimental. So there are all SORTS of routes to publication, many of them are valid. It all comes back to what the writer wants, in the end.
RYAN: There has been, in years past, this huge divide between traditional publishing and self publishing. Print-on-demand (POD) publishing was like a curse word in many circles. This perspective is changing, however, and changing quickly. As I was just discussing with my friend Ken Lamberton last week down in Bisbee, even traditional publishing houses are using POD publishers, like Lightning Source, to meet their print demands. It is simply faster than it ever was, and the logic of boxes of printed books sitting in warehouses makes much less sense.
I have struggled with my own resolve over the years with what it was that I actually wanted in my writing. For the longest time, I simply expected to be rich and famous, almost automatically. With the endeavor of Ghost Writer Press, I did not see it as a settling for less. I saw it much more as a route to freedom, and an avenue to be able to do exactly what I wanted to do with my writing. That realization – that this was exactly what I wanted to do – was very liberating.
KEVIN: So in others words, the magazines may not be there as they were. But the venues still are. The path of establishing a writer’s cred, and making yourself known with editors still exists. It’s just in a different format.
To Be Continued….
This part of the interview expands into talking more specifically about Submissions in a changing digital market.
Onwards ! The Gatekeeper & the Keymaster – DAY 4
Stay Tuned…. and Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends !