Tell the Truth

Telling the truth?  That’s for nonfiction writers and poets.  Fiction’s about making things up, using your imagination.

Yes.  And no.  What this post is about is self-promotion and advertising.

Advertising?  I’m a writer, not a public relations guy.  My work stands for itself.  If people don’t like it, that’s their problem.  Maybe it applies to E-books, but it doesn’t apply to me.  I’m a paper writing.  I’m the real stuff.  Book stores and my publisher will advertise for me.

Not a chance.  Even popular writers, who have half a dozen or more books out there, can’t rely on anyone to advertise for them anymore.  You build up a following, just as I’m slowly doing with this blog.  But you don’t get rich quick, unless you write a tell-all biography about President Obama or Donald Trump.  And even then, if you don’t want to go to court for slander and libel, you better tell the truth.  Make something up in a book like that and you might find yourself either in prison or on the street, homeless, owing millions to the person you just slandered.  And your publisher is going to support you on that, at all!  Hell, your publisher will get you black-listed and you won’t be published even in your grandmother’s family newsletter.  You won’t even be able to get a blog.  Even hackers won’t support you; they’re not stupid–otherwise they wouldn’t be hackers.

There are many forms of advertising.  You can take out ads in newspapers and television–if you want to spend big bucks with little return.  You can take copies of books (paper, of course) and arrange for book readings at colleges and public libraries.  The later is good if you write children’s books.  Or you could take your Nook or Kindle or other e-reader and read from it.

One of the most important things where advertising is concerned is to avoid hyperbole–exaggeration.  Everyone says “this is the best book you’ll ever read,” so nobody believes it any more.  In fact, most people treat it as a warning, meaning “this book is crap.”  Just tell the truth.  Tell what the book is about, with very few adjectives and no hyperbole.

Austin Kleon writes a great book about self-advertising for artists and writers.  It’s entitled “Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and get Discovered.”  One of the ways mentioned is to share a little something every day, whether with friends, on Facebook, on Twitter, in your blog, or through any other medium.   When  he says to share something each day, he means about your work and your self.

In his book’s Fifth Chapter (there’s only ten chapters; it’s small, but powerful), called “Tell Good Stories” he mentions how important it is to talk about yourself.  It’s hard for most of us to talk about ourselves.  Most writers and artists don’t lead especially exciting lives (except for Hemingway; and Edgar Rice Burroughs–creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.  By the time Burroughs was in his late teens, he was with the U.S. 7th Cavalry chasing Apaches across Arizona.)

We’re afraid of boring people so we either don’t say anything about ourselves or we make up fiction about us.  When I meet friends and family, they usually ask, “What have you been up to lately?”  To which I either respond “writing” or “nothing”.

My eldest daughter, who is a college professor and lives almost 2000 miles away, emails fairly often.  At the end each email she writes “tell me interesting things–and not about the weather”.  That sort of cuts out most of my conversation.  She hasn’t been too interested in my writing.  So that also cuts out most of what I can write to her since her interest level in my writing is pretty much zero.  Don’t get me wrong.  She’s very supportive.  She helps me with various actual technology problems like blogging and the lettering for my e-books’ covers.  And she cares for me.  She just basically considers me boring.  As does one of my brothers, who’s never read any of my writing.  To balance that, though, one of brother-in-laws recently read one of my books and couldn’t put it down.  It took him almost forever to look at one and now I can’t write fast enough for him.

So, that’s two readers against and one for me.  And that’s probably the average for all writers.  Twice as many people dislike your work or just don’t care as those that do care.

So, what does Mr. Kleon have to say about that?  Well, for one, he suggests that writers learn to talk about themselves.  He also suggests you don’t treat questions such as “What do you do or what have you been up to?” as interrogations but as opportunities to gently and honestly talk about what you.  Mr. Kleon states in his book, “You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen and everybody in between.”  And he further writes to be mindful of your audience.  “The way you explain your work to your buddies at the bar is not the way you explain your work to your mother.”

He also suggests to stick to the truth when talking about yourself and your work.  Don’t make things up to puff up your self-worth or your ego.  Maintain your dignity and self-respect.  And he cautions to “be ready for more questions.”

So, how does that apply to me or to any of you?   Well, I’ve done my best to tell a good story in my fiction.  And I’ve done my best to be entertaining and enlightening in my blog and tell a good story.  I try to keep away from to much flowery prose and keep to the facts, while still remaining personal and conversational.  We should all try to do that.

What the publishing industry specifically, and people in general, want from us is a two-sentence statement of what we are and what we do.   Everyone agrees that you should keep adjectives and adverbs out of your 2-sentence bio as much as possible.

Also, when talking about yourself Mr. Kleon warns “Unless you are actually a ninja, a guru, or a rock star, don’t ever use any of those terms in your bio.  Ever.”

So, here’s an attempt on my statement.

“I’m a writer and I write adventure science fiction.  I make people the center of my stories, writing about their conflicts with each other.”

There’s so much more I want to say about that, but that’s my beginning.

What’s your statement, your beginning?

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