by Will Viharo
Most writers are solitary creatures by nature. Well, I am, anyway. I hate leaving my “man cave” for any reason. It’s much easier and more pleasant for me to do all my socializing, and promotions, online.
But the reality of the business is brutally simple: if you want to have a career rather than a hobby, you may just need to step outside your comfort zone. Literally.
That means attending conventions and applying for awards.
I’ve done neither. Until now.
There’s a famous annual conference for crime writers known as Bouchercon, named for legendary sci-fi/mystery author/editor Anthony Boucher. The next one is in New Orleans this September. I plan not to be there. Unless, of course, my latest book either gets nominated for the coveted Anthony Award.
Then I’ll make the trip, because it will be worth it. The point is, per all accounts, it would be worth it anyway. If only I sold more books, I could afford the plane fare and hotel bill, not to mention the bar tab. But if I went, I might sell more books. It’s the proverbial vicious circle.
Caught by “Catch-22”
There are many literary conventions and awards out there, several for each genre. For instance, there’s the Bram Stoker Awards for horror writers, which is presented at the annual StokerCon. The next one is this May in Vegas, baby, Vegas. Right after that, the Romance Novel Convention hits Sin City in early June.
There are more science fiction conventions than I can list here, but there is almost certainly one near you, coming up soon. If you schmooze with the right folks, you may be able to set up a booth for your books, for a fee.
I’ve only won two awards in my professional life. The most recent was when one of my dog walking clients gave me a customized statue stating I am “The World’s Best Dog Walker.” The other was given to me a couple of years ago before I left the Bay Area for Seattle. After hosting, producing and programming a live cult movie cabaret called “Thrillville” for 17 years down there, I was presented with the John Stanley Bay Area Horror Host Award, named after the noted author/TV personality/journalist (and my good friend).
That was quite an honor. But other than the fact that my brand name has now been directly applied to my fiction, neither has anything to do with my true passion, which of course is writing. Though frankly walking dogs is the most pleasurable gig I’ve ever had – I’d do it for free if I sold more books.
Which brings me back to my original point.
Perhaps I should be charging up my credit cards and flying around the country attending various conventions, even if my novels don’t really fit neatly into any particular genre category, one reason it’s such a challenge to market them. But that only sparks my creative imagination.
Problem is, most of my credit cards are already almost maxed out just from day to day expenses, just like most writers, because we’re all competing for a finite audience of readers that are very discriminating with their cash, like most consumers in this, or any, economy.
Besides a chance to promote your book to readers, conventions are really opportunities to meet ‘n’ mingle with fellow authors as well as publishers, editors, agents and other mover ‘n’ shakers in our shared industry. You might even be able to talk a bookseller into actually stocking your indie novel. Good luck with that.
Rubbing Shoulders the Right Way
From all the Facebook posts I’ve read following these popular events, attended by many of my friends in the field, as it were, it looks like you’d have to work especially hard to stand out in the massive crowds. You may find the company both inspirational and disheartening, since your companions are also your competitors. You may just wind up giving all your books away, ideally in exchange for a positive review on Amazon, and of course you'll be making the same promises.
I prefer live readings with small groups of authors, and in fact I now host a local bi-monthly event called Noir at the Bar Seattle, organized by up and coming crime writer Michael Pool. It’s a terrific chance to hobnob with writers I’ve only engaged with on Facebook, as well as sign and sell my own books directly to audience members. So this is another social/commercial option for shy scribes to investigate and invest in.
Trust me. I know how intimidating this can all be. Also how expensive. In fact, conventions are simply cost-prohibitive on my current limited budget.
I am finally promoting my latest novel, Hard-boiled Heart, published this past December by Gutter Books, for an Anthony Award. I don’t know if anyone directly associated with the process is noticing, though I have “liked” their Facebook page and follow their posts. Meantime, all of my peers are busy promoting their own work, jockeying for strategic position for a shrinking spotlight. I can’t nominate myself. All I can do is toot my own, hopefully not in a total vacuum, and hope someone of significance hears and acknowledges it.
But I won’t find out unless I keep tooting. Neither will you.
No Losers In This Game
Not all successful actors win an Oscar. Most don’t. Peer recognition aside, awards aren’t everything. They're certainly not indicators of talent, however corroborative they may feel to the lucky winners.
My advice, beyond "never take my advice," is always this, in any endeavor: Be yourself, no matter what. You may not win any awards, but the personal rewards will be just as satisfying, if not as tangibly lucrative.
And attending conventions won’t automatically secure your membership in the Bestsellers Club. It can't hurt, though.
Conventions and awards are simply two more potential pathways to ultimate success, which you should define for yourself, per your own standards. Maybe neither are for you. But there’s really only one way to find out for sure, and it might entail shaking hands with actual people, not just tapping your keyboard and praying for a miracle.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO