Grist for the Twitter Mill
Grist for the Twitter Mill
by Rob Hart
Just now, I spent two hours looking for a photo of a bar I was a regular at ten years ago.
That bar is long since closed, and Google Images let me down—there’s one decent shot of the sign, but it’s copyrighted. I messaged old friends on Facebook, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years. None of them had anything handy, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. That life was before the era of selfies. No one was documenting anything.
The reason I’m looking for this photo is because there’s a blog where I’m going to write about disappearing New York City, and I want something to illustrate it.
The piece is about how there are these places that belong to you in fleeting moments and then they’re gone, replaced by whatever can afford to take its place. This is a little bit of what my debut novel is about. And with the book coming out in a month, I’m looking for any opportunity I can to talk about it.
Or me. Or New York City. Or anything, really, as long as it’s got my name and a buy link somewhere.
Someone recently asked me how much time I spend writing and how time I spend doing promo. Lately? With the book looming right on the horizon?
One hundred percent promo, zero percent writing.
Which might be hyperbole. I am researching the next book. I watched a very good documentary yesterday and took copious notes. The outline is coming along. I’ve settled on the theme music. But as for actually writing—putting fingers to keyboard keys and getting the thing in gear—nothing.
I’m writing, but I’m not writing.
Such is the ceaseless grind of the promotional machine. Your name needs to be everywhere, for as long as it can be. A prestigious writer of non-fiction told me a stranger won’t buy your book until the third time they’ve heard about it. I’m playing things safe, aiming for four, five, or even six times.
Right now my life is one long to-do list. I have to finish the New York piece, and a different New York piece for another blog, and an essay comparison between Death Wish the book and Death Wish the film, and a dissection of my book’s soundtrack, plus finish some interviews, and follow up with some bloggers.
And order new postcards with the dates of the signings. And talk to a film guy about whether I can afford a book trailer. All this while occasionally jumping over to the websites for the trade magazines and clicking ‘refresh’ to see if they’ve reviewed the book yet.
And then you’re in a bar talking about all this and the magazine editor sitting next to you says: “You should write about that.”
So I do. All this so, come release day, there’ll be grist for the Twitter mill.
This isn’t me complaining. I’m not looking for sympathy. “Oh, woe is me and the terribly stressful fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”
But it can wear on you.
According to Wikipedia, there were 304,912 new books and re-editions published in 2013. If that number has stayed the same—and likely, it hasn’t—then by average, there’d be more than 800 new books available the same day as mine. I don’t even know if that counts self-publishing numbers.
Plus there are DVR queues to contend with, and prestige dramas to binge-watch, and a whole wide world of life to live. My book is a commitment. Something you have to agree to engage with for many, many hours. You can’t do it while you’re doing something else.
I have to do everything I can to stand out.
So right now it’s Saturday evening, and I’m back from an early dinner, and my wife is downstairs with the baby, and I’m sequestered in my office, writing furiously about promo in the vain hope that this might spur someone to buy my book come June.
There’s a part of this that’s exciting. Getting to talk about these things related to the book—stuff I’m obviously passionate about, or else I wouldn’t have written the book in the first place.
I do wonder how much of this is going to effectively spike my rankings versus how much is going to fade into internet obscurity. And I wish I could spend more time writing the next book, though I feel that way when I’m doing just about anything else.
It’s that eternal conflict between art and commerce—how to stay true to your creative impulses without feeling like you’re a shill. Here’s something I bet every writer has thought about at some point: Wouldn’t it be nice to one day be famous enough to never have to do this stuff again?
James Ellroy doesn’t do guest blogs. Stephen King isn’t chasing after podcast hosts.
The problem is getting there. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it. So you put your head down, charge forward, write more blog posts, and hope you don’t make a fool of yourself in the process.
And sometimes something really fun happens. Honestly, this might be my favorite piece of all the promo pieces, because this truly is the snake eating its own tail.
At this point, I realize I haven’t even mentioned the title of the book.
Check it out, won’t you?
Rob Hart is the associate publisher of MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He is the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle, Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect, Helix Literary Magazine, and Joyland. His debut novel, New Yorked, was released in June 2015, followed by the sequel, City of Rose, in early 2016.