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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Why I write and go to conventions

I write novels because writing novels makes me happy. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m not happy. Anything that takes me away from reading and writing for more than an hour or two throws me into a blue funk.

Marketing my writing takes away from what precious little writing time I have each day. I try to do marketing tasks while taking a break from writing or revising, and I usually break for an hour or two in the afternoon and then again between nine and eleven PM to read e-mails, return phone calls, and attend to social media.  During this afternoon’s break, I put my current novel aside and ventured to the local Barnes and Noble store in the mall to see if they had displayed copies of Abandoned (my new novel released by Eldritch Press on March 1st) in the front of the store or on the shelves. The local B&N did have copies on order, but no copies prominently displayed as one might expect them to do for a local author. They assured me they would have plenty of copies available for the autographing I have scheduled in their B&N store on April 18th.  I want to believe them.

With multiple new novels appearing this year, I’ve already committed to appearing on panels or do autographings at Odyssey Con, World Horror Convention, Wisccon, Nebula Awards, Sasquon, World Fantasy Con, Windycon, and Bouchercon. I’ve had to turn down other invitations to be on panels or to autograph books. I must be getting older and much more curmudgeonly because I used to enjoy going to sf, fantasy, horror, and mystery conventions more than anything. I still love to talk with friends and fans at cons and bookstores, and I love talking shop with other authors and agents and editors and publishers. What taxes me to no end (beside the IRS and the State of Illinois Department of Revenue) is the hassle of traveling these days. It often takes ten times longer to get checked in at airports than the flight itself takes, and it seems I usually get booked on flights that leave from the gates most distant from the main terminal. Several of my recent flights have been cancelled or delayed because of severe weather or mechanical problems. By the time I get to a convention and settled into a hotel room which always seems to be the room at the end of the hall most distant from an elevator, I feel too exhausted to enjoy the con. The arthritis in my knees becomes painful from all that walking and standing. And I suffer from nicotine withdrawal because not only can one not smoke on airplanes anymore, one cannot smoke in hotel rooms or bars either. No big deal. I don’t need to smoke, but I do like to smoke because I enjoy it. That’s probably a lie. But now, when I want a smoke at a convention, I do have to trudge all the way outdoors and away from the doorways themselves to stand in the cold and rain or snow. That takes extra time and effort I no longer have.

I used to write at least one new short story at each con, and I still squeeze in some writing time whenever I can. But novels require concentration to achieve continuity, and I can’t concentrate on my writing at conventions. Maybe other writers can, but I can’t. Besides, it seems silly to spend a small fortune to travel half-way across country to attend a convention and then spend most of the time inside my room writing. When I’m at a con, I want to meet people. I want to talk and listen and catch up on what’s happening in other people’s lives and careers. And I am constantly torn between my need to write and my need to communicate face to face.

You can sense my conflict in these paragraphs. I want to meet people and talk about writing. But I also want to write. Are they mutually exclusive endeavors?

I have known so many people who spend more time talking about writing than actually writing. I have done that myself from time to time, and my writing suffers for it. It’s better to let the writing speak for itself. Whenever someone asks me what my latest novel is about, I really want to reply, “Read the book and see for yourself.” Instead, I have memorized short elevator speeches to describe each of my novels. I can usually tell by the look in a person’s eyes if I’ve hooked them. It’s like watching readers browse in libraries and bookstores. People read the blurbs on the back cover and end-papers first. Then they open the book and read the first and sometimes last pages. They may even flip through the pages to scan some of the dialogue. Then they either put the book back on the shelf or add it to the pile they intend to check out or buy. You know when you see the eager glint in their eyes that they’ll buy the book because your words hooked them. That’s what I’m still learning to do with my elevator speeches. I need to give readers enough information to keep them interested, but not so much that they don’t need to read the novel to get the whole story. I want them to have that same wonderful look in their eyes after they’ve finished reading the entire novel and they simply can’t wait to rush out to find other books with my by-line.

Book marketing is as much an art as book writing. Finding the right words at the right time takes skill and practice. I’m still learning, and I learn best by doing. I know I need to get out there and talk to people about my books. Each time I go to a convention or attend an autographing, I learn more. Now I need to find the right balance between talking away my stories and writing what people want to read.

I’d rather be writing. Writing makes me happy.

But there’s something magical that happens when I witness that gleam in a reader’s eye, and seeing that gleam—that hunger for more—in a reader’s eye makes me ecstatically happy, too. It doesn’t matter if that gleam appeared because of something I’ve written or something another author has written. I love to share in the reader’s joy. Joy is contagious.

That’s why I write. And that’s why I go to conventions and do signings. I just wish there were more time to do both.


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