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Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

Reflections on The Incrementalists, Publicity, Self-promotion, and Stuff

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I just finished signing books at Uncle Hugo’s (and thanks to you who showed up, especially Deane from Kansas), which marks the official end of my first-ever book tour. That makes this a good time for some thoughts on publicity and self-promotion.

“…I have been astonished at the readiness with which everything asked for has been yielded, without even an explanation being asked. Should my success be less than I desire and expect, the least I can say is, the fault is not with you.”
–U.S. Grant to Abraham Lincoln, April, 1864

It has been a remarkable couple of months. I’ve spoken before of how The Incrementalists holds a special place in my heart. This has been reflected in a couple of things, the first is my only effort to date to actively promote a book I’ve written, and, related to that, it is the only time I have asked a publisher to do more to promote one of my books.

As to the latter, I can only say that they exceeded my expectations. And for those ready to accuse me of kissing ass, I’ll point out that I don’t have any reason to do so: they already like me, and, moreover, I don’t believe any of the people involved are likely to make business decisions based on whether I say mean or nice things about them.

The fact is, they gave me (us) a book tour, my first ever. And a book trailer. And they advertised it. And they had us working with a publicist. And did posts on Tor.com. In short, they did everything I could imagine, and more (I never imagined a book trailer, for example).  It is also worth taking a moment to comment on the cover blurb by John Scalzi.  I don’t know, in general, how much good blurbs do, but I have heard (or overheard) several people saying that they bought the book because of the blurb.  Impressive.

The book tour: God it was fun!  For one thing, it was book tour “light”–the high-stress aspects of touring were, for the most part, missing.  What we had was joint readings (Skyler and I just never get tired of doing those!) before appreciative audiences, questions and answers from Smart People, and then signing books and meeting folks.  What is there not to like?

As for self-promotion, well, I tweeted more reviews than I ever have, I blogged and tweeted about signings, and I actively sought out interviews with blogs, zines, and everything else.  I even had, for the first time, a web site devoted to promoting the book (thanks to Adam Stemple, who created and maintains it).

So, now that that’s all done, there are a couple of obvious questions: 1) How much good did some or all of that do in terms of sales, and 2) How do I feel about it all?

As to the first, I don’t know. I think those in what I suppose I should call my “fan base” (folks who will buy my books because they’ve come to trust me to tell a good story) were going to buy the book anyway. I’m pretty sure that the effort at getting interviews and reviews &c succeeded in reaching some number of people who otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of the book; my impression, however, is not that many. Not enough, in other words, to turn it from a failure to a success, or from a success to a hit, or whatever.

What I know for certain is that the trailer, the tour, and a lot of the other stuff was an amazing amount of fun. I got to travel on someone else’s dime, meet old friends, make new ones, and do those readings and Q&As with Skyler which never stop being delightful. It also involved a lot of hanging out in Austin with Skyler, Scott, Egan, and Jen. We had a blast. Seriously, this last two months has been an utter delight, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I had the chance.

But, as expected, the self-promotion made me very, very uncomfortable. This shouldn’t be construed as an attack on those who do promote themselves, I’m only talking about how I feel, and tweeting and blogging about myself and my work makes me feel kind of dirty.

So, all of that said, before I move on and put the book behind me, I want to say a little bit about how it’s been received.

Not that I would ever stoop to the level of looking at my Amazon rankings, but if I did, I would find that it hasn’t been received as well as I’d hoped. Also, from the little I can tell, the sales aren’t as good as I’d hoped. These are two things, by the way, that I’ve never paid much attention to before; but I already mentioned that bizaare thing in a previous post.

But given the nature of the book, the reaction it’s gotten is exactly what I ought to have predicted. To some, it is a good read, to others it just doesn’t work, but for some . . . .

At the end of the book, we (to quote a reviewer) rap at the fourth wall. What we’re playing with is the idea that this book is intended to go find it’s people. In other words, there are some people who will get exactly what we’re doing. We play with that in the book, and that seems to be exactly what happens. How can I complain about that? And it is worth noting that, so far as I know, everyone has thought the original idea that Tappan King gave us is Really Cool, so he should feel proud.

Below, I’m listing my favorite stuff–the reviews and interviews and so on that I like best; not that I expect you guys to read them, but mostly so that I have them organized in one place so I can use them to cheer myself up on cold lonely nights in the wordmines. Then I’ll be done with this, put it out of my head (like I should have done a long time ago), and get on with Writing the Next Thing. But before I do, I have two last things to say:

1. A sincere thank you to you, who’ve listened to me, encouraged me, and, in general, put up with me during this strange interlude when I was someone else.

2. I need to quote my favorite comment on the book. It was a tweet from someone named @cabridges. He wrote: “Reading #TheIncrementalists by @StevenBrust & @skylerwhitesuth, hit the Firefly reference, smiled, frowned. They’re meddling with me…”

Yes we are. Thank you for noticing.

Links to stuff I loved:

First and foremost, the book trailer.

A kind review in SF Signal.

Cory Doctorow saying nice things about it? Yes please!

A review from Fantasy Book Critic.

A Starred Review from Booklist? Well, that doesn’t suck.

I think this may be my favorite review of anything of mine, ever; from Little Red Reviewer.

Bookworm Blues had nice things to say.

And this from Bibliosanctum

This seems to be from Christasbooks, and says nice things, and includes an interview.

A video review with a great name.

I’m not familiar with untitled.united, but I like what they say about the book.

This is from Summer Reading Project.

Robert M. Tilendis of Green Man Review seemed to like it.

Steven Halter, in a very brief review at Interesting Things seemed to really get it.

Carol at Bitten By Books had nice stuff to say.

Disclaimer: Marissa Lingen is a friend and helped with an early version. That said, I loved her review.

Finally, there is this one, which I include just because it appeared in the Wall Street Journal.  No, really.  It did.

Tom Whitmore said kind things about us in Locus, but, alas, I couldn’t find an online version.

Then there were the interviews and Q & As:

We’ll start with an actual, real, TV appearance on a show called Good Morning New Mexico.

Here is a Library Journal interview with Skyler and me by Eric Norton.

We did this really fun one for Tor.com, focusing mainly on the audio book.

Also at Tor.com, we did this fun “pop quiz.”

John Scalzi, not content with the wonderful blurb, was kind enough to give us a platform in the Big Idea section of his blog.

Paul Weimer at SF Signal, in addition to the review, did this interview with us.

This interview from Christasbooks was fun.

Little Red Reviewer interviewed me, and also Skyler.

We answered these questions from Matt Doyle.

The Tor/Forge blog had us ask each other questions, and it came out like this.

This one, with Mythic Scribes, isn’t about The Incrementalists in particular, but it went to some interesting places.

The AMA I did with Redit/Fantasy is here.

This one is on LJ with C.D. Lewis, who asked some fun questions.

Audible Authors did like a 40-minute podcast interview with us that went to some places.

And that’s all I can think of for now.

 

 

 

 

 

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

15 Comments

  1. I just finished reading “The Incrementalists”. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something I should be remembering as I read it. I have to read it again, now that I know what happens, so I can understand things said and done early on that I had to just accept the first time through. Years and years ago, the first short story I sold began: “My name is Renee. Once I was a slave and my master called me Ren, a little bird name for a little caged bird.” Ren in this book, her bird story — weird synchronicity.

  2. “…it is the only time I have asked a publisher to do more to promote one of my books.”

    “As to the latter, I can only say that they exceeded my expectations.”

    ….

    “The book tour: God it was fun! For one thing, it was book tour “light”–the high-stress aspects of touring were, for the most part, missing.”

    They exceeded your expectations by giving you less than the norm.

    Not that that’s a bad thing.

    I have the impression that publishers pay for this stuff because they believe it will make them money. They could be wrong — publishing is not a science, not like direct mail. But if they didn’t believe it would pay for itself, they wouldn’t do it. Although successful writers might migrate to publishers who do more, and publishers could possibly get into potlach mentality, where they compete for prestige even when it subtracts from the bottom line.

    Does a high-stress book tour pay for itself for the author? Three or four months out of your life, interfering with your writing, in exchange for your share of the increase in profits? I’m glad you got the fun version.

  3. I’m sorry it wasn’t quite as successful as it deserved to be. (I haven’t read it yet, though it’s next on my reading list. Need to get through this unbelievably thick book of war journals first.) I know the feeling all too well, though my career is nowhere near as long or illustrious as yours.

    Still, the great thing about art is that the right people will keep finding it for years and years, even long after all of us are gone. And who knows, maybe in a couple of years Steven Spielberg will read it and decide to turn it into a movie. You never know. I recently got a really great (top secret) offer due to a game I made three years ago.

    What matters is that you wrote it and that you had fun doing it.

  4. Another thing about publicity is that it does build over time. If you do more publicity for another book, various of the people who hosted signings, linked reviews, published interviews, and so on this time will be more engaged for the next time than they would have been otherwise, and so will all their readers.

  5. I think it’s great you guys had so much fun, and that you are so beautifully enthusiastic about everything. Not many get to say that about the work they do.

    I can imagine how amused you were to see the WSJ run a review. I’m disappointed to know I missed the print edition with it – it would have brightened my day immensely just seeing it there.

  6. I enjoyed the book, as you already know. But what I enjoyed even more was watching you and Skyler have so much fun with it. Regardless of how successful it is sales wise… if you can enjoy the process even half that much every time, you’ve done well.

  7. In regards to blurbs: When I picked up Jhereg many years ago, it was at a time I was tiring of the current crop of fantasy. The only thing that stopped me from putting it down again and moving on was the Zelazny blurb. So at the very least, that blurb resulted in one sale for every book you’ve written.

  8. The Zelazny blurb really hits me on the Dragaera books, so I have to say the right blurb can really make an impact. Scalzi’s blurb was great, and I am convinced it sold books. Scalzi’s blurb’s impact wasn’t hurt at all by his new Hugo. http://jadedconsumer.blogspot.com/2013/09/scalzis-redshirts-takes-2013-hugo-and.html

    It was fun reading The Incrementalists, and fun interviewing you about it 🙂
    http://cdragons.livejournal.com/7851.html

    Innocent, indeed!

  9. Steven – I bought the book because of your extra promotional efforts around this book. I read your blog sometimes. I read BoingBoing. I knew you were going out on tour. I liked the contests even though I didn’t participate. So I bought the book.

    I have always liked your writing since I first discovered it lo these many decades ago, but my rate of reading of fiction has declined in recent years, a pleasure let go as part of the adjustment to the busy life of a father, writer, professor, musician, etc. But this one, I thought, seemed special to you. So I bought it.

    And I enjoyed it a lot and have recommended it to others as a sophisticated and fun book.

    Anecdotes do not equal data, but my anecdote is all I have.

  10. In any case, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  11. I ate at Hugo’s Cellar last Monday and the food and setting were just as you described them.

  12. skzb

    Oh, cool! I’m so glad! Did you say hello to Chef Jason, or Eric, or John the wine steward?

  13. John stopped by to ask if we had questions but we had gotten cocktails and they brought them out with extra carafes on ice. With wine we would have had to fall back up the stairs.
    Everything was nicely done and just as I pictured it.

  14. Just finished reading it. I begrudged every minute that I had to spend on other activities rather than just reading the whole thing in one sitting. Thank you and I’m looking forward to the next one!

  15. skzb

    Yay! Thank you!

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