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

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 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, focusing mainly on the audio book.

Also at, 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.






Signing Tour Update: San Diego and San Fransisco

I’m now in Virginia, on my way to New York.  It’s been a blast so far.  The release party at Book People was more fun than I’d have thought possible–thank you all who showed up.


On Friday the 11th we’ll be at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego (or see the event page on facebook, if you prefer).

On Saturday the 12th, at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. [Note from jenphalian: the events page of their site isn’t as up to date as possible, but the event is at 3 pm, and you can see details if you scroll down to their calendar.]


I’d love to see some of you there.


The Incrementalists Audiobook Giveaway Contest

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am love with the audiobook. I’ve now listened to it twice, and Mary Robinette Kowal and Ray Porter do an amazing job of capturing the characters. I don’t know exactly how they do that, because their interpretations are so very different: Ray’s version of Oskar has a German accent and Mary’s doesn’t; Mary’s portrayal of Jimmy has a French accent and Ray’s doesn’t. You’d think they’d conflict, but in some weird way they compliment each other.

But the reading of the viewpoint characters: Mary’s Ren and Ray’s Phil, are where I lose the power of speech. So perfect, there needs to be a better term than perfect. There were a couple of points in there where I actually cried–and I’ve read this thing maybe a hundred times. I have no idea how they do that.

We’re giving away three copies (actually promo codes) for the book at We’re running three simultaneous contests here on this blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the project, I would suggest reading the (free, of course) short story that’s up on  It can be found  here.

Contest 1: Suppose you were given the chance to join The Incrementalists. There’s a 50-50 shot (actually, more or less depending on how strong your personality is) that your personality would be swallowed by another and, though your memories would survive, you would be gone.  But if you did survive, you would become (at least somewhat) immortal, you would have access to memories from throughout human history, and you would be part of a small group dedicated to making the world better. Would you take the gamble? Why or why not? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 2: If you were an Incrementalist, with the power to influence individuals in subtle ways, what would be your first project? That is, what would be the first thing you did in an effort to make things just a little better? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 3: The Incrementalists have been around since the beginning of human history, trying to make things better, or make bad things a little less bad. Name one thing you’ve think they’ve done, and how could it have been worse if they didn’t?  Maximum: 100 words.

The contest will run until noon CDT on Monday, September 30, at which time Skyler and I will pick the best answer in all three categories. Post your answers here. You can answer all three, but you can only win one. Only one answer per contest per person.


(Warning: If you say something really cool, Skyler and I just might steal it!)

(Note: As far as I know, audible can work on almost any device anywhere; but if I’m wrong, that’s not our problem, okay?)



Less Than a Week, Now

This little blog feels like a community to me.

To be sure, you are not all my friends, nor am I yours. Some of you make me grit my teeth and scowl a lot; others make me roll my eyes. But all of you–regulars and occasional visitors and people I admire and people who just barely tolerate me–are part of the little world that makes up this blog. Those people (I believe there are three total) that I’ve banned, I’ve banned because they interfered with that feeling.

That’s what gives me the freedom to talk about what’s on my mind, whether politics, philosophy, writing, whatever. I’m comfortable here. If I want to talk about my feelings regarding the upcoming release of The Incrementalists, I trust you people to let me ramble and not assume I’m trying to publicize it (I’ve done enough of that, for chrissakes)–in short, to understand that I just kind of need  to organize what’s in my head.

I want to talk about my feelings regarding the upcoming release of The Incrementalists.

Jen and I are in Austin where Skyler, Scott, and Egan White have graciously put us up. Skyler and I have been working. In between sections of the new one, I’ve been checking my email to see if samples of the audio book have arrived yet, and going to Goodreads to see if the rating has maybe climbed a bit, and watching the counter at tick down, and checking to see if there are any new reviews.

Those are things I never do.

I honestly do not  understand why this book feels so different to me.  I’ve had books that were as much fun to write (The Phoenix Guards), and books that gave me the same glow of a job well done (Agyar) and some that filled me with the same combination of humility, awe, and pride at what I’d been a part of  (The Gypsy, Freedom and Necessity).  But this one is different in ways I do not understand, and many of the effects are not good.

I have taken “marketing” myself well beyond the point I could ever imagine I’d do.  I am working with a publicist at Tor. Me. Working with a publicist. WTF? I’ve never done that. I’ve never felt the desire to do that. I could never have imagined myself doing that. Yet, here I am. Now, I have to say, that part is (for now) a lot of fun, and it feels really good to be treated like a bit of a star. No complaints. But why am I doing it, and why do I care? It isn’t a career thing, because I am still woefully incapable of thinking in career terms: it’s about the book.

In some measure, one is always--always–blind to the quality of one’s own work, or at least to how it will be received: look at how many people like Yendi or Cowboy Feng; at how many people do not like Teckla or Agyar.  That’s part of the biz.  But this time, I can’t keep the difference between how I feel about it and how the reader will feel about it  from getting into my head.  Just for the record: if you are a writer, don’t do that. Don’t let that happen. It is a bad thing.

In my head, this book is special–an achievement in which I went beyond myself–a master work.  In my head.  Only in my head. That is hard to grasp. By now, I’ve seen several reviews. Some of them are all I could wish for, and more (“call it genius at work”!!! and the one by the Little Red Reviewer that I’ve reread twenty times). And of course, some of them just pan the book, and those aren’t terribly upsetting.

But many reviews, like the wonderfully perceptive one by Stefan Raets at, are saying, in essence, “Yeah, I liked it. Flawed, but not bad.” The question of, “Why are  you reading reviews, you idiot?” is valid, but beside the point.  What is dawning on me is that the book is, well, a solid, fine, decent novel I can be proud of. It is not the potential award-winner that I’ve always craved more than I’d like to admit; it is not the book that will turn the entire sf community on it’s ear; it is not the book that will go out into the world and leave huge footprints. It is a good story well told; some will come to love it as much as I do, some will hate it, and some will go, “Oh, that one. Yeah, I enjoyed it.”  Just like other books.

It is not a problem that the book is like that; it is a problem that I care that the book is like that. And it is a problem that I don’t know why. Why this one and none of the others? All of the stupidities and insecurities of the first-time author are popping up in me, right down to the urge to obsessively call my editor and say, “How are pre-orders?” I know better than to do these things; I just don’t understand why, after thirty years, I suddenly want to.

This post constitutes an effort to get past that, to put it away. Right now, it is not interfering with my ability to work–work on new stuff is going extremely well.  But when, in just under 5 days, the book hits, and the entire universe does not instantly change, that’s when I fear it’ll start fucking with my work. And I cannot let them happen.

So I’m telling you about it, in hopes that just expressing these things will help alleviate them.

Thanks for listening.