Hangin’ With the Larbalesterfelds

As long as I’m doing the mad crazy book pimp thing, let me not neglect Scott Westerfeld, whose concluding volume of the Midnighters Trilogy, Blue Noon, comes out tomorrow (but is available to order off of Amazon today). The Midnighters books are excellent YA, but you don’t have to be an angst-ridden teen to enjoy them (it just, you know, helps). Here in Scalzi-land we’ve been feeding the Midnighters books to our niece after we’re done reading them, you know, to hook another kid. It seems to have worked. Read them now before they’re turned into a TV series; that way you can say were into them when they were still in the “keepin’ it real, old school” phase.

And as long as I’ve pinged Scott, let me also ping his hubby Justine Larbalestier, who is also a fabulous YA writer and whose upcoming book Magic Lessons I will undoubtedly pimp here in another 17 days. Today, however, Justine’s thinking on self-promoting authors, and where the fine line is between appropriate and useful self-promotion and just being an annoying twit about it. This is indeed something that any writer with half a brain worries about — on one hand, how can you expect anyone to promote your work if you won’t promote yourself? But on the other hand, no one likes a jerk who can do nothing but talk about his or her own work, to the exclusion of every other topic.

I don’t want to go into this too deeply here because I think you all should visit Justine’s site and comment there, but I think here are three things I would say:

1. For everyone but authors: First-time authors/novelists get a pass. Because you know what? It’s their first time. For God’s sake, be just a little extra-tolerant and let them enjoy the moment. You can give them the “dude, you’re being a dick” speech if they’re still pulling the same stunts with book #2.

2. That said: First-time authors, try to have a sense of scale, or at the very least, keep your navel-gazing to a single, safe place — like, for example, your own blog. Some of you may recall that January 2005 was “All Old Man’s War, All The Time” here on the Whatever, which annoyed at least one other science fiction writer something fierce. But, one, it was my first novel and I was excited about it and anyone telling me to calm down about it could be invited to kiss my ass (see point number one above). Two, it was all on my site and not much of anywhere else. If you can’t do a little happy dance in your own home, virtual or otherwise, where can you? Out in the real world, however, I tried to keep the megalomania to a dull roar.

3. Authors on their second book and thereafter: If you’re worried about excessive auto-pimping, there’s a simple and equitable solution, which is that for every time you pimp yourself in any form, you pimp another writer before you pimp yourself again. Doesn’t have to be the same other writer each time, mind you. Spread the love around, friend. Also, of course, be sincere about your pimpage; don’t just name-check some random writer dude so you can start the conversational mad rush back to you, you, you. People aren’t stupid. They’ll figure that one out. Fortunately, most writers know other writers with whom they are friends and/or whose work they admire. There’s always someone to give writerly love to.

Pimping other writers does two things: first it keeps you from looking like an irritating egotistical git, and second it starts the virtuous karmic cycle of writerly regard, in which other writers will offer up the same consideration to you. So, in short, pimp onto others as you would have them pimp unto you (be very aware, however, that this should not be a “quid pro quo” thing — i.e., if you pimp someone and then keep score to see if they pimp you back, you lose all your writer karma points and in your next life you come back as a slush pile reader. Oh, stop with the screaming. You can avoid this fate).

Anyway, that’s how I think one deals with self-promotion.

27 Comments on “Hangin’ With the Larbalesterfelds”

  1. I said it over there and I will say it over here too.

    I have a problem when promoting myself because every time I do it I feel like some sort of used car salesman. Doing appearances(HA!) or signing books or whatever is one thing, but trying to sell my books has been the least worthwhile part of this business.

  2. No, you’re great, Scalzi.

    One point made over at Justine’s is that if your publishing company sees you effectively pimping your own book, they’re more likely to get off their asses and help. It’s one of those “if YOU don’t love you how’s someone else supposed to love you?” things.

  3. I have Magic or Madness in my ‘waiting to get to’ pile, along with a certain sequel to a Starship Troopers rip-off. I’ve been checking my local Borders since Friday for the new Midnighters to no avail. I was hoping they would put it out early, but so far they haven’t (I’m sure they will though – they have several other Westerfeldian titles in stock).

    And any day now I’m sure I will get my copy of Questions for a Soldier

  4. Thanks for the plug, Mr Scalzi! Also extra thanks for calling me Scott’s “hubby”. That’s much more indicative of our relationship than the word “wife”. Much appreciated.

    We’re looking forward to picking up a copy of your new tome at Borderlands next week.

  5. “And as long as I’ve pinged Scott, let me also ping his hubby Justine Larbalestier…”

    Is that a typo, or am I totally unhip and/or not getting the joke? I assume Justine’s a woman. But she’s Scott’s hubby?

    –Mr. Nitpicker.

  6. Okay, so, after waiting for two weeks, my special order of ‘Old Man’s War’ came in. I paid my twenty bucks yesterday at lunchtime, and began reading more or less right away. It’s now 10 o’clock the following morning and…the book is finished. So now I’ve gotta go and order ‘The Ghost Brigades’ and wait probably a month for it to come in from America. And then I’ll finish that in a few hours too. Once upon a time, I guess before the oven was invented, we would order a pizza from the one single Pizza Hut in our hometown of Townsville, and then wait, like, anywhere up to two hours for it to show up. We’d scarf it down in exactly eleven minutes. But, damn, was that some good pizza. What I’m trying to say is that your books are like pizza. Really, really good pizza. Only, y’know, more papery.

  7. Well, I understand the etymology of “hubby,” but I’ve always heard it used interchangably between sexes as an informal synonym for “spouse.” Do people use it usually only for the husband?

  8. Hmmmm. Well, clearly, Justine, if you want to the word changed, I’ll be happy to do so. Apparently the gender-neutral usage is mega-super-ultra-non-stanard.

  9. Nah, leave it. Otherwise this convo won’t make any sense. Like I said I was kinda tickled and immediately ordered Scott to clean the kitchen. (Not that he wasn’t in there cleaning it anyway.)

    P.S. You mean “standard” right?

  10. That’s it. I’m never pimping either of you ever again, for two weeks. That’ll show you!

  11. I am much too lazy to spend any time researching new books. I hazard to guess that much of the book buying public is similarly inclined. That said, I love hearing about new books. Just not at length and not too often.

    Some writers mention their book in passing or do little more than put an ad banner or link to Amazon. Guess what. My brain won’t keep that little tidbit for longer than it takes to read your post.

    Some writers strive for that brightly lit and loudly bullhorned end of the bell curve. Telling us that the earth will shift on its very axis if we don’t read her book. Or that his kids won’t eat. Or his publisher will feed his toes to rapid hamsters.

    If a writer tends towards the heavy end, readers will ignore you. If a writer is otherwise an interesting poster, then readers will scroll past your blathering. Essentially, the same as if you hadn’t promoed at all.

    Our friend, Mr. Scalzi, dances around the center area of that bell curve like a toddler with a toy microphone. It gets annoyingly loud occasionally, but we forgive him because he’s just so darned cute about it.

  12. Well, you know, rapid hamsters require a lot more energy than your ordinary poke-along hamsters. And as it turns out, human toes are quite nutritious to rapid hamsters…

  13. “Well, I understand the etymology of “hubby,” but I’ve always heard it used interchangably between sexes as an informal synonym for “spouse.” Do people use it usually only for the husband?”

    Uh huh, sure. Male spouse, female spouse, it’s all the same. You’re just setting us up for news about that “hubby” you picked up in Massachusetts, right?

  14. To your third point:

    The danger of such mutual admiration societies is that they become useless as sources of information. I cannot hope to read every book you mention, John, let alone every book mentioned by you and a cohort of other authors. The end result is an impossibly long list of books, with little to distinguish their relative worth.

    This being your blog, I think it is only proper that you should promote your own work and that of anybody else you like. The same is true of all the others. I’m simply saying that the net effect of mutual pimping is likely to be little different from that of auto-pimping — people like me will of necessity discount the value of information gleaned from such a network.

  15. I have to disagree with Brian on this one on the value of mutual pimping. While I may not rush out and buy every book you recommend, I’ll give them a closer inspection when I’m looking for a new fix than I will a complete unknown. If I recognize the name as I’m scanning the shelves at my local bookstore, I’ll pull the book down, and test drive a few pages, which is more attention than 99% of the others on the shelf will get.

    This is also why, much as I love Amazon et al, when I’m considering a new author, I need the book in my hands. If I can’t touch it, I can’t evaluate it.

    Weird, huh?

  16. Well, for one thing, I certainly don’t expect everyone to rush out and buy everything I suggest or note here. “Pimp” in this context doesn’t only mean “attempt to sell”; it can also mean simply praising work one likes or celebrating the successes of your friends.

  17. I sense a discussion of the etymology of “Pimping” might be on the near horizon…

    Book pimpin’ rapid hamsters! Unite!

    Since I suck at etymology (bugs really freak me out) I’ll stay away from that. As for mutual pimpage, it does have a net positive effect. I do, however, think it is greatly mitigated by the “trees for the forest” effect. The more you mention your friends the less a reader is likely to notice. Even more so when a blogger goes on and on about a particular writer. Then you begin to have the opposite effect. A sort of accidental aversion therapy, but with words instead of rubber bands.

  18. “Sadly, no. Polygamy is still illegal, even in Massachusetts. ”

    I knew you were Heinleinesque, but really…

  19. No, I think co-pimping is a good thing, and when authors have done it to me at cons, I do remember the books, and if I can find them, I do read them. It’s not at all a matter of “so-and-so is important so I must read to be proper groupie” but: “I like this writer’s writing, and if s/he liked this other writer, then perhaps this is because the two share some fundamental style or element which may also appeal to me.” This is especially true when a writer is pimping within the same genre as the writer’s own.

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