Monday Musings: The Quest For Sandwiches! a.k.a. Ethical Guerilla Advertising

The proper construction of a walking advertising prop is serious business.  It has to be lightweight yet sturdy, comfortable yet stable, and all of that.  The thing that I’m having to consider the most, though, is the exact nature of the message.

You see, I am a strong proponent of certain ethical boundaries.  My reviews are always scrupulously honest, I always try to keep my word, and all that sappy stuff.  So I find myself wondering just how far I should push my guerilla advertising.

Other authors and vendors have had to pay a fair bit more for the privilege of hawking their goods at the convention.  While you can argue that my pass cost isn’t that much less than an author’s alley spot with far less amenities, that pass was purchased with the implication of being a consumer, not a vendor.  So where should I draw the line?

I’m sure I’ll find an acceptable balance, as I did last year, but if you have any thoughts, feel free to let me know.  I welcome your comments and suggestions!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Morality and Motivation: Balancing ethical choices and realistic motivations

I write in fictional genres that classically lend themselves to a very old school ‘black vs. white’ mentality.  The truth is, though, that is boring and unrealistic.  It’s not that I don’t see morality and ethics as realistic, it is simply that the human mind doesn’t usually work in absolutes.  Even people we would consider to be saintly are not pure white in motivation and action and even the most vicious murderer is often found to have strangely positive points in their personality.  The human psyche is far too complex for such absolute moral stances.

In fact, it could be argued that the best conflicts in any piece, no matter how action-packed, comes from the inner turmoil of a good person faced with decisions with no clear positive outcome.  The classic ‘choosing the lesser of two evils’ situation can not only make for great drama, but tell more about a character’s mental state and moral compass than pages of ‘telling’ and pontificating.  The key, I would say, is to make sure such choice points themselves are not contrived or unrealistic.  If it all happens in the flow of the story, it will make for a dramatic and defining character moment.

At the end of the day, it’s the oft-repeated advice to make every hero have flaws and to make every villain have positive points.  I think the truth is a bit more nuanced though.  I think it could be valid to have a character that truly is so evil as to be irredeemable, but there must be a process to make a person that way.  That process has to come out, and in that process you can make a, for instance, heartless serial killer with no good qualities be shown to have once had them.  To show how that morality was purged by a spiraling series of no-win choices, the influence of other darker figures, and/or the occasional whim of fate could also be a fascinating addition to the story.  Much like you can show a protagonist’s rise through dramatic struggle, you can show the moral fall of an antagonist in the same way.

Maybe what I’m ultimately pontificating about is the simple act of not making characters faceless cutouts representing the archetype you need to fulfill your plot.  Archetypes aren’t by their nature bad; in fact, they represent vital tools in the writer’s bag.  It is the blank archetypes that can weaken an otherwise fantastic tale until it crumbles, unable to be supported by a base of cardboard cutouts.  Remember, for most types of stories, the characters create and support the plot, not the other way around.

The Ethics of Reviewing: Questions for veteran authors

One thing that remains clear to me as I continue my odyssey as a self-published author is that, for all the research and preparation, I could never be totally prepared for what all is involved.  The biggest stumbling block, the one that I imagine stymies most indie authors, is self-promotion.  The truth is I am horrible at it.  Not in the sense that I tell prospective readers to stuff it or any conventional PR disaster, it is simply that I don’t want to be bothered by it.  I’m a writer … I would much rather be left alone to, you know, write.  The vast amount of time and energy to be invested in constantly shilling oneself is amazing and, frankly, to someone such as myself who usually has a humble self-image, it is hard to put myself forth as ‘THE BEST THING EVAR’ because I don’t truly believe that, no matter how good I feel about my books.

What does this have to do with the topic of this piece?    As many of you may know, reviews and ratings are a critical part of marketing success.  You can have a good cover, a nice blurb, but get shot in the foot by a string of 1-star reviews.  Even if you have no reviews, you are basically asking people to give you a chance with no assurance of success.  This can be especially vital if your book has a ‘slow burn’ and the real meat of the novel may not be apparent in whatever preview the retailer allows.   It’s a classic ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum:  You need good ratings to get people to read your book but you need people to read your book to give you good ratings.

Obviously, there is a financial market that has sprung up around this.  I notice one key service almost every book marketing package includes is guaranteed reviews.  On top of that, I noticed, to my absolute confusion, that I could review my own books?! Talk about ultimate bias!

I suppose here are my questions to veteran indie writers:

– How do you approach trying to gather reviews?

– Do the ethical implications of some of the more questionable promotional services bother you, such as guaranteed reviews and changes that alter your vision of your work (radically rewritten novel blurbs and descriptions, tagging to fit the market and not the book, etc.)?

– Do you think it is ethical in any sense to review or rate your own book, beyond a simple ‘Like or Don’t Like’ system?

– Is there a way to balance self-promotion and actual writing without paying hundreds of dollars to someone to manage it for you?

– Should I just damn the ethics and charge full speed ahead into self-promotion land?