This month it's Jamie Iredell, author of Before I Moved to Nevada, (Publishing Genius), Prose, Poems, a Novel, (Orange Alert Books) and most recently Book of Freaks (Future Tense Books). It's hard to define Jamie's writing style, and he likes it that way. His work is playful, heartfelt, and deadpan: like Steinbeck or Hemingway but with a post-modern topspin. An indefatigable creator, Jamie's notorious for working on multiple projects at once: not only his own writing, but editing and designing books and journals for others. On top of everything else, he is the creator of the Iredellism, a trope in which something is compared to itself, as in "the mountains mountained up," or "the chili tasted like chili." His work in progress, The Fat Kid, features the line, "There were no cedars in Cedarville." In lieu of a picture, we have a video featuring Jamie read "The Bear in the Kitchen" at an AWP Conference. (Thanks to Leigh Stein for posting this on Vimeo.) The sound quality is abysmal, but it's an amazing work of ventriloquism. The puppet's lips barely move!
If you were to ask me what I've learned since publishing my first books, I'd have to say a couple different things: As someone who has published I've learned a lot about the publishing industry and how writers factor into it; and as a writer I haven't learned jack shit.
Probably the most important thing I've learned about the publishing industry when you do publish a book is that no one's going to do anything for you unless you take the initiative to make things happen for yourself. You'll gain more by utilizing your own ingenuity and contacts than even the industry's best marketing teams and publicists can do for you. Basically, marketing means commercials, and publicity means asking for favors.
Ad space pretty much everywhere is expensive, but it's cheaper online, and you're more likely to have a lot of eyes on your book's cover if you take out an ad on a literary website than you would if you bought ad space in, say, Poets & Writers Magazine. Really, the best ad you can possibly have is to continue to publish things regularly, in magazines and journals, both in print ad online. It is perhaps an unfortunate fact that--if you're writing literary fiction or nonfiction, and certainly if you write poetry--your audience largely consists of other writers. I say perhaps that's bad, because maybe your grandma wouldn't pick up your book in the local Barnes & Noble, but on the other hand your literary peers are those from whom I assume you'd wish to earn respect. And, considering that the last two or three Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conferences have had attendance numbers topping 10K, hey, if you were a best seller among that crowd, those can't be chump numbers.
The other thing you can do is not be a dick, both in person and on Facebook, Twitter, or on your blog or whatever. You're a walking ad if you post funny or interesting things online, or if you actually read your peers' writing and say good things about it. Read a book, and if there're things you liked about it, say so online. That writer, and those readers who like that writer, are more likely to check out what you've written. The worst thing you can do--in person or electronically--is to come off as desperate and needy, or clearly looking like you're out to gain something for yourself, rather than being genuinely interested in other people and/or what they're up to. Sometimes my friends--Man Martin included--have made fun of my ability to "network," and I always say that I'm good at it because I'm not "networking." At AWP, for example, here I am surrounded by all these people who are into the same stuff I'm into. How could I not just run around to say hello, to drink whiskey at the Hobart table, to buy books? I actually want to read those books I buy. I am actually interested in talking with the writers I meet for who they are and what they've done. I'm not hoping that by doing this they will in turn buy my books. It just so happens, though--go figure--when you're not a desperate/needy/pushy asshole many people feel pretty comfortable buying your books. It's crazy, I know, but I think some people think, "Hhhmmm, that guy was pretty cool, and he didn't [I hope] seem like an idiot. I'll bet his books are pretty good."
This kind of segues into the publicity part, or, as I like to call it: asking favors. Because, see, when you're not a dick, people tend to feel good about helping you out when you ask for a favor. In most cases, even for big houses, they're not going to fork out a bunch of cash for you to go on a book tour. You have organize that shit yourself. Here's where all those people you've met come in handy. Lots of them run reading series, or know someone who does. Most of those people usually live in places, like apartments or houses, and they're often happy to give you the couch, or in rare instances a guest bedroom. Also, many of those same people run or work for literary magazines or lit-themed blogs, or they have a podcast, or they like to review books. It's as simple as asking. And, yes, you have to follow up. But if you can do so without managing to sound like a dick, those people will more than likely be slapping themselves on the forehead and saying, "Oh my god, I forgot about that!" And when that happens it's because those people genuinely want to do that thing for you, because they like you, they like what you wrote, and in between the myriad things that are far more important in their life they forgot about helping you with your reading/review/blog-mention and now they actually feel bad about it.
About writing: I haven't learned anything. I'm still too quick to send off a story, essay, poem, book to a publisher. I am still trying to learn to have patience, that what I just wrote wasn't so goddamn awesome that everyone will stop driving their cars to read it. I still haven't found "my voice," LOL. I just keep punching keys on this keyboard because I can't help myself, and I hope that someday I'll read something I wrote and go, Who the fuck wrote THAT? That's goooooood.
All this stuff about getting yourself and your writing out there: it's not manipulative, it's not selfish, it's called being a normal human who does literature because he can't help himself from doing it. And it's hard work. And no one's going to do it for you. But, on the bright side, you've got thousands of potential friends waiting for you all across the country to help you promote your writing, to make you feel you're part of a community, to give something else to keep breathing for.