If you’re going to be a writer, and, more importantly, if you’re going to sell books, there’s publicity to be done. Post-internet and certainly post-social-networking, it’s possible to have some control over publicity. This is a mixed curse, because it also means that keen amateurs and wannabes get to be their own publicists, and the web is flooded with people doing publicity for work that either doesn’t exist or isn’t published, at least not in the traditional sense.
We are all competing for a slice of the pie, and the slices are getting smaller and smaller. A single voice is tough to hear in the cacophony.
On the upside, the writer does, at least, get to control his own publicity. He says what he wants when he wants to say it. That’s fine for those who are articulate and who enjoy speaking or writing outside of the discipline of fiction, who have no problem banging out a blog or communing with the world via Twitter et al. Many great writers aren’t comfortable with those things, and that’s a huge pity, because it means that the rest of us miss out, readers miss out, publishers miss out, and the world is poorer.
But I digress.
If you’re going to be a writer, and if you’re going to sell books, there’s publicity to be done. I write and I do publicity. I have this blog and I have a twitter presence, and FaceBook, too. There are other things I probably could and should be doing, and I expect that in the fullness of time I’ll be doing some of them. I have control over those things.
Once in a while, I’m invited to do a signing. That’s fine, too. Of course, it’s impossible to know who exactly I’m going to meet, but it’s a pretty good bet that they have some interest in meeting me and that their interest is probably positive. Time spent at signings is lovely and rewarding, and it’s always a pleasure to meet readers.
Then there’s the stuff that’s tougher, the stuff I feel that I’m not very good at.
Once in a while, someone sticks a camera in front of me and there’s a mic on a table or clipped to my shirt, and someone, usually someone friendly and lovely asks me questions. This happened on Saturday at the London ComicCon when I was interviewed about my latest novel 'Tomb Raider: The Ten Thousand Immortals', on which I collaborated with the husband. You can see the results on YouTube. I would have posted a link here, but it appears to have been disabled.
Interviews come in all forms. Print interviews are generally the simplest because it’s often just a case of getting a list of questions in an e-mail. They generally don’t vary a great deal, and they often don’t take a huge amount of thought to answer. The biggest problem with them is that half-a-dozen will come in at once, and it’s easy to feel as if I’m repeating myself in the answers. I suppose that’s bound to happen, but I console myself with the thought that most people aren’t going to read more than one interview, so the likelihood of anyone thinking I’m boring and repetitive is pretty small. For what it’s worth, when I get similar questions in different written interviews, I never cut and paste stock answers, I always write new ones.
Of course, from time to time, I do get questions that throw me for a loop. One very clever interviewer recently asked two stock questions at the beginning of a written interview, but the remainder of her questions were all of a type that I hadn’t seen before and wasn’t prepared for. I answered them, of course, but it took a couple of days out of my week instead of a couple of hours. And it didn’t even cross my mind to mention that time is a factor when it comes to publicity... It can take a huge chunk of time out of my working life.
Live interviews are where it all falls apart, though. I simply can’t prepare for them. I simply don’t. They don’t frighten me. I know I’m going to fall on my face, and I’ve been around for long enough to know that if I do it in a relaxed manner it’s less scary for the viewer than if I give a good interview but appear to be terrified.
I know that there’s a good chance when asked a question everything I know about the book, (and it’s worth remembering that I wrote the damned thing), will simply disappear from my consciousness: What book? What’s it about? What’s the plot? Who are the characters? What are the main themes? Was there any point I was trying to make? What about IP? are all things that run through my head as I grope for answers to perfectly reasonable questions.
So, I flounder and I bluster, and no one gets anything like a coherent answer out of me. But that’s OK, because I’m calm and I smile. It’s also OK, because the husband is very, very good at this stuff. He’s been doing it for a very long time, and he doesn’t forget things. The husband is a consummate professional, and he can talk to a row of cameras and a bank of microphones as if he’s talking to his best buddy, or, for that matter, to me.
Fortunately for me, most of the time, when I’m interviewed, I’m sitting next to the husband. You can clearly see the differences in how we tackle questions in this interview we gave about our collaboration on 'Fiefdom'.
I’m hoping that if and when the time comes for me to be interviewed solo, I’ll have had enough practice to do a much better job than I’ve been capable of so far in these situations. If I don’t get better at it? In the end, I’m not sure how much it matters... just so long as I keep calm, and keep smiling and keep blustering my way through it all.
No one on the other side of the cameras seems to mind any of it, so why should I?