16 May 2011

Gobsmacked: Platform, Flatform

            Hey, me hearties
            Have ye e’er been bothered by a wee word? One that should be tossed ov’r board and fed to the sharks? Good. ‘Cause here’s me rant. And here’s the word.


            Aye, sweet writing buccaneers. I can already see a few of ya ready to mutiny. But be honest now. Have ye not come to wretch when ye see the word? Have ye not bristled, choked back a curse, gripped your sword and wanted to draw blood when someone asks, “What’s your platform?”
            This drivel, this flat piece of shark bait, this dead piece of word smithing, is not worthy of us. It shackles us to someone else’s chain of cheap commerce. Are we free, creative beings, or are we toeing the line of someone else’s gobshite?
            For those pirates out there selling their “platform wares,” I’m not stickin’ it to you. You’re as much a slave to this as we all are. Aye, I understand the “we-have-to-promote-and-market-our-books-and-ourselves,” but do we have to do it with so little …


            Days ago on NPR’s Fresh Air, they be re-broadcasting author Gary Shteyngart’s interview with Terry Gross ‘cause his novel Super Sad True Love Story is out in paperback. Alas, I be thinkin’, another author slinging his wares.
            But I stayed on his story, and glad I was! He’s a true pirate with his irreverent talk. From his tales of growin’ up fat to observin’ that porn is norm these days, he was entertainin’. He’s a funny buccaneer, he is. Then he was asked why he be makin’ a satirical trailer for his book and he says,

"Well, nowadays nobody wants to read books, so anything you can do to sell book, you know, if I could sneak a book into - inside a knish and sell it that way, you know, buy the knish and then read my book when you finish eating it, that's fine with me too."
            Shiver me timbers!

            A knish?
Hark, Gary Shteyngart!

            I’m on board with the knish. I’m on board with the satirical trailer. I’m on board with someone who, I think, can replace the boring, overused, flat form of platform. 
           Gary, can you do this?

To Ye Readers
Not a writer's platform
            For all ye beauties who read, I should explain. 
             A writer’s platform is not a shipping crate turned upside down, shoes with very thick soles, or a structure where you sacrifice virgins to your gods.
            In the writer’s world, a “platform” consists of all the tools to sell your work—Twitter, email newsletters, Facebook, videos, blogs, signs trailing a blimp. It’s all about raising name recognition. It’s all about … well, let me give you Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s succinct explanation. She’s author of the blog The Adventurous Writer. Laurie says, 

“To build a strong writing platform, you need to be an entrepreneur and marketing guru with established followers.”

            Yet, truth be told, she’s not tellin’ the worst of it.
            ‘Tis rumored that before an agent or editor even reads a manuscript, they Google the writer’s name to see how much name recognition the writer has already established before they buy the bloody novel or memoir!
Not a writer's platform
            For ye landlubbers who have never sailed these waters, here’s another truth. Publishers, even after they buy a novel, don’t promote—with the exception of best-selling authors. (Refer to Sun Tzu’s Art of War for how strategy favors sending re-enforcements to the winners and those battling the worst of odds are left to fend for themselves.) Aye, we write the novel, spend money on independent editors to give our novel the best chance for publication, submit to agents and pray for acceptance, wait, wait, wait, and then wait some more for the agent who accepts you to submit to editors, and when accepted by an editor/publisher (and you’re hopefully not turned down by their marketing rep), you down your rum in celebration, knowing they’ll promise to promote you to hell and back, but only deliver a “product” (this is your book) that you will have to promote to hell and back if you ever want to publish again because you never will publish again if you have mediocre or bad sales.
            Aarrr, and you think that couldn’t be the worst news?
            In the Fresh Air interview, Gary Shteyngart says:
            "You know, everyone's a writer. Nobody wants to read but everybody wants to write. These MFA programs, we can't, you know, we can't turn them away. There’s just millions of applicants. Everybody wants to be a writer. It’s this huge culture of self-expression."

            An exaggeration, true. Twenty or so years ago, Natalie Goldberg said twelve-step programs produced a dearth of writers (they journal, they all have an important story to tell, they need to express themselves). Shteyngart’s statement brings us into the internet age where everyone can express themselves. (Aye, point your finger at me.)
            And that increases the competition.
            Add to that the A-Type personalities, extroverts, writers with no scruples, or people who capitalize on their worst traits and sins in the open confessional of the internet. (Need proof, check out “Mommy” bloggers.)
            But blast the devil! What if you don’t want to express yourself in blogs/Facebook/tweets? What if you’re undermining your creativity and deep-ocean talent by swimming in the internet pool? Or what if you’re an introvert and have no desire to “share?” What if you’re Type B like me? I need me sleep, love me leisure time, have no desire to fill every bloody waking moment with action. I love to daydream. I love to ponder. I’m a slow reader and writer. If I had to write a blog every day, I’d throw myself overboard! When I work on a novel, I lose meself to uninterrupted time. To have me time broken up by all this “platform building” is enough to sink a ship. Don’t get me wrong, I know the necessity, but curse it.
            Airr, if I must play the game, throw me a bone, a scrap. Make swallowing this bilge a little more magical, sexier, inspiring.
            Replace this platform anchor.
            If Gary Shteyngart can’t conjure up a magical, sexier, inspiring replacement for the word, how ‘bout ye pirates out there?

            I do my possible, so for the time bein’, instead of sayin’ I’m “building my writer’s platform,” I’ll be saying, “I’m sailing my writer’s vessel, the Gobsmacked.” ‘Tis a little sexy and magical with an irreverent punch because Gobsmacked is how I feel about this pre-publishing marketing shite.

            And now me, lovelies, back to the real work.

            And a merry month of May to ya!
            Captain Val

* * * * *
Ahoy, shipmates! Help me celebrate my birthday!
            For the month of May, I’ll be givin’ away a signed copy of my France, a Love Story, along with a surprise: a signed copy of a book by another author who … I just keep ye guessin’.
            Here’s me instructions: leave a comment on me blog, and your name goes into the end-of-the month drawin’. The more comments, the better your chances. If you subscribe by email, send your name and comment to valinparis (at) earthlink (period) net. If ye wish me to post yer comment to me Captain’s Log, tell me, and it’s done!
            Bonus! Every captain needs followers and here’s how to serve yer captain. Bring a mate on board Gobsmacked by having them sign up to receive me blog. For every mate you bring aboard, your name goes into the drawing three times. I’m using the pirate’s code of honor for this. Just tell me you signed ‘em up. No cheatin’ now or it’s the gangplank!

Also from Gary’s interview:
“I think the Pacific Northwest is like the last place where books will be read in the world.”

Gary Shteyngart’s Hilarious Trailer ("They let him teach at Columbia???")

Coming Up!
May Giveaway!
 “A View of My Writers Room Wall: What Inspires Me”
“Oh, Google, My Name is …”
… and soon an interview with Jessica Maxwell of Roll Around Heaven