Friday, February 3, 2023

Everything is Personal, or Should Be, by Josh Stallings

Q: Now that 2022 is well and truly "in the books" (!) did you learn any business tips you can pass on?

A: Many years ago at Bouchercon I was asked to read at a Noir at  the Bar; I said yes. Writer’s tip #1, always say yes to readings. The bar was stacked with loudly drunk non-crime readers. The first couple of readers couldn’t be heard from five feet away. As my turn came, Tom Pluck, friend and writer extraordinaire, yelled in my ear, “Fuck the mic, be loud.” He had sussed out that the PA was garbling more than helping the readers. Tip #2, make friends with fellow writers, they will cover your back even when you don’t know you need them to. I set the mic on the bar, filled my lungs and projected into the room. Tip #3, part of a writer’s job is public speaking, if it doesn’t come naturally take some speech classes. What I didn’t know was that Scott Montgomery was in the bar. I knew of him but I’m not sure if we’d met yet. After the reading he came up to me and complimented my work. I thanked him, and gave him a copy of my book. Tip #4, always carry copies of your work and give them away. Scott has since become a good friend, he knows more about crime fiction than almost anyone I know. For many years he was head honcho of Mystery People, a book store inside Austin’s massive Book People. He hand sold over two hundred copies of TRICKY. I have been honored to do events in Texas with Scott and the likes of Terry Shames, Joe R. Lansdale and many others. 

For us writers who haven’t become household names, we need to make the personal outreach. Wether in a bar, from a panel stage, or at a bookstore we need to reach readers, intrigue them, make them cry or laugh. To do this we need to be our genuine selves. Life is full of hucksters and pitch monsters. They fill our phones with their robocalls and texts. We are immune to their sales tactics. Readers are smart critical thinkers, so I always try to be myself. Both when I’m “pitching” and when I’m writing. My personal view of the world, my odd syntax, my open hearted hard man is unlike anyone else's.

Ideas are easy. Find your voice. Own it. Your  approach will ultimately set you apart from others.

NOTE: I feel like we toss writerly words around without knowing if we all agree on their meaning. When I say VOICE, I mean more than word choice or short or long sentences. How we write is part of voice, but what we write about, how we feel about the world is a huge part of a writer’s voice. Part of my writing time is spent stringing words together, and part of my day is spent thinking about the world I’m writing about. The hardest part about writing Tricky was all the interviews I did and the nonfiction books I read to come to an understanding of how I felt about the current state of policing in America.

Last tip; I often think when in the middle of a book, if I get hit by a train tomorrow will I be glad I spent my final days working on this book? If not then I dig deeper. The book I chose to write isn’t wrong, I just haven't discovered the true heart of it yet. 

What does this last part have to do with business tips? 

Um, everything. Agents, editors, publishers and most importantly readers scour the shelves for pages that will move them. We all want to discover something new yet familiar, unique and yet universal. That begins with the writer’s voice and passion.

Don’t waste any more time trying to understand the market. Dig deeper. Discover your corner of the quilt and get to stitching.


Anonymous said...

I think I will take this personally. :)

Susan C Shea said...

Dig deeper - that's so fundamental. Thanks, Josh, for nagging me a bit!

Catriona McPherson said...

This is the perfect advice to round off the week. Back to what matters most of all.