When my first novel was published in 2013, my then-publisher offered me some advice about building a platform and promoting my work that I felt was strange at the time;
‘”Write a blog. Let your audience know about you. If they get to know you, they’ll be interested in your work.”
Really? I had been under the impression that people would read my book because they were interested in the story, the concept, or the characters.
Six years and ten published novels later, I can tell you that advice was good advice.
Building an audience really is about YOU. The people who might one day read your books need to know why they should want to listen to you. The literary world is a crowded marketplace these days, filled with competing voices all shouting for an ear.
So, what do you have to offer? What kinds of stories do you have to tell?
I grew up with a love of what today is called ‘speculative fiction’–science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
I also grew up with a disability: a condition called hydrocephalus, which required the surgical implantation of a shunt to divert the flow of cerebrospinal fluid away from my brain, performing the function of the ventricle my brain doesn’t have. In a maturing child, the tubing of the shunt must be lengthened to account for growth. I had to go through a number of surgeries growing up, and my participation in some physical activities was limited, due to my parents’ apprehension about a possible head injury. I also was the target of frequent ridicule over the size of my head. These limitations and hardships, though, became strengths.
I started reading books and watching movies at a very early age. In terms of reading, I started with comic books and moved on to things like H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and a little later, folks like Stephen King.
In terms of movies, early on there were classic monster films from Universal and Hammer; there was the 1927 sci-fi masterpiece “Metropolis”; there was the 1933 “King Kong”, the 1960 George Pal version of “The Time Machine”, animated classics like “Charlotte’s Web” and Disney movies, and when I was six years old, in 1977, there was “Star Wars.”
In my early adolescence, there came what would become my favorite film, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
I couldn’t have told you what it was I liked about all these things when I was younger, but as I grew up, and particularly as I started telling stories of my own, I came to terms with some of the things that always drew me to SF, fantasy, and horror.
The first of these is the chance to explore other worlds–which really, to me, has come to mean exploring divergent, varying perspectives. Whether I’m writing about an extra-terrestrial, a vampire, or someone who is of a different gender or ethnicity from my own, I’m writing about, in essence, different worlds of experience. And invariably, I am looking for ways to connect all of those different worlds back to the one common lens of experience we all have here on Earth–the human experience.
The second is the chance to convey the perspective of the outsider, the outlier, the disabled, and the disenfranchised–who are, in our culture, often one and the same.
All of my novels deal with this perspective to one extent or another, often with the dual intent of subverting genre expectations and also encouraging social compassion. “Annah and the Children of Evohe”, the first of my “Children of Evohe” series, can in some ways be considered an alien invasion story in which a human being is the ‘alien invader’ on another world. My vampire novel “Dark Road to Paradise” features a relationship between two outsiders: a human girl who is HIV positive, and a man who is, unbeknownst to her at first, a vampire. My sci-fi romantic comedy series “The Conversationalist”, centers around an initially long-distance, online relationship between a young man and a young woman who each have a secret. His is that he has a unique neurological condition that gives his brain the processing speed of a computer, and yet promises to first paralyze him from the waist down and then shorten his lifespan to just over fifty years. Hers is that she is, in fact, the first human cyborg, but her scientist ‘parents’left her without a body, effectively rendering her paralyzed.
My forthcoming ‘monster story’ novel “Pearl” centers around a ten year old girl, apparently of African-American descent, who grows up in a research facility, plagued by issues of abandonment and identity, and called a ‘monster’ by all but two people in her life because of her extraordinary silver eyes, fang-like teeth, and claw-like fingernails, despite possessing a keen intelligence and a kind heart.
It’s my belief that speculative fiction can provide the perfect lens for seeing the world we live in, in all its beauty and imperfections, because it can allow us a distance that our ordinary lives never can, and it can allow us to walk in the shoes of another in ways that ordinary life seldom does.
When I discovered these things about myself and the types of stories I enjoy experiencing as well as telling, I gained an important key to broadening my base of readers. It was about me, as I had been told–but in some ways I didn’t expect.
If you’re a writer, or really any kind of creative, yourself, I hope these long-winded thoughts may be of some use to you in shaping your own work and growing your audience.
If you are a person who merely loves art, music, and stories, I hope this will convey to you a little of the power the human imagination has to be a bridge across the distance between human hearts–a distance that is often our greatest obstacle as people.