In response to someone asking if he had seen a specific comment about his books online, Mark Lawrence, author of Prince of Thorns, remarked on Facebook that no mention of his book slips passed him.
I think that’s the way it is with new authors. Maybe it changes when you have fifty books on the shelves and have made cameo appearances in your own novel-to-film adaptations. For example I doubt Stephen King will take note of his name appearing in this post. Being that this is a line I have yet to cross, at this stage any mention—any comment, no matter how small or trivial—is a treat to discover. The mere fact that people you don’t know are talking about you, is so strange as to be mesmerizing. Days ago you were this invisible entity flitting about the net, now you exist on it in avatar form. I say this, because it isn’t really you. What exists on the net is an idea of you, an impression that people develop, ideas they associate with your name that you have little control over. In many ways it is similar to an online game. Players can’t help but associate your actions in the game to your character, and an impression is developed that is the sum of your words, actions, and even the look of your avatar. This imprint might bear only a distant resemblance to the real person, but it doesn’t matter. The avatar is all that most people ever see, so for them the projection is reality.
This disconnect is what surprises new authors. It surprised me. We forget others don’t know us, and that something fundamental has changed. Normally when aspiring authors meet strangers there is often an immediate sense that whatever the other person is doing with their life is likely more important and more successful. Not only are you only chasing a dream of making stuff up for people’s entertainment, but you haven’t even succeeded. When people asked what I did, I rarely admitted to being a writer. They would most assuredly ask, “Anything I’d know?” I would then have to explain that I’m not yet published and feel ashamed as if I’ve been caught in a lie, like I just claimed to be Winston Churchill and should have known they’d guess I wasn’t telling the truth.
You spend years learning, you are hopeless, clueless, just plain—less. So when after you’ve been published and meet with some level of success, it is utterly bizarre when readers don’t merely treat you as equals, but as something more.
I doubt there is a new author alive that doesn’t use Google Alerts, or some other method of searching the net for any mention of their name, or the name of their book. (Although Mark Lawrence informs me he turned off his alert feed for Prince of Thorns as it became a time sink.) If they are like me, they expect to find conversations discussing how utterly awful their work is and possibly even snide comments about their mother.
My network detector once located a review of my first book on a tiny blog called My World…in Words and Pages, written by Melissa Hayden. She had read it and—thank goodness—liked it. Assuming this was a very quiet, little blog, I broke my rule about reviews and made a comment of thanks. I actually cringed a bit when I hit the submit button. How would she take that? Me coming there and intruding on her conversation? Would she think me rude just barging in? Would she think I was trying to advertise on her site? All the old insecurities of being an eternal aspiring author rushed back. I was published sure—but self-published. That was worse, as to many people it was an admission of failure. Almost as soon as I posted I felt it was a mistake. I checked back the next day bracing myself for an inferno of accusations and insults. Instead I found this:
Wow, Michael! Thank you so much for stopping by, I feel very honored. I am really glad you liked the review. I am really looking forward to Avempartha. I have a few theories on a few people and can not wait to see what you have in store. I do hope the rest of the series does make it to the shelves, now that I am hooked on them. Thank you for the wonderful comment.
Followed by the comments from others:
Wow, Mel! You did such a good review the author stopped by how cool!
… I think it's the coolest thing you stopping by to comment on her review! I would love an author to do that with my blog! … Okay, so I think authors are like movie stars! At least in my eyes you are!...
Then the next day Melissa wrote:
If you are still around, I was wondering if I could ask you some questions...
If you are still around, I was wondering if I could ask you some questions...
It was strange, as if I was this mystical creature that she hoped not to offend, and wasn’t sure could hear her. I happily did an interview for Melissa and found out later that she is actually well-known and respected in the book blogging circles. Who knew? I just found it so odd that I would receive such a reception. I’m nobody, but apparently not to her.
That was fun and I made a friend of Melissa who recently became one of the select few to receive an advanced copy of Percepliquis which she recently reviewed.
So this idea of being Xavier plugged into Cerebro and reaching out into the Interwebz to read the minds of everyone who thinks about my books is sadly addictive but often exciting, like recently when I discovered author Beverly Jenkins mentioned me in a USA Today interview concerning three authors she reads, admires, and has met or would like to meet. She pointed out two New York Times Best Selling authors, Jim Butcher, and Ilona Andrews. She was likely pressured for time on the final name as the last person she mentioned was…me.
Now yesterday, Robin and I went out to lunch and she brought her iPad and hockey puck. The hockey puck is what she calls this little black mobile wifi hub that indeed looks a good deal like a hockey puck. As we were having lunch we checked Twitter and discovered that authors Mazarkis Williams, and Douglas Hulick had found my blog post A Digital Feast. I knew they would—I mentioned them and I know the superpower of new authors to locate all reverence to their books. We had a running dialog that probably had something to do with forming a league to combat evil in the universe, when a new twitter post popped up. It read:
Bezig met discussie van De Gesloten Universiteit (Natalie Koch) en Theft of Swords (Michael J Sullivan) op het forum.
How odd. Looking at it we saw what appeared to be the word university, my book, my name, and the word forum. What language, we had no idea. Was some foreign university discussing the literary merits of Theft of Swords? Perhaps I was now being taught as a classic? Okay, I didn’t believe that one either.
“Robin to the bat cave!” I love being able to say that. I’m not so sure my wife does.
Getting home we began digging using the Google translator and deciphered the message as:
Engaged in discussion of The Unseen University (Natalie Koch) and Theft of Swords (Michael J Sullivan) on the forum. # ff-reading group
Turns out this is a Dutch book club’s forum who had selected Theft of Swords for their January 2012 selection. Previous choices had been Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson, and Orson Scott Card.
Also listed—and let’s see how long it takes for them to see this—Tee Morris and Philippa Ballentine’s Phoenix Rising. Tee lives near me and we’ve known each other for a few years. I’ve even strained a few muscles helping him move furniture in his house. Phoenix Rising is a steampunk novel that just came out last year—Tee’s first Big Six publication.
With the positive experience Melissa provided me, I tried to log on to the Dutch site, but it required a registration. This has stopped me before, but I was intrigued and submitted. By early evening I was admitted and logged in. It was nearly midnight in Amsterdam.
I located an About the Author section under my book’s name and there I found a post which I Google translated to:
Following my last twitter message that we are reading his book this month, follows the writer (the book club) is now on Twitter ... If you want to pass something genius you can.
This was immediately followed by:
En hij zit hier nu ook!!!!! or And he's here now !!!!!
Using a translator program I composed what I hoped was a message that said:
I’m using Google translator. Not sure if what I write will be readable. I want to thank you for selecting my book. If you can leave questions in English. I will try to answer in that language. By the way, a Dutch translation in the works.
This began a night of eavesdropping on Dutch conversations that was a bit like listening to a really distant station on an AM radio.
“This is also ever come sounds quite enjoyable”
“Mmm, I've just started and it's already very good. Although both the story and the characters are really different from me seem Eddings has it there is something of road. Happy fantasy perhaps?”
“That genre appeals to me to do. This has become very top of my virtual ntl. You have me very, curious consolation!”
“Okay, okay, you got me enthusiastic stories hot run for this book and after some covert actions on the Internet, is the book with me at the e-reader and I'm so start.”
So this is going to be trickier than I expected.
In case you are interested in discussing Theft with fellow readers, there’s an easier way. Goodreads has a group who just started reading the entire series, so you can come over there and chat with others. I even stop in from time to time.
And as of today, we are officially one week away from launch.