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Writing Advice from Neil Gaiman
Episode 9220th February 2024 • Writing Break • America's Editor
00:00:00 00:16:02

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In this episode, we are discussing book awards, book marketing, and the bit of writing advice Neil Gaiman gave out this week.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

"Cool Jazz Background (Trippy Trombone Version)" by Tencher Music

"Yes Or No" by Precarious Perch

“Jazzy Jingle V1” by bzur

“Little Duke” by Humans Win

Transcripts

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

In this episode, we are discussing book awards, book marketing, and the bit of writing advice Neil Gaiman gave out this week. The Writing Break cafe is open, so let’s grab a table, and I’ll fill you in on some publishing news.

Rie Kudan, the author of Tokyo-to Dojo-to, won the Akutagawa Prize this year, which is a prestigious literary prize in Japan. During the award ceremony, Kudan stated that about 5% of her award-winning novel was written by ChatGPT. She also said that she wants to keep a “good relationship” with AI in the future. This has caused controversy, of course, with people agreeing that she used ChatGPT as a tool yet disagreeing over whether or not this is cheating or an exhibition of talent and creativity. What do you think?

hanges go into effect for the:

Following the Pulitzer’s lead, The National Book Awards are expanding eligibility to non-U.S. citizens. The new criteria include authors who“maintain their primary, long-term home in the U.S., U.S. territories, or Tribal lands.”

Not following anyone’s lead, the Hugo Awards, which is a top award for sci-fi and fantasy, is in the midst of a scandal. The Hugo Awards ceremony was held in China last year, and the absence of several authors from the winner’s circle, including Neil Gaiman, was confusing to sci-fi and fantasy fans. Leaked email messages now show that many book entries were considered ineligible last year if they discussed China. Sigh I’ve been told this podcast is banned in China too, so I guess we’re in good company.

There’s a new science fiction and fantasy publisher called Gungnir. Yes, the same name as Odin’s spear. They plan to publish about eight titles a year, including novels, graphic novels, and art books.

According to a market research study by GfK, one in four books sold in France is a graphic novel or comic book, and more and more of those include nonfiction works by historians and journalists.

Author J.D. Barker was dropped by his agent after sending out an email pitch to BookTok influencers who thought the email was creepy. Let’s work this out on the Overthinking Couch, shall we?

JD Barker’s PR firm, of which he is a cofounder, emailed BookTok influencers asking them to create sponsored content for Barker’s upcoming psychological thriller, Behind a Closed Door. The email included a pay scale. For example, users with 3,000 to 5,000 followers would earn $100, and those with 150,001 to 200,000 followers would earn $1,200.

The email encouraged influencers to“let creativity rule” and embrace the fact that “this book is SPICY!” And if it would’ve ended there, everything would have probably been okay. However, the email also included a list of video ideas, including "a camera pan up or down the body using only the book to cover up your naughty bits" and a video about "the most taboo place you've ever had sex."

BookTok influencers shared this email with their followers and explained that they were grossed. Barker apologized for the email. Now, even though he is a cofounder of the PR firm that sent out the email, Barker claims that it was sent without his approval. While Barker’s publisher, Hampton Creek Press, is holding strong and refusing to comment, Barker’s agent, Alec Shane of Writers House, dropped him. And Shane took a moment to do a little PR for himself, telling Publisher’s Weekly, "I no longer represent JD Barker and am upset and saddened by what has transpired."

To my mind, PR always has a creepy factor. If the author and his PR firm wanted to highlight that the book contains mature content, they have the right to find people willing to work with them.

They should have been more selective about which influencers they contacted, focusing on influencers who create racy content if that’s the only type of promotional posts they were willing to accept. It’s not clear that that’s the case. The author should have approved the campaign before it went out. Agents have the right to drop their authors, but to drop your client over something their PR firm did shows a lack of loyalty, which is not something you want from your agent. Of course, the agent has probably already been paid the lion’s share of the commission he’ll receive on this title, and given that authors usually take a few years to work on a book, the agent was not going to see another significant payday from Barker for a while. So what does he really have to gain by staying with him—you know, other than a few people knowing you’re loyal to your authors? By dropping Barker, Shane gained more media attention than if he would have remained steadfast.

And those who don’t want to create that kind of content have the right to say no and create content sharing their experiences. Perhaps I fall on the sword too readily for authors, but writing a book is hard and marketing a book is even harder for some authors. You don’t like their book campaign. That’s fine. Of course, creating a post about it means TikTok and Instagram will pay you if you have enough views, so, look at that…you got paid for talking about the book after all.

What I don’t understand is, what is there to be “saddened by” as the literary agent? You sold the book. You know what it contains. You represent the author, not the author’s PR firm. Why so sad? Any lit agents out there wanting to weigh in, please email me.

If you’re marketing your book and don’t know where to start, rather than sending creepy email messages to anyone, listen to episodes 66 and 82 of Writing Break.

And now, grab your stuff, we’re taking a trip to an independent bookstore.

Welcome to The Noir Bookshop in St. Louis, Missouri. “The Noir Bookshop is a bookstore dedicated to the Black experience. We offer new and used copies of Black and POC literature, as well as items created by Black and Brown makers in St. Louis, and abroad. It is a space designed to build community through its educational programming and product offerings. We are founded on three pillars: Education, Inspiration and Community.”

What I love most is that they are bringing a book vending machine to St. Louis. This vending machine stocks books for infants, toddlers, and grades k-12. Free books are available with tokens, which are given to students at school, usually as a reward from their teachers.

The vending machine isn’t located in the bookstore, but there are plenty of great new and used books here, so let’s see what we find.

k S. Robinson for winning the:

“Black on Madison Avenue tells the shocking truth about one of the most un-diverse white-collar professions in America. These are the explosive stories that Madison Avenue doesn’t want you to read. Black on Madison Avenue reveals the incredible experiences of a Black man who has spent 40+ years on Madison Avenue at some of the advertising industry’s most prestigious agencies and gives readers a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be one of the very, very few Black professionals in the advertising agency business.”

Black on Madison avenue is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats, and it is free to read with Kindle Unlimited.

Now let’s relax into the bookstore’s comfortable couch for today’s writing tip, direct from Neil Gaiman.

In a post that has since been taken down, author and book writing coach Elizabeth Lyons posted a Thread giving the following writing advice to authors:

“The tone of your book must match the real you. When someone reads your book and then meets you in person (or sees you on TV or in a live social media post) they should NOT be surprised by the way you present yourself.” This bit of advice did not go over well with authors.

Author and medical doctor Karen Tang replied by saying “This isn’t even true for nonfiction. I wrote a book about gynecologic problems, and it covers issues like infertility, gender identity, incontinence. In real life I'm a goofball with a messy house who likes Jane Austen but my readers probably don't need/want that tone when they're reading the facts about miscarriage."

Fiction author Neil Gaiman responded with “So is the real me the person who wrote Stardust or American Gods, Sandman or Fortunately the Milk, Chu’s Day at the Beach or Good Omens? They none of them have the same tone, no more do I. You aren't your books.”

Lyons removed the post, claiming she was being bullied, but the conversation continued among authors on other accounts. As for me, I think writing can be a form of self-expression and a space for pure imagination. Consistency in a character’s tone, consistency in your book’s tone, those things are important to examine, but consistency with the author? No way. Books are static creations by dynamic creatures. A writer with 20 years of experience is not the same person they were when they began writing. Similarly, a reader can read the same book twice and gain something completely different from it each time. Feel free to experiment with your writing voice, and understand that it can differ from book to book.

That’s all for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. May all who recommend this podcast catch every typo before going to print. And remember, you deserved this break.

Writing Break is the winner of the silver Davey Award in the category of Individual Episodes-Advice. Congratulations to America's Editor and the production team at Allon Media.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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