I’ve been enjoying myself these past few months with these blog entries. Hopefully I’ve been as entertaining to all my readers as well…because it would be kind of sad and pathetic if I were only amusing myself…again… I also hope you’ve taken the time to check out my books. They are, after all, the whole reason I started this blog.
If you’ve been reading all my posts, you probably have a good idea of what my books are about, even if you haven’t found the time to read any of them yet. But I seem to find myself again and again on the subject of the identity of my books. What are they? Are they horror? Are they adventure? When I refer to them as “dark” what exactly does that mean? I know that I’ve posted on this subject before, fretting about how to better market my work and how to clearly identify it for its appropriate audience. But I’m simply not convinced that I’ve found the best way to describe my work. I’ve found myself in a number of conversations lately in which this subject has come to light. One conversation in particular stands out to me.
Recently, I was contacted by an old friend of mine who had finally gotten around to reading The Box. He wasted no time—and certainly no words—in telling me how much he utterly hated it. Now I’d like to state for the record that this is perfectly fine by me. I didn’t throw a tempter tantrum or lock myself in my room and refuse to come to dinner. I didn’t respond that he was clearly a deranged and ignorant simpleton who obviously had no idea what good writing looked like. I would obviously never think anything like that… I didn’t even point out the dozen 4- and 5-star reviews my work has recieved from readers who clearly would disagree with his opinions. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it deep down in my soul. It was, after all, the first and, as I write this, the only bad review I’ve ever received. And the first one always stings the worst. But it wasn’t as if I wasn’t prepared for it. I’d been bracing myself for that first scathing review since I began writing. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, there’s always someone who won’t like your work. But I hadn’t expected such raw negativity from someone I considered a friend. As such, I didn’t know how to respond at first. I didn’t intend to defend my work. It was clear to me that he despised it and I didn’t want to come off as defensive. That seemed childish. I simply thanked him for his feedback. But my failure to respond must have seemed far harsher than any retaliation I could have verbalized, because he soon contacted me again, concerned that I must utterly loathe him now. He continued to defend his opinion, which he is certainly entitled to, by telling me in more detail what he thought was wrong with it. However, as he told me all the things he didn’t like about it, and all the things he would rather have seen done, it became apparent that we were envisioning two entirely different novels right from the start. He wanted the characters to possess unspeakable inner demons. He wanted them to be repressing dark desires, to be self-loathing. He wanted them to secretly desire to hurt each other. He wanted them to be psychologically broken by the horrors they encountered, to suffer, to feel indescribable anguish. He hated that the characters had the option of turning back at any point and that they didn’t transform into depraved monsters as they ventured deeper into the temple. Yuck! I hated everything he suggested. I was quick to respond that these things would have ruined the book for me, that their ability to turn around was a part of their story, that the discoveries made by the reader hinged on their ability to summon the courage to keep moving forward. I argued that the reader is supposed to relate to my characters, feel for them, even love them, not wish to see them psychologically tortured into madness. It seems that when I referred to the story as a “dark adventure,” he immediately jumped to the assumption that I meant for the content of the book to be utterly black.
Is this what people think when I use the term “dark adventure?” Do people think my work is disturbingly grim and bleak? Does the word “dark” already possess such connotation that the work attached to it must be the blackest, most obscene material imaginable? I consider my work to be on the lighter side of horror. I hesitate to call The Temple of the Blind horror alone because I don’t want people thinking it’s going to be all nightmares and monsters. It should appeal to fans of Stephen King, but also to fans of a wide range of horror, suspense, adventure, mystery and even romance.
So what is the best designation for what I write? My short stories tend to be typical horror tales, but when I pour my efforts into a full-sized novel, the story tends to grow beyond those boundaries. Is it still horror? Is it dark adventure? Is it suspense? Thriller? Or is it merely supernatural fiction? And does it really matter what I choose to label it? Does it make any difference? The story remains the same. The trick, as always, is how do I get more people to read it? How do I convince the world that my book is a good read?
In time, I’ll sort out all the pieces. As my audience grows and I gain more reviews both glowing and scathing, I’ll begin to understand what works and what doesn’t. For now all I can do is keep writing and hope that my readers keep talking about my work.
Now that I’ve got your attention… (Don’t deny it. You’re here, aren’t you? Just curious, were you? I’m sure you were.) My wife and I were having a discussion today about the old adage that “sex sells” and the fact that my blog stats clearly show the most visited entry to date to be the one titled “Making the Naughty List.” (Here’s the link, since you’ll probably be “curious” about that one, too: harmonuniverse.com/making-the-naughty-list) My regular visitors might remember that post being about graphic material—both sexual and violent—within my writings. I made it clear that I don’t set out to produce graphic content, but that I also make no effort to quash this kind of subject matter when the plot progresses in that direction. I tend to describe my work as horror, suspense, adventure and mystery, stressing these areas to draw new readers. I am careful to mention the sexual aspects of the story in the summary of The Box, openly telling potential readers in the plot summary that “their clothes lost in a moment of strange lust, they find themselves forced to navigate the unearthly stone corridors naked and vulnerable.” I want to be sure that no one who is easily offended by sex and nudity stumbles unwitting into my story. If I should get a bad review, so be it, but I’d rather not receive one simply because the reader is honked off at being waylaid by an unwanted sex scene. But otherwise, I’ve always downplayed the sexual content in my marketing, choosing to try and separate my work from the ill-perceived erotica categories. I’ve never actively advertised my books as “sexy” or “steamy.” But sometimes I wonder if I should.
When I first launched my author page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BrianHarmonBooks
, for those who haven’t been there and “liked” me yet), I went in search of other independent horror writers with author pages, thinking I would insert myself into a community and hopefully get a quick boost for my still-infantile social network. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to find in the way of independent horror. Instead, I ended up having “liked” a bunch of paranormal romance writers and fans. Don’t get me wrong, these are fine people and I wish them the best, but they weren’t very much interested in my mostly non-romantic books and I wasn’t very much interested in their mostly vampire-heavy bodice-rippers. But I did
notice that words like “steamy” and “spicy” and “sultry” were tossed around a lot in those circles. I found myself wondering if there might be another market out there for my books if I simply came out and instead described the plot with phrases like “inexorably thrust together into an unexpected explosion of unbridled passion” and “lost utterly in a fiery fury of intense and smoldering desire.” Sounds kind of corny, I know, but I feel like there is a noticeable sentimentality for this kind of dramatic romance.
In book three of The Temple of the Blind the cast has grown to four characters, all of whom, by the end of chapter seven, are navigating the dark passageways in the nude. I’ve not openly advertised this part of the plot as I have no desire to be perceived as the guy who writes books about naked people…although my titles so far do seem to suggest it as a common theme, when I stop and think about it… (Really, not all my books will contain sexual content.) But would more readers be drawn to this book to read about a cute blonde and a hot brunette and two really attractive guys attempting to seek out the answer to an ancient and dangerous mystery while clad in nothing but their birthday suits? I have to wonder if that would lead to more book sales than the promise of finding out what lies beyond the fear room…
Then again, would drawing attention to the sexual elements in my books frighten away more readers than it would bring in? After all, the books are not about sex. They are not really erotic. They merely contain some erotic content. Even when the characters are nude, it is mostly downplayed. It’s not as if I spend the entire narrative describing…things. (I promise I have not used the word “jiggle” even once so far.) Perhaps, then, it would bore a reader who only purchased it for the dirty bits while those who would not have been bothered by the actual amount of sex in the book might be given the impression that it is far smuttier than it really is and pass it by without giving it a chance. So the question really is does sex sell?
I also have to wonder what exactly it is that defines a book as erotic. Is it the amount of sexual content? Or is it the graphic nature of the sexual content? The language itself? My wife once commented that my use of the word “thrusting” might have been all it needed to put it into the erotic category. But I thought I kept it rather tasteful, considering the circumstances of the scene.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter how I choose to market the book. The content remains what it is. If you read The Temple of the Blind, you will find steamy sex. You will find romance. You will find hot naked women and men. You will also find an engaging mystery and terrifying suspense at every turn. You will find lots of things. So whether you’re looking for a good read or just…“curious”… I hope you’ll check it out, if you haven’t already. And let’s face it, you did just read a blog post titled “Hot Naked Women!”
The year 2012 is upon us! Destruction is nigh! Doom! Armageddon! Wrath of God! Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!
I, for one, am not ready to start stocking my bunker just yet. We’ve been through this before, you know. Y2K. Hale-Bopp. That Harold Camping guy back in May and then again in October. The Spice Girls breaking up. We’ve endured all manner of doom. We even saw Janet Jackson’s nipple on live television and somehow the world kept turning!
I will continue my writing long after the Mayan Calendar finishes its doomsday countdown. You will continue to read my books, uninterrupted by earthquakes, geomagnetic reversals or zombies. The earth will spin merrily away, undisturbed by Nibiru or Planet X or Nemesis or Krypton or whatever the hell is supposed to be lurking out there.
There will be no fire and brimstone, no comet of death, no ice age, no solar disaster, no horsemen of the apocalypse. I can tell you how the world will end. I’ve known it for years. And it won’t be pretty. Pray tell, you say? How will the world end, you ask? What eventual doom awaits us all? I warn you, it’s not for the squeamish. But if you’re bold enough to handle the truth, I will tell you…
The world will end by DE-EVOLUTION.
That’s right. De-evolution. (Or “devolution” if you want to be technical.) Just look around you. Aren’t there considerably more stupid people in the world today than there were a hundred years ago? Do you watch the news? Do you see the people you work with? Have you ever worked with customers in retail? Haven’t you noticed that something is very much amiss in the gene pool?
Oh, sure, it’s not as action-packed as the sky falling down around us. It’s no glorious, fire-belching super volcano. It wouldn’t make a very exciting movie. After all, it’s simply not going to happen all at once. It’s going to take a long, long time. But mark my words: when there’re no more jobs in telemarketing, the incompetent will walk the earth!
It’s our own fault, really. We’ve created such a safe and comfortable society. We have seatbelt and helmet laws. We have workplace safety regulations. We have redundant procedures on everything that could possibly cause anyone harm. It’s harder and harder these days for evolution to take its natural course and kill off all the stupid people. It’s supposed to be survival of the fittest, isn’t it? That’s how evolution works. The more suited for survival the individual is, the better he fares, the longer he lives, the more offspring he sires, the more he contributes to the evolution of the species. The stupid animals are supposed to get eaten.
Perhaps this is the price of climbing to the top of the food chain. Perhaps this is nature’s way of limiting the term of office for the apex predator. It makes sense, I suppose. And we probably have it coming for knocking off those dodos…
Yes, it’s going to get quite ugly in the next few centuries. But this certainly won’t be our final year.
…unless, of course, the stupid people have already found the warheads…
As December draws to a close, so does 2011. A lot has happened these past twelve months. Last year at this time, in the final hours of 2010, none of this existed. Dark Things Rising was not even a thought in my mind. My return to publishing was merely a dream collecting dust. My work sat unread within the aging files of my computer, unheard of, unloved.
It began with my website, www.HarmonUniverse.com. A simple name, I know. Rather uncreative, but it can be difficult to pick a domain name that appeals greatly to you and is not already owned. And besides, I like to think that, as a hub for my marketing efforts, “Harmon Universe” sums everything up quite nicely. The whole thing was, quite honestly, my wife’s idea. (She’s awful smart that way.) At the time, it was little more than a starting point, a launch pad, I thought, for advertising my writing. It was originally to be a gallery of free short stories, assembled with the hope of building a small fan base and maybe even attracting an agent. It wasn’t until I began to contemplate selling my novels from my website that I discovered the miraculous world of independent publishing. Before I knew it, book one of The Temple of the Blind was available for purchase on ereaders worldwide. …And how ironic is it that I now realize my website is the most neglected of all my publishing tools? I haven’t updated it nearly enough these past few months. I’ve promised myself to give it more attention as I journey forward.
Now, as the year draws to an end, I sit here in a cloud of contemplation, reflecting on what I’ve accomplished. I’ve released four books in my dark adventure series this year, both in digital and print formats, as well as the recent collection of short stories. I’m not going to lie and tell you that I consider my writing career a runaway success. I’m afraid you won’t find me at the top of any bestseller lists this holiday season. However, I do consider 2011 to be a successful year. Just check out my reviews on Amazon. I’ve collected a number of fans… It’s not a large number… I mean there’s definitely more than zero… And my book sales have been…well…existent. Most months… Still, I remain confident that my name will grow, that more and more fans will eventually find me. I still have so much I wish to share, so many more stories, so many more adventures. But it can be so hard to wait, can’t it?
Looking forward again, 2012 should be a great year. Look for the final two books of The Temple of the Blind. I also have a new novel in the works. And of course I will continue to entertain you here at Dark Things Rising and keep you informed at Harmon Universe. I have only just begun to write!
Thank you to everyone here on this blog who has decided to come along for the ride. Let’s continue to see where this journey takes us.
Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Fall is giving way to winter with the first snowfalls. Holiday music can be heard in department stores everywhere. My wife can be heard complaining about holiday music in department stores everywhere. And we all begin to look forward to eating ourselves into a tryptophan- and gravy-induced coma. And for me, that also means it’s time to get off my lazy butt and get to work.
A few years ago I took over the responsibility of Thanksgiving dinner. This was not a burden thrust upon me, understand. I volunteered. I thoroughly enjoy the cooking (and I’m not too bad at it, either, believe it or not). And it’s always nice to have everyone over. I find it fun. And the cooking is really not so much work, especially given that I have the assistance of my wonderful wife, without whom I would never be able to deliver such a magnificent feast. I’m sure that without her I’d probably manage only to hurt myself…or embarrass myself…or embarrassingly hurt myself…
My menu always includes a huge roast turkey and stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, made-from-scratch rolls, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and usually enough desert for about four times as many people as would ever possibly show up. I begin working the day before, preparing everything I can ahead of time. Time management was the hardest part of learning to cook for me. When I first started out I could never make everything finish cooking at the same time. There would always be something done way too early or too late. Thanksgiving dinner, however, has to be perfect. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, after all, by screwing up their favorite side and so I’ve turned it into an exercise in patience and meticulous planning.
And still the dinner is not even remotely the hardest part. Before I even begin shopping for my annual feast, I set out to clean every surface of my house. After all, with two children under seven in the house, it seems to be constantly in a state of disarray and there’s always some chore I’ve put off for far too long. Like cleaning the ceiling fan blades, for example. How embarrassing. Usually by Halloween I’ve begun formulating a list of chores to do. And the first thing on this list is to pick up all those toys. The first thing on my children’s list, however, is apparently to put them back on the floor. As quickly as possible. In as many rooms as possible. (They’re really good at it too. I turn my back and playthings are scattered all over the place. I don’t even hear it happen. I swear they’re like little messy ninjas.) I just cleaned the house yesterday and today there are dolls and action figures and cars and Barbie accessories everywhere I look. I don’t understand it. There’s a little plastic Scooby Doo on the living room floor. Daphne’s on the dining room table. Shaggy’s in the bath tub with Polly Pocket… It’s like the aftermath of an epic, Toy Story kegger. Barbie’s passed out in the back of her convertible. Ken’s naked in the closet. Mr. Potato Head is wearing a Cabbage Patch Kids dress. There’s part of an Optimus Prime Halloween costume on top of the fish tank and a Little People school bus in the laundry hamper. There’s a plush Spongebob Squarepants in the refrigerator! How does that even happen? One of Polly’s shoes was inside the sock I pulled out of the dryer this morning. It’s out of control!
Assuming I have any hope of staying ahead of these toy ninjas, I still have to sweep and mop and vacuum and dust. The laundry has to be put away and the dishes absolutely must be clean before I start cooking. I’ll need all the space I can get when I start prepping that turkey.
I’ll save the windows for last, like I always do, in the naïve hope that they will stay clean at least long enough for someone to see them. But, alas, I will barely have the first room done before I turn around to find little hand prints smeared across one or more of the panes. Or perhaps the three-year-old will simply be licking the glass. Again.
And I’ll have turned my back again by this time, so let’s not forget to pick up those toys…
Is it all worth it in the end? Of course it is. I look forward to it all year long, actually. And I have no one to blame but myself for letting those ceiling fan blades get so dusty. But I do wish the ninjas would give it a rest for a while.
And what is going on with Shaggy and Polly in there…?
Why do I self-publish? Why set my work adrift in the uncertain seas of the independent author market when I could hand it over to a traditional publishing company? Why do I single-handedly shoulder the sometimes overwhelming burden of managing every detail of my book’s existence, from copyediting to publicity? People tell me, “You’re work is amazing! You’re too good an author to do all that work yourself!” …well, okay, so nobody’s ever actually said that to me… Not in precisely those words… Or any words, really… But it would be nice if someone did…
Admittedly, I’ve had some difficulty finding publishers and agents to handle The Temple of the Blind. I’ve collected quite a few rejection letters. The book’s size was probably an issue. Clocking in at over 300,000 words, it’s a hefty manuscript. Another issue was likely that the story failed to conform to well-known formulas. It is not, for example, a murder mystery staring a quirky, lovable and relatable sleuth surrounded by a delightfully eccentric myriad of suspects. It is not a tale of a spunky and quick-thinking hero forced to match wits with a sadistic and brilliant killer in order to survive. I never picked up any popular book and said to myself, “I’m going to write something that will appeal greatly to this book’s fans.” As a result, I don’t have a convenient, preexisting fan base that would appeal to a potential publisher.
I did not, however, choose independent publishing because I gave up on traditional publishing. My decision was not a last resort. For one thing, I haven’t collected nearly enough rejections to convince me that the book is not good enough. I still think that I’m a good writer…even if readers of my blog and Facebook page and Twitterings still haven’t taken my not-so-subtle hints and showered me with embarrassing praise as yet… I simply haven’t found that agent or editor who sees the potential in the work that I do. If I feel bad when I look at the number of rejections I’ve accumulated, it is because I should have gathered many more than I have.
My failure was that I was afraid to let go of it. I’d heard so many horror stories about new authors being taken in by publishing scams that I was reluctant to trust anyone. And even the reputable publishing companies rarely lived up to the expectations of a bright-eyed new author. All the articles I’d read about publishing seemed to have the same underlying message: Don’t get your hopes up. First, I should expect rejections. Many, many rejections. Mountains of rejections. Seriously, a whole, freaking heap, more than you can even imagine, boxes stacked to the ceiling, warehouses full of rejections. Okay. Got it. I expected rejections. I embraced rejection, faced it head-on. I even wanted to get a big red stamp that said REJECTED so that I could stamp each envelope before I filed them away with the others, but my wife wouldn’t let me. Something about retaining “optimism” toward my work… I thought I was being optimistic. To me, it was about viewing every rejection as a stepping stone toward getting published.
Secondly, there’s what happens once you finally do get published. New authors have no control over their books. Contrary to popular belief, a publishing contract does not throw open the doors to all your hopes and dreams. Even if I make it through the gauntlet of editors and agents and somehow get my book made, I retain absolutely no say in what they do with it. I might hate the cover, for example. And I certainly shouldn’t expect to see my book on every shelf. I’m not going to be distributed as widely as the big name authors. Not even remotely. Hardly at all, in fact. They’re not going to advertise your book for you. Why would they? They could use that money to advertise an author they already know makes them money. And really, wouldn’t you do the same?
You have to go out on your own and sell your book. You have to convince the bookstores to carry it. You have to convince readers to give your book a chance, even though they’ve never heard of you before. You’ll spend a lot of your own time and money, likely only to see your book out of print in a few short years and nothing left to show for it. Unless you bought something nice with that cash advance…like a big TV…then I guess you’ll still have that…but you don’t have anything else…
Depressing, isn’t it? I thought so. But by independently publishing, I get to be my own publisher. I get to control it all, from distribution to cover design to deciding how long it remains up for sale. And I was going to have to do all that marketing work anyway. True, I don’t get a fat cash advance (no big TV for me) and I don’t have access to a trained copyeditor to review my work for difficult-to-find errors, which means my book ends up less perfect than it otherwise might have. (Potentially embarrassing!) But these days I can put my work out there with virtually no overhead costs.
So do I self publish because I think it’s the only way my work will ever see print? Absolutely not. Do I do it to stick my middle finger to big publishing? No. Not really. (Well, maybe just a little…) There’s still a place for big publishing, but that place is not to greedily guard the only doorway to aspiring authors achieving their dreams. I won’t be one of the lowly masses begging at their doorstep. I’ll be using that time building my brand and putting out the best work I can and developing an audience. I’m not entirely against working with a publisher or an agent, but the terms must be my own. I won’t sign away everything I’ve built for myself so far. There is no value, in my opinion, in having a publisher or an agent, if I have to compromise all of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an independent publisher up to this point. When and if I find a publishing deal that is right for me, I will join the ranks of the traditionally published. In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy to be an independent author with a small but awesome fan base, slowly but surely getting my name out there.
Until the rest of the world discovers my titles, I’ll just have to keep working and occasionally stop to bask in all that praise from all you adoring fans…
You guys aren’t very good at taking hints, you know.