Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Yesterday I ran Part 1 of an interview I did with author Blaise Lucey, who, among other things, is currently serializing a novel on Instagram called Luxury Coops. You can catch up with it here.
You talk on your blog about Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” and how it has proven that artists can actually make a living using new digital tools and by giving their work away. Writers like Cory Doctorow have advocated similar strategies. Is this really going to work for the average Joe or Josephine novelist out there? Is there a chance that Stanton’s project is more of a luck story?
No, yes, yes, and no. Haha. I think your “needle in a haystack” analogy is spot-on when it comes to self-publishing and even non self-publishing. People aren’t really using the Internet to actively look for new books. It just doesn’t happen. We hear about books from friends, go to a bookstore, or accidentally read a review when we’re looking for cat videos.
However, there is something to be said for giving tiny bits of something away for free just to get noticed. Novelists are extremely traditional. We’re used to this idea that we labor over something for years at a time and then hope that someone is willing to represent it and publish it. But what if the labor doesn’t pay off? Then all those years on the project go to waste.
If you really want to know how backwards this model is, you just have to try and write a contemporary fiction novel. With the average publishing cycle of one or two years, half the apps or technology-based behaviors characters are doing are already obsolete. Did you write it when people were using Uber or Snapchat, daily? What about Instagram, Tinder, OkCupid? Most novelists prefer to have a heads-down approach. Characters don’t even text or use Facebook to find out answers to mysteries. Most of the time, they don’t so much as use Google.
In my review of The Goldfinch, I complained about this a lot. Novels are getting increasingly disconnected from the reality around us. We pretend nothing has changed and use old conventions. But how we interact with people has radically, dramatically shifted. To be relevant, novels need to acknowledge this.
With Luxury Coops, I just want to try using the tiny character excerpts and the cool photos I already have. If people like them, that’s great. If they don’t, well, I’m creating something interesting and I can take those pieces and put them together any way I choose.
Where it gets really interesting is if you post a cat photo related to a chapter with a cat in it. You hashtag the photo of the cat with #cats or #kittens or something really popular. Suddenly, the whole chapter is extremely visible. Do cat lovers read the chapter? Do a few of them start following the whole book? That’s where the experiment will get really cool.
Your new novel Blest, has just been published. In part, you’re using Luxury Coops as a promotional tool. Are you seeing any results in your sales, and do you think the Instagram audience and the ebook market overlap significantly? (I can almost see the Venn diagram …)
I wish. I don’t want to overstate the effectiveness of Instagram as a marketing tool. It’s much more likely that no one reads the story and no one cares.
However, I think it’s important for authors to have something that any potential fans can follow and engage with regularly. That’s the only way to keep yourself — and your future books — in the mind of those fans. There’s so much noise out there today that you really do need to have a way to keep your name floating around. That way, when you do publish something else, you have an audience who might already be paying attention.
What’s Blest about?
Blest is a young adult fantasy novel. On his sixteenth birthday, Jim Blest finds out that his dad has been keeping a big secret from him. When he finds out what it is, he’s with Claire, a girl he’s only recently met, but already feels like there’s something special between them. The problem is that she has a secret, too.
At the core, this is a book about identity and how we can either let other people define us or do the defining ourselves. Jim and Claire struggle to reconcile their differences as they find out that they’ve (literally) been destined for two very different worlds.
You’re a musician as well as a writer, playing bass in a band called Job Creators. (Great band name!) Do you think writing and music are similar in some way, or complementary? And which is your true calling?
The biggest similarity between music and writing is that they’re both forms of art that are meant to express something that is too complicated for a few simple words, a single thought, or something as simple as a smile.
To me, that’s the power of any art, really. It’s that as people we have a lot of different things going on under the hood, both conscious and unconscious, and art often exposes unconscious feelings or ideas that can surprise readers, listeners, and the artists themselves.
When it comes to my true calling, that’s a tough one! I will say that I think music is in even a more desperate state than literature. It’s hard to believe when you see someone like Taylor Swift becoming something as prestigious as New York City’s Global Welcome.
But the fact is that people treat music like a utility now. I still buy digital albums, which in itself used to be advanced a few years ago. No one else I know buys music. They’re all renting it from streaming services subsidized by commercials. That’s fine, but it completely disrupts the existing models.
It’s more or less impossible for bands to make money from album sales. The counter-argument is that touring makes up for it, but that’s only if you’re filling stadiums. Otherwise, the gas and lodging costs — plus the strain on your everyday life and work schedule — make it impossible for any kind of less-than-mainstream music to be sustainable.
The same goes for publishing. Except here, we even see top authors getting affected by the new landscape. Even powerhouses like Jonathan Franzen are struggling in a post-Oprah, post-Kindle world.
Blaise Lucey is an award-winning author and digital marketer located in New York City. His short stories, which have been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Dzanc Books “Best of the Web” award have appeared in publications such as The Claremont Review and Every Day Fiction. His short story collection, Technology & Culture Stink!, was self-published in 2013. Blest is his first novel. In his spare time, he likes running and playing bass in his band, Job Creators.