The Exception That Doesn’t Exactly Contradict the Rule

Position statement here. While replying to a batch of comments on a recent thread, I encountered the following sentiment from Seruko:

I am somewhat troubles by the lack of self-pimping. I really wanted to read ‘The Island’ but didn’t know it had been published until a month or so ago. If you can’t shill for yourself, who can you shill for?

The flippant answer is: my friends. But that doesn’t really get at the heart of the question; and this is not the first time that question has arisen. I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m terrible at PR, that I can only blame myself for continued obscurity if I don’t take a lead from the Rob Sawyers of the world and become a Terminator of Relentless Self-Promotion. And because I’ve heard this a lot, and because even a partial response would be too long to fit neatly into a batched bolus of comments, I’m going to respond in this standalone post instead.

It seems to me that a solid majority of writer blogs are infested with look-at-me. It starts with the number of words they wrote today on Project X; but it’s only a small skid down to what music they’re listening to, what they had for dinner, how their kids fared on the intramural spelling bee, and what their favorite fucking recipes are.

I cringe when I encounter many of these blogs. I can’t imagine anyone beyond the occasional stalker really giving a shit about any of that stuff, in my own case at least.

There’s a reason this newscrawl is called No Moods, Ads, or Cutesy Fucking Icons. There’s a reason I refer to it as a newscrawl rather than a blog. If you’ve been lured here by my fiction, I can only assume it’s because, like me, you’re interested in what my fiction explores. You want to talk about neurofreakishness and deep-sea biology, cats and climate change. You don’t want to be regaled with my favorite recipe for breadfruit soufflé.

I crave attention as much as any writer; I’ll announce con appearances and translation deals, I’ll point you to reviews of my stuff, I’ll leave no one in any doubt about Peter Watts’s opinion on any number of subjects. But I do not want to look any more self-absorbed than necessary. There was a dry spell a while back where I didn’t post for the better part of a month. That wasn’t because I had nothing to say; it was because everything I might have said would have been pure chest-thumping: Le Monde gave me a rave review! The Koreans want to publish Blindsight! I got pimped on Daily Kos!

A little of that goes a long way, and if you don’t mix it in with other stuff it starts sounding pretty self-aggrandizing. Unfortunately, the technical nature of that “other stuff” means that it doesn’t get posted either until I’ve had time to read the source material, check out a bit of third-party commentary, and think about whether I’d have anything interesting to say on the subject myself. So when I’m pressed for time, and the only news in stock is me-me-me, sometimes I figure it’s better to not say anything at all.

It’s not that I’m not needy. It’s not that I don’t crave attention. It’s just that I don’t want to make it obvious.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday October 21 2009at 10:10 am , filed under misc, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

22 Responses to “The Exception That Doesn’t Exactly Contradict the Rule”

  1. Maybe you just need better friends…

    …highly placed in the Hollywood entertainment business who could buy the rights to one of your books or stories and produce a television series or movie that barely resembled the original piece.

  2. Something like a monthly wrap-up of self-pimping seems reasonable, even when you’re running dry on the technical stuff (similar to the post the original comment was attached to). If you stay semi-consistent with it, it’s unlikely that you would have more than two self-promotion posts in a row, and I doubt your any of your readers would mind that. I sincerely doubt it would lead to discussions of your latest doctor’s exam–the slope isn’t that slippery.

    There are two somewhat good reasons I see for an author to provide pointless info about themselves on their blog: trying to appear more human to inspire readers to think they have a shared connection, and to provide an “off-topic” discussion for commenters. The latter has typically struck me as pretty pointless, though I’m perfectly willing to just skim past it in my RSS reader if the noise ratio isn’t too high. As for the former, given your typical subject matter, appearing more human has the potential to drive off some readers….

  3. It’s not that I’m not needy. It’s not that I don’t crave attention. It’s just that I don’t want to make it obvious.

    LOL – We love you, we think you’re interesting, we find your eclectic selection of scientific articles fascinating, we’re happy to hear Le Monde gave you a rave, that Korea wants to publish you. You big lug. *noogies crown of head with knuckles*

    C’mon, everybody, electronic group hug for the blogger!

    If you post me-me-me to get the information out there, just follow it up with one of your usual self-aware self-depreciating disclaimers; it dispells any stinky clouds of unseemly self-promotion that might linger. And I can’t speak for everyone else, but when you step away from the blog for a while, it lets me get more work done, because I check it less often for new stuff.

  4. As if we’re to believe that! Your favorite recipe for breadfruit soufflé would likely involve harrowing ocean voyages, 30-meter rogue waves, poisonous jellyfish, and having a flightless parrot attempt to mate with your skull as you collect the fruit. :-)

  5. I’m with Max, I’m worried that any soufflé recipe I get here would require me to start redefining how I think of my consciousness again. After the last time, I’m not sure I can push the little homunculus any further into the corner.

    I really would love to know more about where your stories are available, and when I can get hold of them. I’ve only managed to get my hands on Blindsight and that has left me really hungry for more bleak SF. And there’s only one place I can get that.

  6. Hey, Peter, I read your newscrawl for the same reason I have all your books multiple times and show them to my friends. I like your writing. Hell, you could write about underwater paint oxidizing and I think I’d be enamored. Do what works for you.

  7. I am honored to receive a featured reply.

    I feel for you, I like the science articles, the arguments about consciousness, the marine biology and I especially like the fiction. You don’t have to post the information here when I can buy/download/steal new pieces of your fiction, you could alternately just email me. I’m just as jaded and uninterested in the personal minutia of other people as any equivalently sociopathic American, but I do like the fiction.

  8. You sound like my attempts at dating. i.e, some attempt at dignity but completely ineffective….

    I wish you could get Rifters part(s) III published over here in the UK; my bookshelf looks silly with just the first two!

  9. I think I’d read pretty much anything you publish — you’ve been entertaining and thought-provoking so far. Although the souffle shopping list would have puzzled me when I got to the parrot… :-)

  10. @Nick: If you mind reading on a HTML or PDF compatible machine, you can read the entire Starfish trilogy on the very site this blog is on (along with Blindsight, for others that haven’t read it). There’s also a list of short stories that I’m realizing I’ve never noticed before. There goes the rest of my week!

  11. @rosy:

    I know the feeling. I’m sorely tempted to just shell out for the old hardback versions but know that the day I do then the paperbacks will be released. (I’m also one of these people who can’t have multiple printings of a series. it messes up the shelf. The cover art must match!!)

    I did however manage to steal some printer time at my uni and have printed out Behemoth, just waiting till I can be bothered taking the wad over to the print shop to get bound.

    @Peter:

    I just want to give you my thanks for your work. Me and several of my mates are utterly addicted.
    Blindsight especially led to a couple of very interesting discussions over at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster forum. Thank You.

    Take Care and RAmen!

    Ven

  12. I for one welcome our (not so new) non self-aggrandizing overlord. Personal crap like that might be interesting to the post humans picking through presingularity ewaste and scraping derelict hard drives for clues to our dismal past (story?) but for now there’s so much personal bullshit on the web it’s almost an embarrassment for humanity.

    All that sweet sweet bandwidth…

  13. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with Robert Sawyer recently; of course, I could not help but bring up the topic of Peter Watts.

    Why does he not achieve more success? (other than that lavished on him by his peers.) What could he do differently to attain success? (Read: a wonderful relationship with editor and publisher, book sales galore, fame and fortune.) I need not tell you Robert’s replies for you to know them.

    I find nothing distasteful in self-promotion, especially when the person’s career is in a field as fissiparous as publishing. So you frustrate me, because you do not self-promote. Damn it, the world deserves to know about Peter Watts, your books and stories, and your insights. Who else melds the bleeding edge of science with fiction about the human heart in conflict with itself, and with an auctorial style that surpasses (almost) all other writers? (Especially in the hidebound universe of SF.)

    Fact is, I sure would enjoy a novel right about now that edifies and challenges me, all while it entertains. I know one writer who repeatedly delivers that bill of goods. That writer’s name? Peter Watts. I find your novels magisterial. Especially BLINDSIGHT.

    So write and publish your next novel. You and I could discuss promotion and publicity, self- or otherwise. fwiw, I purchased 100 copies of the BLINDSIGHT paperback to pass around. (I believe it insufficient merely to recommend this or that book.) I happily would do the same, and then some, for your next novel.

  14. Wow, talk about your leisurely tongue-baths! Lucky Peter!

    And here we all were wasting time offering verbal hugs, and written comradely punches in the upper arm, and other aw-shucks school-yard level appreciations ….

    I should leave it to the experts, clearly.

  15. And now for a completely uninformed opposing view.

    I say, if the thought of self pimping is horrific, you shouldn’t do it, (isn’t this what agents are for?) Think about it, there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than watching some poor schmuck perform personally repulsive acts because it’s the “smart thing to do”. The two example that immediately spring to my mind are one, Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, yucking it up with people she clearly felt uncomfortable with, and two, watching a classically trained singer sing a medley of Aerosmith’s greatest hits on a PBS pledge drive (I’ve never seen it rerun)

    I think Peter would be better served by changing his name (he says with tongue firmly lodged in cheek.) By merely dropping the “W “and becoming “Peter Atts”, he could leap from the ankle height, end-of-the-alphabet ghetto where he now languishes to the eye height, head of the sci-fi section where he rightfully belongs.

    Just my 2 cents

    Regards
    Andrew

  16. Andrew is a genius.

  17. Agreed – though “Peter Aaats” would be more future-proof. Or maybe “Peter 1atts”?

  18. Or Maybe simply ” _1atts, Peter”.

    I agree completely with David Gordon when he said:
    “So you frustrate me, because you do not self-promote”.

    You. FRUSTRATE. the HELL out of me too. Gah! I could build a frigging business around you. You wouldn’t have to sell out or share recipes, either. Don’t forget plenty of people get paid just to TURN UP somewhere and they don’t have anywhere near your depth of insight or sprawl of talents or downright like-ableness.

    If it wasn’t for that last part about your likeableness, all of this would just be completely unbearable…

  19. I want the Peter Atts bobblehead doll.

  20. I stopped by to see when a new book is coming out. It wouldn’t seem grievously obnoxious if you mention stuff like that. In fact, it would be in your interests. I’m prepared to pay money to obtain your new book. We all win.

  21. How about “Aardvark _Atts”? Supplying that critical hint of alliteration (the” _”is silent), so important for a successful career in science fiction.

  22. rosy said:

    You sound like my attempts at dating. i.e., some attempt at dignity but completely ineffective…

    Yeah, well given that I proposed to you once, I’m not gonna touch that line any more than I already have.

    I wish you could get Rifters part(s) III published over here in the UK; my bookshelf looks silly with just the first two!

    I wish I could get it out in trade paper even here in N’Am, but I doubt that’ll happen. My former editor told me he’d keep me up to speed on this “within a few weeks”; that was months ago, and true to form I’ve heard nothing.

    Venator said:

    I just want to give you my thanks for your work. Me and several of my mates are utterly addicted. Blindsight especially led to a couple of very interesting discussions over at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster forum.

    Any role I can play in moving my fellows into those noodly appendages is reward enough.

    David M Gordon said:

    I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with Robert Sawyer recently; of course, I could not help but bring up the topic of Peter Watts.

    (Oh, I bet he enjoyed that.)

    Why does he not achieve more success? (other than that lavished on him by his peers.) What could he do differently to attain success? (Read: a wonderful relationship with editor and publisher, book sales galore, fame and fortune.) I need not tell you Robert’s replies for you to know them.

    Actually, you do. Rob’s reactions tend to vary. He once sent me an e-mail calling me “a real jerk” because I’d jokingly named him among a number of sf types (self included) who egosurfed (“I haven’t Googled myself for years”, he insisted — a claim to which my buddy Dave Nickle responded with “Yeah, and I haven’t masturbated since I was twelve.”) But the next time I ran into him face-to-face, he was all hail-fellow-well-met-good-to-see-you.

    I find nothing distasteful in self-promotion, especially when the person’s career is in a field as fissiparous as publishing. So you frustrate me, because you do not self-promote. Damn it, the world deserves to know about Peter Watts, your books and stories, and your insights.

    Just between you and me and whoever might be listening, I quite agree. Hell, I should be King. But if that’s true, it should damn well be someone other than Peter Watts who shouts that from the mountaintops, someone with a wee bit less of a vested interest. When others make a habit of trumpeting their own accomplishments, I tend to tune out after a while. I’d rather you lot stay tuned in.

    fwiw, I purchased 100 copies of the BLINDSIGHT paperback to pass around. (I believe it insufficient merely to recommend this or that book.)

    Holy shit, man. One Hundred Copies!?

    Okay, you’ve proved my point. With guys like you in my corner, I don’t need to trumpet my own accomplishments. Anyone who buys 100 copies of someone else’s book has way more credibility than me.

    Thank you.

    Leona said:

    You. FRUSTRATE. the HELL out of me too. Gah! I could build a frigging business around you.

    You could? Then you should; that way, I wouldn’t have to chest-thump.

    You wouldn’t have to sell out or share recipes, either. Don’t forget plenty of people get paid just to TURN UP somewhere and they don’t have anywhere near your depth of insight or sprawl of talents or downright like-ableness.

    The empirical conclusion here is that depth of insight, sprawl of talents, and downright likeableness are not the only relevant qualities. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest they don’t even matter very much.

    Michael Bird said:

    I stopped by to see when a new book is coming out. It wouldn’t seem grievously obnoxious if you mention stuff like that. In fact, it would be in your interests. I’m prepared to pay money to obtain your new book. We all win.

    I will certainly mention stuff like that— and the appearance of short stories, and my presence at cons, and all that stuff. I always have. I’m not that humble. I just don’t want to slide from that legit-news end of the slope down to how-many-K-I-ran-today and stories about my testicles. That would be unseemly.