Long before the interwebs dubbed them “epic fails”, I used to collect such stories in the dimly-lit, ironic laugh-a-thon I call my “mind”. Like the bank robber who wrote his holdup note on the back of an envelope that not only displayed his own name and address clearly and almost heartbreakingly, but also that of his parole officer, upper left corner, return address. Then… he left the envelope. Or a different guy—surely related via some spectacular yet hitherto undiscovered boneheadedness gene—who held up the teller with a rifle… but left the cork plugged proudly and prominently in the end of his painfully-obvious-to-everyone toy firearm.
Anyway, that’s a trip down Fail Boulevard. And highly amusing as that journey undoubtedly is, I want to explore another part of town: Success Street. Success. Even the word itself sounds like it tastes good (cf: succinct, succumb, succour, succulent). Yeah. Did I ever mention how much I love words? So much so I want to eat them. With bacon. And chocolate-dipped seahorse roe.
But I digress.
Look, without further ado, here are seven awesome ways to totally guarantee your writing success.
7. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, insert the word “Game” in your title. It certainly worked for Orson Scott Card (Ender!), Clive Barker (Damnation!), Tom Clancy (Patriot!), George R. R. Martin (Thrones!), Neil Strauss (seduction!) and Suzanne Collins (Hunger!). Although I suppose the jury’s still out on Herman Hesse… not altogether surprising, given The Glass Bead Game‘s so not-intimidating German title (Das Glasperlenspiel) as well as the novel’s popular and frothy mix of existentialist, epistemological and ontological themes. Ahem. But the overall idea is sound. If it’s not already taken, I suggest something like The Hungry Game of Patriotic Seduction. Kind of puts you in mind of a Clancy/Kundera collab. Which would be magnificent. Oh, and for your sequel, you might want a title that somehow incorporates girls with interesting tattoos and frustrated soccer moms just beginning to explore the pain/pleasure dichotomy.
6. Don’t just make your vampires sparkly, make them iridescent. In fact, make them musical. So they walk into a room accompanied by the ominous baritone strains of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. Also, give them love interest. Try to avoid thinking about how skeevy they actually are, given their deathly pallor and propensity for amorous violations of the species barrier. Along these lines, make them handsome and/or beautiful so your readers completely overlook the fact they resemble something that died in its parents’ basement a long time ago. Writing is stage(d) magic, right? As in, sleight-of-hand and misdirection. Readers are suckers. Just never say that last part again. Ever. Not even with your inside voice.
5. Worry about how your target audience will react to everything. Pander to them. Shy away from profanity, sex and violence, and assume your readership is as rigidly and deeply puritanical as a fingerwag of church ladies at a Calvinist Convention… in Alabama. Actually, forget that last one: violence is your birthright as an American. As the aforementioned George R. R. Martin aptly put it: “I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of [the] world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.”
4. Take a stand on the big publishing issues of the day and stick to your guns, even in the face of any contradictory evidence. No, wait: don’t just stick to your effete, feeble Saturday night specials—amass bigger and better versions! Fully automatics. RPGs. Decide whether this issue is black. Or whether that one’s white. Never grey, nuh-uh. I mean, really, how does one choose a specific shade of grey when they are essentially infinite (certainly more than a paltry fifty, Ms. E. L. James)? Simple: one doesn’t. So, go ahead, decide that the traditional publishing houses are ancient, threatened elitists dripping with unctuous literary pretension or decide that independent authors are a talentless hollow-eyed Noob Army of wretched hacks who are to fine writing what Justin Bieber is to fine musicianship. But decide. And don’t dare waver or show nuance. Nuance is just another word for “liberal pantywaist do-gooder”, after all. No. Save “flexibility” for your special yoga moments.
3. Defend your brand. Your brand being you, obviously. If someone has the audacity to dislike one of your books in a review, take the fight to Amazon. Or beyond. Argue and defend it all over the interwebs. It’s your baby. You are almost literally advocating for your kid at the most dysfunctional school board meeting you’ve ever attended. You need to make horrible threats, maybe even personalize the conflict by accusing your reviewer of
having a balloon animal fetish trying to ruin you. Use every rhetorical trick in the book to belittle your attackers, pull no punches. How can you be the bully when you are one and they are many? Right? It’s more important to demonstrate your passion than your professionalism. Just ask Gordon Ramsay.
2. Spam. I mean spam the living hell out of every Facebook group, every Twitter account, every Goodreads and LinkedIn group you can conceivably sign up for. Cover the online world with your bland, pink, lukewarm meat. Make sure you log in every day and repeat the same blurb about how your book is the bestest and most awesomest book since Stephen King and J. K. Rowling teamed up to invent rabid St Bernards who eat bespectacled young wizards in deserted Colorado hotels. Use multiple exclamation points. And don’t make friends. They take up too much of your promo time.
1. Die. This is the most surefire yet simultaneously most drastic way to achieve success in the arts, and only recommended when all else fails. Actually, I don’t really recommend it at all; it’s generally a stupid idea and will make people cry. Unless you are already known for crazy. And even then, it’s worth pointing out that what worked for Hunter S. Thompson may not work for the average person. This is a man whose body contained more drugs in his lifetime than all of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer combined, a man whose remains were fired out of a cannon to the tune of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. I think it’s safe to say his example was pretty much an outlier by any measure you could choose to make.