David Freed, who grew up in Denver, is an instrument-rated pilot, screenwriter and former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Los Angeles Times. His work appears regularly in Smithsonian’s Air & Space and The Atlantic, where was honored in 2011 as finalist in Feature Writing by the American Society of Magazine Editors. David has also worked extensively within the U.S. intelligence community.
His debut mystery-thriller, Flat Spin (Permanent Press) was hailed by the Associated Press as “one of the best debuts of 2012,” and by Audiofile as, “one of the funniest books of the year.” His second mystery-thriller, Fangs Out, which hit bookshelves in April, has received rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and the New York Journal of Books, among others.
He lives in Santa Barbara, California.
On Puffery and Bloviating by David Freed
Had I known before selling my first mystery-thriller, Flat Spin, exactly what would have been expected of me after the book hit the shelves, I likely wouldn’t have started writing it, or its sequel, Fangs Out, which landed a few weeks ago.
Call me naïve. I most certainly was. In my pre-publication ignorance, I had assumed that the promotion and marketing of my book would be largely undertaken by whatever big publishing house was lucky to be first in line and snap it up, with a fat check in hand. Funny story: turns out there was no line, at least none in which any publisher was willing to offer me an advance big enough that I could buy my dream gite in rural France. The book did find a home, though in fairly short order, with The Permanent Press, an elite and highly regarded smaller publisher who I’ve come to love. PP does much to promote the books it releases, including mine. It nominates them for awards, sends copies gratis to hundreds of libraries around the country, and offers hundreds more in free giveaways on websites like Goodreads—all with the intent of attracting readers and selling even more books.
The rest, however, is basically left up to me. In that regard, I am hardly alone. Most authors today, unless they’re superstars, are expected to toot their own horns as frequently and as loudly as possible. We stage and typically pay for our own tours. We volunteer to guest blog, and we’re expected to blog ourselves–when we’re not tweeting and begging people to “like” our Facebook author pages. We count our blessings when we’re asked to appear on community access TV talk shows whose viewer ratings are only slightly higher than informercials that air at 3 in the morning. We make ourselves available for readings and signings at far-flung bookstores where, if we’re fortunate, more than our drunken college roommate shows up. We foot the costs of attending endless mystery conventions, networking with fans and fellow authors, trying to build a following so that we might one day actually support ourselves fulltime in this racket. Sometimes, I think it’s a wonder that any of us have any time to do what we’re supposed to be doing, which is writing books.
Little of this ancillary activity comes naturally to most authors, myself included. Folks who spend the bulk of their productive day alone, staring at a computer screen, tend to be a rather insular lot. They’re hardly inclined toward naked salesmanship, or preening like peacocks. I nearly had to be arm-twisted to attend my first Bouchercon, an event I knew literally nothing about until after I signed my contract:
MY PUBLISHER: “I think you’ll really enjoy Bouchercon. It’s in St. Louis this year.”
ME: “Bouchercon? What’s a Bouchercon?”
MY PUBLISHER: “It’s the big annual gathering for fans who enjoy reading mysteries. It would be very productive if you went.”
ME: “I don’t like big crowds. I’d rather stay home. My goal is to become the J.D. Salinger of mystery writers.”
MY PUBLISHER: “There’s no such thing today. You have to go. You have to promote yourself.”
ME: “Will you pay my way if I go to this Boucher-thing-whatever-it-is?”
MY PUBLISHER: “Pay your way? Of course not!”
I went anyway. And I had fun, despite myself. I met many great fans and more than a few writers like me, inherently shy people who would’ve preferred to stay home. I also met others who were masters of self-promotion, glad-handers of the highest order, who were happy to share with me some of the tactics they’ve refined to make themselves better known. I employ some of those tactics these days as I strive toward commercial relevance. But not without some reluctance.
My professional background is as an investigative journalist. Later, I worked extensively with the US intelligence community. Both pursuits frown keenly on transparency. I spent years striving to fade into the background, to not draw attention to myself. I’ve also been a licensed pilot for more than 30 years. Aviators don’t talk about how cool they are. Being boastful in any fashion is not the “Right Stuff.”
And, being boastful of their books and, by default, themselves, is precisely what we authors must do these days if we’re to find a niche in the increasingly overcrowded skies of contemporary fiction. We tout ourselves, telling the reading world with as much ego as prudence allows, and as much pride as we can swallow, how fantastic our latest critically acclaimed, award-winning effort is. Because unless we push our products, no one else will.
I’m learning to get more adept at it. The process is not as distasteful to me as it once was, but it’s still distasteful. I’m no braggart. I’d prefer to let my writing speak for itself, come what may. Unfortunately, the marketplace demands otherwise.
So, if I toot my horn a little too loud at times, I hope you’ll understand.
Almost as much as I hope you’ll buy my book.
David, I love the way you’re fighting your loner tendencies. It was a pleasure seeing you again at Left Coast Crime. And by the way, folks, I enjoyed Flat Spin very much and consider it the best mystery I read in 2012. I’m looking forward to another good read in Fangs Out.