Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Or I will punch you in the mouth--a review of 'Born This Way'

I've already devoted an entire post to my love affair with Lady Gaga. Suffice it to say that no fiber of my being will tolerate a bad word said in her direction. I have hovered over Facebook comments, cleared house party dance floors, and attempted to break a man's toes with my ass (long but true story) to defend this woman. Happily, she needs little defense. The toes of the nonbelievers are safe for now.

Today is May 23rd, 2011. I got up at 5am, cooked breakfast for fifteen people at a bed & breakfast, put on my favorite jacket, walked directly to Everyday Music in Seattle to purchase 'Born This Way' (the deluxe 2-disc set), walked home, listened to it in full, went back to work for two more hours, came home and lay on the floor to listen to it again, and then slept for four hours.

Here is my review.
1: I have little else to post about this week.

To be honest, I was scared. 'The Fame', Gaga's first album, was nothing but fun. It was the only pop music I'd noticed since 10th grade, after which my tastes matured to other genres. Its 8-track follow-up, 'The Fame Monster', instantly reduced me to a happy puddle of awe, and still does (each and every song of it). Musically, I'm no student. I couldn't tell a firing squad what a 'hook' or a 'key change' is. I just know what my ears, heart, and brain tell me. My ears tell me that Gaga's music is fantastic. My heart tells me that she is positive, compassionate, and in love with her fellow man. My brain tells me that she is involved in every possible facet of her sound and brand/image: Look what I wrote! Hear what I say! I want to wear that! I'll co-direct that! I'll design the cover, bitch! My brain understands a woman in control like that, because my brain is a woman in control.

After months of watching Gaga gush proudly about what was to come, my in-control woman brain was skittish. Could 'Born This Way' stand up to something as holy to me as 'The Fame Monster'? I say with joy that it can and did.

'Born This Way' is eclectically electric. It's mod. It's flashy. It's powerful. It's personal. It's uplifting. It has HUGE hair. A few of Judas's body parts hearken back to 'Bad Romance' (one of my personal favorites), but other than that, this album is entirely new. It's entirely Gaga--there's no mistaking her voice or her commitment to all beats dancetastic--but I never saw it coming. There are a few tracks I'm indifferent about, and one I admittedly don't care for. But overall, after listening to the album in full, I felt like the Lady herself just kissed my mouth and slapped me sideways. Or, as I put it on Facebook, like I'd had "anonymous sex with a rainbow in a euro dance club". Told you it was personal.

And now, the track list:

1. Marry The Night
"I'm a soldier to my own emptiness / I'm a winner." Very hard early 90s vibe. Operatic rock! Go, go, go!

2. Born This Way
No need for a description: you've heard this one. I woke myself up at 3am February 13th to listen this track the moment it debuted. I was shocked by and initially turned off by how happy it was. Now I can't hear it without envisioning myself surrounded by drag queens and flashing lights. Sounds like Madonna's 'Express Yourself'? Yeah, well, Madonna sounded like someone else, I'm sure. The wheel goes around one more time; I'm still grinning and coated in glitter.

3. Government Hooker
A good, chic cat-walk song. Uncouth moments, good n' dirty throughout.

4. Judas
Power chords and cat wails. I'm satisfied.

5. Americano
HOLY OBAMA, not only is this Spanish/Mexican/Mariachi stomp-fest crazy wonderful, it's got the best message on the entire album.
"She sang in eights and barrio chords / We fell in love but not in court.
I don't speak your Language / I don't speak your Jesus Christo / I don't speak your Americano.
I will cry for / I have fought for / how I love you / I have cried for / I will die for /  How I care."
Fascism is never in fashionable. Gays/Hispanics/Liberals are Americans and Christians, too. Proud ones. I assumed 'Americano' would be too literal and in-your-face political, but it meaning is true and powerful. Grandioso!

6. Hair
Made me feel like I was thirteen again--in a good way. And not just because it's about fighting your parents over your wardrobe. It just has this kick-ass late 90s beat. Just sit back and pretend you're riding an eagle with Bruce Springstien. Better yet, you ARE an eagle. A glorious, thirteen-year-old eagle. Also: SAXAPHONE BREAKDOWN.

7. ScheiBe
Sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy sexy monotone German fashion house number--with a high-octane feminist theme!
"When I'm on a mission / I rebuke my condition / If you're a strong female / You don't need permission"

8. Bloody Mary
Dark and beautiful and deeply dance-able. Still trying to figure out the meaning, but in the meantime: YES YES YES IT'S INCREDIBLE.

9. Black Jesus
No real opinion on this one, but I do fancy the chorus:
"On the runway / Dressed in his best / On the runway / Work it, Black Jesus"
I mean, why not?

10. Bad Kids
This is the one I'm not crazy about. It's Gaga's shout-out to all the rifraff fans she's met along the road. Which is nice and all, but the song itself is a let down--and a weird fit. The chorus is some kind of Ace of Base/Paula Abdul sunshine routine--not what comes to mind when I'm coming out to my parents or trying to find my place as an overweight/drug-addicted/insecure/unloveable high school kid.

11. Fashion of His Love
For Alexander McQueen, Gaga's recently suicided favorite designer. High-energy and sweet, but not my favorite.

12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love)
Oh MAN! It's like the Killers meets Thunder Road! Anthemic and unabashed. Get your eagle saddle back out.

13. Heavy Metal Lover
Once again, Gaga gives us BDSM identifiers a song to hurt to (others have included Poker Face, Teeth, and I Like It Rough). Lyrics mention whipping, slapping, group sex and include such gems as:
"Dirty pony / I can't wait to hose you down / You have to earn your leather / In this part of town"
 . . . and . . .
"I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south"
Sophisticated, synthy euro smut. I love it.

14. Electric Chapel
ROCK! I was expecting more from this one, but I do like the electric guitar and the 'doot-doo-doo's.

15. The Queen
Bit of a let-down. The lyrics promise a lot, but the song sounds like a first draft of Edge of Glory (track 17).

16. YOU And I
The album's decided power ballad. Bit of a jukebox, slow-slap country beat to it.

17. Edge of Glory
An honest to god bathroom-mirror-lip-sync-with-your-face-screwed up kind of song. Really gives Gaga's vocal talents the pedestal they deserve, and the saxophone makes another appearance. If you haven't hopped on that eagle yet, now's your chance. That sunset is blazing and ready for your iconic fist-pumping silhouette. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Love it or hate it, you have to be a sad sack of cold butt-nuggets not to feel the genuine love and excitement Gaga poured into every part of this thing. This thing which is entirely hers, and entirely ours. 'Born This Way' is intimate, direct, brave, and superbly executed. It's fun when it means to be, and contemplative when it needs to be. It is in no way the self-absorbed artgasm I secretly feared it would be. Way to go, Lady. I am so proud of you.

In celebration, here are two of my favorite Gaga YouTube clips:
Don't Touch Gaga's Hair (the cutest moment ever)
Gaga Visits Farmville (she's not in it, but her effect on the farming community is hilarious)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Name That Book! (and die a gruesome death)

You've heard it from me, and you may have heard it from the last page of Vessel: The Advent, but now I'm officially announcing it on the blog. And you are officially hearing it here.

Vessel's "Name The Book, Claim A Character" Contest

Vessel is slated to be a five-book series, and they all have working subtitles . . . with the gut-gnawing exception of Book II, which is due out in December. A fitting subtitle just will not come to me, so I'm hoping and praying that one will come to one of you fine people.

So here's the deal: I'm collecting your subtitle ideas, now through August 1st. And if your subtitle winds up on the cover of Book II, here's what you get:

 - a $50 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice,
 - all five books in the Vessel series (as they are subsequently published),
 - and . . .   . . . are you ready?

a doomed character named after YOU. A character who will likely die a disgusting and awful death. It's like getting to be an extra in a zombie movie, only less messy.

To help give you some ideas, here are the working titles for the rest of the series:

Book I: The Advent
Book III: The Tribulation (maybe)
Book IV: The Wrath
Book V: I'm not telling, because it's too awesome.

The subtitles clearly have an epic/biblical theme going, so I'll be looking for suggestions which fit that vibe. You may also notice that the above titles all consist of "The", followed by another word (just sayin'). Additionally, Book II will feature the Arabian desert, rival cults, prosthesis humor, the bloody return of a certain not-quite-dead princess and her flesh-eating horse, and, naturally, a gay disco club. That should be all you need to get started. Go nuts.

To enter, you must send an email (subject line: "Vessel Book II") to vessel.tom@gmail.com with your your subtitle suggestion, your name, and an email address where you can be notified. Contest ends August 1st, and a winner will be announced by August 15th, 2011. There is no limit to how many titles you can submit. The rest of the fine print is on the contest page

BEFORE YOU START! Here are the entries so far. They are fabulous beyond belief (and a few of them have been hilarious enough to cause coffee spills):

The Acts
The Anathema
The Ascension
The Baptism
The Bitch is Back
The Burning Bush
The Body
The Canon of Jesse
The Contact
The Covenant
The Crusade
The Cult of Personality
The Days
The Defilement
The Descent
The Diaspora
The Epistle
The End of Day
The Eternal Judgement
The Events
The Exile
The Exodus
The Gay Disco Club
The Gnosis
The Gods Must Be Crazy!
The Hallowing
The Happenings
The Illuminaughty
The Incarnation
The Lost Tribe
The Motions
The Night
The Oath
The Parable
The Pariah
The Path
The Pentecost
The Plague of Egypt
The Plight
The Prophet
The Rapture
The Schism
The Second Coming
The Signs
The Story
The Struggle
The Times
The Trial
The Way

UPDATE: And the winner is . . . Tiffany Milam Edwards of North Carolina! Keep an eye out for her in Vessel, Book II: The Exodus . . . 

Monday, May 16, 2011

What I did. (A book marketing strategy shortlist.)

A book travels only as far as its readers. Assuming that you've written, polished, and published a book that will appeal to some quantifiable group of readers--be they fantasy fans, middle-aged divorcees, lolcat enthusiasts, or dolphin fetishists--how will your book reach them?

Marketing. It's called marketing. I know, it's a scary, ugly word, especially for all us special snowflake creative types. Fear not! Marketing does not require a turtleneck sweater or 'synergy', no matter what your course syllabus told you. Marketing is simply the process of uniting product and consumer--and since those words are too sales-oriented for some, we'll just call them "book" and "reader".

There are ENDLESS resources for authors of all sizes hoping to reach readers of all shapes. To learn about most of them, you must first cut your day job hours by half, arrange for some form of intravenous caffeine delivery, and spend the next year perusing and auto-refreshing handy sources like:
And many, many more . . .

OR you can just figure out a few resources and strategies that sound both effective and feasible, given your skills and budget. Make a shortlist, and put your full effort into that shortlist. Experiment, see what works, change things up, and continue the marketing activities which seem to work the best for you and your book.

Here are the things which have worked best for me:

Galley Copies
Bound galleys are imperfect copies of your book printed prior to publication (more on how to produce galley copies here.) Sometime amid the editing process (ideally 3 months before publication), have some galleys printed--I did 40 copies. You will use these to send to reviewers, for giveaways, and to give to your proofreaders.
Success? I've used all 40, and gotten great reviews.

GoodReads is like Facebook for avid readers. Make SURE your book is listed on GoodReads. Users rate and review books, and see constant updates of what their friends are reading. Authors can set up an Author Page and connect with current and potential readers in all kinds of ways: book club forums, Author Q&A's, polls, quizzes, and a fabulous self-serve advertising system.
Success? Vessel currently has 21 reviews on GR. 280 people have added it to their 'to-read' list.

GoodReads First Reads Giveaways
Remember those galley copies? This is an excellent place to use at least half of them. List the number available, and readers can request a free copy. GR will automatically choose winners and give you the addresses.
Success? I've done two giveaways. In the first one, about 260 people requested Vessel. Out of the 10 winners, half got around to posting reviews--highly positive ones--both to GoodReads and their personal blogs. The second giveaway? Over 800 people requested Vessel, because of those reviews. The gift keeps giving. Trust me.

People love a good book review. If a blog review of your book goes up, then someone out there will read it and download your book, easy as pie. So how do you get reviewers? Focus on reviews by actual readers, not magazines, newspapers, or online equivalents. The best place to start is a GoodReads giveaway, and also your own friends and reading circle. Then, search for book review blogs written by people who enjoy your genre, and email them. Send free copies to those who respond, or offer them a free e-book download when you run out of galley copies (any serious bookaholic has an e-reader by now!). If someone emails you to tell you how much they loved your book, thank them, and tell them that a quick Amazon or GoodReads review may draw in others who might love the book just as much. People love giving their opinions--I know I do!
Success? Several readers have kindly posted some badass reviews of Vessel on their blogs, which include World of Words, Emma Book Blogger, the Book Sniper, and Her Book Self. There is no doubt in my mind that these reviews brought Vessel to more people's attention.

Seriously planning on publishing that book? Make a Facebook Page for it. Now. 
Success? I created Vessel's Facebook Page two years before the book was published. By the time the publication date rolled around, the book had over 300 fans. Without them, I would not have had the encouragement which pushed me to follow through with publication. And I would not have had such a dedicated (and large!) first wave of readers.

I'm still figuring this one out, but I know that it works. Twitter gives people a quick look at you. If that quick look reveals that you're an author, then it gives your book that much more visibility. Don't sell, sell, sell. Just be yourself. Share. Participate. If you find something useful or funny online, serve it up. In that same vein, you'll see lots of tips/helpful articles posted by others.
Success? 58 followers and counting. And when Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots tweeted about Vessel, I instantly got orders for the book. 

Same as Twitter. Offer what you have to give, even if it's just your thoughts on underwear sizing. Blog, and they will come. And when they come, they might just check out your book.

Bottom line: your book (or books) needs a website, one that is updated frequently. If you can't design one yourself, and if you can't afford a web designer, buy a hosting plan and use an updatable website template that works for you. 

Not Giving Up
Sales may suck one month, then pick up the next. Don't get discouraged. Keep trying new things, stay confident, stay visible, and keep producing quality work while you're at it. This isn't a race; you've indie-published, so there's no limit to how long your book will be available. Whatever you're doing, you're doing it great because you're still at it.

Like I said, those are the things that have proven effective for me. You may only have time or energy for a few of them, or you may find that other things that work for you. Here are some things that didn't work for me (and things which you may not want to waste your time with, either):

Shelf life. Thug life.
1. Bookstores. I know. I KNOW. You're a writer; it's your dream to see your book on the store shelves, but believe me. I've fought this battle, and it's not worth the craploads of time it takes to reach these people individually, however awesome they are. My advice: Focus on a select handful of independent stores in your hometown or current city, play hard but professionally, and they may take you in. Vessel is stocked at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, and at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV, and that's good enough for me. At this stage in the game, you need readers. Readers readers readers readers readers, you hear me? Calling and emailing bookstores is just time you're spending not reaching out to your readers. 

2. Contests. Do you know how many people enter these things? And they want you to pay to enter? Hah. Hah, hah.

3. Mailings (to bookstores, libraries, book clubs, etc). Costly, and you're competing with so many other titles.

4. Publicist's/Marketing Gurus. Until I find one who will accept commission based on sales directly driven by their handiwork, then I'm staying faaaaar away from these people.

And there you have it. Why I did it, how I did it, and what I did. I realize these posts are ass-tastically long, and I don't expect anyone to read them unless they've first e-mailed me asking for publishing advice, at which point I will point them this way (so I will not have to write them an ass-tastically long e-mail). So if you've made it this far, my hat's off to you. And if you're a Vessel reader, then my entire hat rack just hit the deck. Thank you for keeping me going.