Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Rules of the Fire Swamp

by Thomas Sweterlitsch

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably just published or are about to publish your first novel: Congratulations!

My debut hasn’t hit the shelves quite yet—so while I can’t write about being a published writer, I can write what I’ve learned being an about to be published writer. In my case, I’ve been about to be published for about 18 months, from the moment I signed my contract to the moment when my debut novel will see daylight. The single most important thing I’ve been doing with that time has been to work on my second novel. And, yes, second novels are more difficult to write than first novels—but in addition to the specific struggles inherent with second novels, there are a few traps that the about to be published writer can easily fall into (I’ve fallen into all of these traps, by the way).

Here are my Rules of the Fire Swamp:

1.) Stop Googling yourself. Ask yourself “how many times did I Google the phrase ‘your name’ + ‘writer’ or ‘the title of your book’?” before your contract. Probably the answer is zero. That should be the approximate number of times you Google yourself now. Yes, you’ll gradually see your name resulting in more and more hits, and yes, it can make you giddy the first time you find someone writing about your book, but in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Googling yourself can unwittingly become a significant part of your routine as you check the 20th search page, the 25th…the 35 th. Instead, take that time to write your second book.

2.) Don’t read early reviews. In fact, maybe don’t read any reviews. Some of my earliest reviews came from participants in programs that give away a free ARC in exchange for their honest review—while I understand the utility in this, especially for an unknown writer like me, this does mean that anyone can be among the first (and permanent) voices talking about your book on-line. Seeing those five star reviews can be thrilling. If you get a negative review, however, your day—and possibly your week, or month—is wrecked. Oftentimes, if you click on the negative reviewer’s profile, you’ll find that just before demolishing your book, they were ridiculing the packaging of Slim Jims or deriding the texture of paper towels. There’s nothing you can do about it. So just…stay away. Stay far, far away.

3.) Social media? Set limits. The first thing you’ll hear about promoting your work is to establish your social media platform. I do think it’s important to have an inviting web presence to welcome and interact with fans of your work—but try not to confuse being on social media with your job as a writer. (In fact, I just spent ten minutes reading an article about drunken Taylor Swift fans vandalizing her Rhode Island beach house…Ten Minutes. Why? Why did I do this???).

It is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ash. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the 'lucky ones' who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she ... and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Thomas Sweterlitsch lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter. He worked for twelve years at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is his first novel. Visit him at or on Twitter: @LetterSwitch

1 comment:

Susan C. Philpott said...

Great post! I'm also an 'almost published' author. My debut novel will be published by Simon and Schuster in Jan, 2015. By the time I signed with S and S my 2nd book was half written - so I spent the subsequent months getting that finished. Sing then it's been a lot of hurry up and wait - and lots of social media. I never google my name (although now I'll have to, of course) but the time spent wasted on silly videos, crazy lists of this and that, or dreadful world news channels is terrible. It's very difficult when the publisher is telling you to tweet once a day, keep your website and FB active, and to blog regularly. How to avoid all those online distractions? Just turn them off? Easier said than done.