Tuesday, September 6, 2011

(Not) Ready For Primetime

Over the last few years, I've been quite a few places. I've also attended two motor racing events. The first was the Grand Prix of DC, an ALMS event. (This is an endurance series intended to prepare drivers and cars for the 24 Hours of Le Mans). The second was the newest addition to the Indy circuit, the Grand Prix of Baltimore.

The first race was a disaster. Neither the drivers nor the fans wanted to come back to the venue. The second was the most successful launch of a new temporary street circuit in thirty years.

What made the difference? Preparation. Not on the part of the series, but on the part of the venue. But, this has nothing to do with writing...

...sure it does.

The DC race was not ready for prime time, and the ways in which it was are paralleled by the efforts of too many debut writers.

1. They did not have a solid foundation. The track was a temporary street circuit set up in the soccer stadium parking lot. The surface was not what it could be. Furthermore, the drivers hated the track. Just to add insult to injury, one of the two temporary bridges set up for access to the infield was ruled unsafe and could not be used.

They did not actually have a good product. A writer's product is the book itself. If it is not solid, if it is riddled with typos, if the story has holes you can drive an Indy car through, then there will not be success. And you can't trust editors to catch all of your mistakes. They're only human and things slip through.

2. They pissed off the neighbors. The soccer stadium is in a residential neighborhood. As a condition of running the race, they were supposed to set up a noise proof fence around the track so the sound of the cars would not disturb the people who weren't at all interested in a motor race. Which they did. Then they let the press knock holes in it to get better camera angles. As a result, the fence was useless. Oh, and during the race, they towed a stalled car into the wall.

Promotion needs to be targeted. If you're spamming people who may or may not be interested, you're knocking holes in your noise fence. That will only piss people off and earn you a bad reputation. Even more than that, you don't want to piss off your 'drivers' - your reviewers. If a reviewer writes a bad review and you attack them, you're towing their car into the wall. Not only will that reviewer never want to review your book again, none of the others will. Yes, writers do this. They do it a lot.

3. They did not prepare for success. On the day of the race, they ran out of cheap beer. (They still had expensive beer, but that's not what the average race fan drinks). They put out insufficient trash cans, which were not emptied all day, resulting in stacks of beer cans and, worse, empty food containers all over the infield and the viewing areas next to the race.

I have heard more than one horror story of a writer who went with a very small press or, worse, a vanity press. Then the book started to sell - and their publisher dropped them, because they didn't have the infrastructure to print enough copies.

But the more important lesson about preparing for success is that if you are not prepared for success, you are set up for failure.

I may well be going back to the Baltimore race next year. I wouldn't have anything to do with another race promoted by those people in DC. Moot point; the series broke the contract because none of the drivers wanted to go back...

Always make sure you are ready for prime time...and prepared for both success and failure.