Saturday, November 11, 2017

L.A. Rams: Sailing In Uncharted Waters...

  In the southern hemisphere, you may want to look up at the nighttime sky. For centuries, travelers upon the sea have known well what you'll see. It's "The Southern Cross..."

  Painting a seemingly simple four star cluster into an NFL team's 2017 canvas may be a reach, but I tend to be a star-eyed dreamer at any given moment. I've got the proverbial tee-shirt, and have the art of going from cheering to moaning down so pat, it's like a second language. As a Rams fan for decades, it's how I've sail through life in my little easy chair sloop. Years of dodging the behemoth NFL team tankers on each season's sea has been daunting. I've bailed and bailed after great NFL ships pass my team by, swamping me in waves of frustration. It doesn't do any good to shake your fist at them, nor does pelting a TV screen with Cheetos. You just have to re-set your sail, put the rudder hard over, and head for open sea... Or change the channel... Both seem to work?

Ocean going metaphors are oft times a hard sell, but I think it fits the 2017 Los Angeles Rams well. They've been plying the NFL waters in a hapless fashion for so long now, it takes time to believe their course could ever run true. Now, after a decade of confusing routes that had them zig-zagging all over the NFL map, they're headed toward new water... New destinations... New hope... They can see those four innocuous stars in the nighttime sky...

So, what happened? Well, as much as I liked Jeff Fisher as a person, he just didn't have what it takes to steer an NFL team. The Rams new head coach - Sean McVay - has it right. He built a coaching staff that re-set a basically talent roster. Wade Phillips - the team's defensive coordinator - installed a  defense, then molded Aaron Donald, Conner Barwin, Robert Quinn, and - a vastly underrated - Michael Brockers into a core for a front seven that's clicking. He took a secondary - that no one thought much of prior to the start of the 2017 NFL season - and sewed tight passing seems left open in years past. The 2017 Rams secondary now has as many interceptions (10), as they did in the ENTIRE 2016 season.

Worthy of remark too, is the number of penalties for the Rams defense in 2017 when compared to 2016. Under Jeff Fisher, penalties were crazy high. I mean, they weren’t flat out bug-nuts high, but they seemed to constantly come at the worst times. In 2017, the Rams rank third lowest in penalty yardage (342), and the best in the NFL penalties called (48).

Flipping over to the offensive side of the ball, one of the most striking statistics is the Rams’ 3rd down conversion rate: 49.1%. In 2016, they were dead last in the NFL(32%) when it came to 3rd down efficiency.

While all the fan fluff has been going running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff’s way, to my mind, it’s left tackle Andrew Whitworth who deserves the team’s offensive MVP award. So far in 2017, the Rams have 17 running plays for 10+ yards on the left side of the offensive line. In the entire 2016 season, the Rams only had 8 plays of 10+ yard on the left side. Jared Goff has only been sacked 10 times this season, compared to the 49 time Jared Goff and Case Keenum bit the dust 2016. Oh, what a difference a great left tackle makes... Add in that the Rams offensive line has kept the same five starters all season, and it’s not hard to see why this current Rams team is sailing free and easy.

In an odd twist, the one statistic I thought I’d find was a Rams’ wide receiver making his way up the success lists? Not so, with only Robert Woods in the Top 50 wide receivers in the NFL(#28), with 451 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Digging deeper though, Rams fans can get excited about the number of different receiver Jared Goff utilizes. The Rams player with the highest yard per catch percentage? (Insert Jeopardy theme) If you said “Who is: rookie receiver Josh Reynolds”, you win! OK, he only has one catch for 28 yards, but Alex Trebeck is a picky guy, right? Sammy Watkins hasn’t made big headlines, but general manager Les Snead hit bigger than most people want to believe. Watkins has only 19 reception, but his 331 receiving yards - for a 17.4 yard average - tells me the Rams finally have the guy who can take the top off a defense, and hold safeties back a bit on every play...

OK, so what do all the statistics have to do with the Southern Cross I mentioned at the start of my wunder-babble? Maybe it’s the feeling I get that the Rams have open sea ahead, that’s of their own choosing? Then again, it could be the simple, notional feeling I get - when I think about the team I’ve loved all my life - that every game to be played will be in currents that are a challenge to opposing teams? All too possible, is that I’ve got this all wrong, and it’s not about stars at all? Maybe - just MAYBE - it’s the fact that the Los Angeles Rams have a harmony about them that makes a mark on a fan of the NFL...

Hmm...? Harmony... Southern Cross... I’ve got it!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

L.A. Rams: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

After, therefore, because of it...” Known as a well worn fallacy by more educated people than I, those who mock this phrase can’t be NFL fans. Yet, I find it hard not to bend causality to my whim when the chance arises, and not just when it comes to the game we all love. For instance, it’s all but undeniable personal life tracks can be bent askew by “just one more beer...”, or in a certain Washington D.C. based Rams fan writer we all know: “Just ten more beers...” It’s the beer’s fault, right? Anyone out there silently nodding their head, and whispering: “Amen...”?

Say what you will, being an NFL fan allows a certain latitude with reality at times. Take the 2014 NFL Draft. No, really. Take it, because it makes me grind my teeth every time I summon the strength to think about it. Many may recall the then St. Louis Rams taking Auburn tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick in the draft, followed by Aaron Donald at #13 in the first round. The pick of Robinson - a Jason Smith-ian bust during his time with the Rams - made me cringe at the time. If you look back thru my rants for TST around the draft in 2014, you’ll see I pounded the table for someone else...

It’s at this point I’m going to drown you in Latin, with a new phrase NFL fans should thoroughly embrace: “Pro eo quod”, which translates roughly into “Instead this, therefore that...” You see, there was this one player I wanted Jeff Fisher and Les Snead to take, and I have little doubt it would have changed the future of the franchise. Khalil Mack was taken at #5 overall. Now, just think about it for a second and look back at the other players taken in the top 15 picks. Donald would’ve been there at #13 if the Rams had taken Mack at #2. How do I know? I just do, and I’m a bit of a brat, so get over it!

Looking back, Jeff Fisher had been slamming draft capital at building a defense since his arrival in 2012. Fans were screaming for offensive help, and a battered Sam Bradford needed someone to guard his blindside. Yielding to convention, Fisher and Snead missed the chance to build a defense for the ages... Pro eo quod..
In fact - if you’ll allow my dizzy little dreamland to spin further out of control a bit more - glance at the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Assuming just the players above the Rams selection position at #41 remained constant, way down at #63 was a player who would’ve satiated calls for wide receiver help: Jarvis Landry. The fates being what they will, the Rams selected safety, Lamarcus Joyner.

The odd thing about being an NFL fan, is how we try to discern where our favorite teams went off the proverbial rails when they fail to live up to our dreams. For me, the 2014 NFL Draft was where the Fisher era missed its chance for greatness. I’m in no way blind to the fact anyone can page back through time to other instances where cause and effect changes could’ve shifted the Rams fortunes. They’re there, spattered across time for all to see, and tearfully lament...

I guess the whole point of this has to do with looking forward, which is oddly counter to this article’s bend. L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay now swims in the unknown waters of what can be. Twist and turns, fates and fortunes, all lie ahead. A missed chance, an ill timed ego burst, or not staying true to a determined course happens so very easily in the broad scheme. Just ask Jeff Fisher... 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Cost of a Millennial Life...

 How I hate those moments, when life - the course of a life lived - hurls itself at me... Yesterday, a young man - I've known since he was 6 or 7 years old - took his own life. How I'll grapple with the event itself isn't why I'm writing this though, because there's something else nagging at me. I think young men (and women) like the one I mentioned are at risk from something that's going to be parsed and defined more often as time goes on. Some use the term "Millennials" to describe the current crop of young people between the ages of 16 to 30-ish...

Often labeled as a generation of concern by people labeled "Baby-Boomers," and the offspring of the  late 1970's to 1990's parental tree, Millennials are the cultural shift off shoot of an America transitioning through a myriad of social changes at the family level. The family unit changed drastically, with both parents working more and more, while child rearing began to shift toward an arm's length approach out of necessity. The family unit itself became even more nondescript as marital divorce became more acceptable - and in many instances, rightly so. Technology has lent an odd hand in all this, but more on that at another time...

The Millennial child gets a bad rap. Many in my age sphere lament how ill-focused and prepared young people are today. Yet, I can't help but think we don't take into consideration just how we've set Millennials up for failure? We somehow allowed the thinking that Millennials - like other generations before them - should be able to find their way as we have, and it's just idiotic...

This current world is so infinitely more complex than the one I, and those of my own generation, had to handle growing up that it borders on the absurd. It's overwhelming to take a glimpse at yourself, and try to fit how a child of the "Cold War" era would handle everything being thrown at today's young people. "WE" had both parent - divorce being a social "no-no" - and far less of what's going on  in the world pounded on us ever second of the day. Information technology was in its infancy, so there was kind of a layer of forgiveness built in. Today, a small criminal misstep can literally end a young person's future prospects in the blink of an eye. When I was young, you were more likely to get a ride home by a law enforcement officer for youthful indiscretions. No paperwork, just a stern talking to, and that uncomfortable - and unforgettable - time as the officer told your parents what you'd done... Today, everything a child does is documented and stored. It's available for anyone to see, with stale facts precluding any hint of becoming a better person later in life being left left out.

Yes, I'm more than a little alarmed at just how thinly prepared "Millennials" appear to be to take on life in an infinitely complex world. But all the problems aren't of their making, and the solution set has somehow alluded falling at the feet of those who've put them in this position...

If I could speak to the masses of Millennials, I'd tell them to set aside thoughts of trying to push through life on their own. The old line "It takes a village..." applies more now, than ever. The African proverb holds true through time. The Bible embraces this wisdom too:

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken..." - Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

It's simple enough, but how thinly Millennials consider history - and what can be learned from mankind's thousands of years of successes and failures - could very well be a tipping point for this generation. While current educational focus has been squarely set toward math and science to compete in the global marketplace, the lack of emphasis on history and reading - especially beyond 140 characters in length - leaves a vast pool of pool of untapped knowledge laid to waste in libraries and search engines. Millennial disdain for expanding their minds to broaden their base understanding of the world, drastically effects their ability to cohesively interact and excel with the community as a whole. They bring less to the table when wisdom is called for, and it limits their available solutions sets.

This world swallowed a young man I cherished. Overwhelmed by his circumstance, he didn't reach out to family and friends. But let's be clear, his life's end falls on my, and everyone else's shoulders who knew him. As I look back, the space between myself and this young man was far too broad. The sad thing is, as I look around me, the single point I can readily tie to him is a phone number, in a cell phone list hundreds of names long. The numbers in everyone's phone represent an instant epitaph of how minuscule and shrinking human interaction has become. I know I'm not the only one who's seen families sitting next to each other, and no one is speaking. They're all texting someone, or living their lives on some social media stream. There may be some who are satisfied that 140 characters on a small screen is interaction, and if you're one of them I feel sorry for you. If you are, you will remain outside the village we all so desperately need to survive...

So what's the cost of a Millennial's life? How much does it cost to reach out and help, because it's a price I, and everyone else fail to think worthy...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

NFL Weekend: Free Agent Shop 'Til You Drop

...The 2016 NFL free agency scene had some teams throwing cash around like sailors on leave. The New York Giants spent a whopping $204.5 million to rebuild a sagging defense. Miami hit the "gotta wonder what they're thinking" button when they signed Mario Williams, C.J. Anderson, Jermon Bushrod, Isa Abdul-Quddus, and swapped first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft with Philadelphia to acquire Bryon Maxwell and Kiko Alonzo. The evil schadenfreude in me wants to be the fly on the wall when Ndamukong Suh knocks heads with the mercurial Mario Williams...

Speaking of "Butts", the Denver Broncos sent a conditional 7th round draft pick to Philadelphia for quarterback Mark Sanchez...

Yes, this monkey is going to be on Sanchez's back forever. If he should somehow blossom into the greatest quarterback in NFL history - and make into the Hall of Fame - at his induction ceremony they'll play this infamous moment over and over again. No doubt Baby Got Back - "I like Big Butts" - will be playing in the background... Denver fans have to be reeling, as they transition from Peyton Manning to having one of the biggest "fill in the blank" questions ever at quarterback for 2016. They'll be going cold turkey after riding the high of having one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, to one who gave us a Thanksgiving Day football game that'll be etched into our minds forever...

Quite a few NFL teams have stayed quiet during the free agent maelstrom so far. Baltimore, Green Bay, New England, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis have concentrated on re-signing some of their players. The Rams took a hit in their secondary, losing Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod - the latter being the more damaging loss for Los Angeles. The secondary for the Rams was just starting to peek out from behind a dismal decade of terrible pass coverage; especially at the safety position.
New England did add a wide receiver. Buffalo's Paul Hogan will join the Patriots after impressing head coach Bill Belichick with his football savvy.
So now a quarterback/wide receiver "Barbershop Quartet" will see if they can sing for Bill Belichick in 2016. Sunscreen dependent, I think this may become a very interesting group to watch this season...


Green Bay needs to re-sign James Jones, who was one of the best stories to follow in 2015. His 890 receiving yards, 8 touchdown on 50 receptions came after his being ignored by teams during free agency. After Jordy Nelson went down, it still took the Packers weeks to bring back one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets. He's sitting in the unemployment line right now, but only teams with an elite quarterback need come calling. Jones won't wow anyone with his speed, but he seems to find a way to make the best quarterbacks better...

The best free agent signing by a team thus far? My vote goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers inking tight end Ladarius GreenWith the retirement of Heath Miller, Green was a flat out bargain: 4 years/$20 million. An example of pre-determined and focused free agent shopping, the Steelers never wavered in who they wanted. Green played in the shadow of future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, who re-signed with San Diego after an injury marred 2015 season. Now he'll join one of the best aerial attacks in the NFL. I give this signing a solid gold: A+
The worst free agent so far? I know this is just my opinion, but the money paid by the New York Giants for the Rams' Janoris Jenkins is down right absurd. I'll eat my words if he somehow avoids getting regularly burned long in 2016, but I really think that won't happen. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs shutdown corner backs. Jenkins has the ability to do just that, but it's his tendency to sprinkle in ill-timed gambles that'll have Giants fans cringing. His own comments at a Giants presser should set off warning flags, when he said he needed to "stop being lazy at the end of games..." Now that's what you want to hear after signing away $62.5 million, right...? I give this signing a: C-

Have a great weekend! Follow me on Twitter: @thenovelroad

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Narrative Distance: A Place To Start

Narrative Distance...

While some think less about this key piece in the writing puzzle, it's where the tipping point exists between great works, and the rest. In an e-mail to a young writer, I tossed him a basic starting point for grappling with Narrative Distance. Right or wrong in my direction, I think it's a good enough reminder for any writer to occasionally peruse... 


Don't confuse "Narrative Distance" with objectivity, or editorial distance. This aspect of writing is usually explained in two parts: Narrative Voice and Narrative Distance. The "Voice" is the easy one. It's the character POV (Point of View), meshed with the innate tenor each writer brings to a piece. "Distance", is something I like to explain as "the fly on the wall" narrator. How far away the "fly" is from the action dictates how much scope the reader is provided. It's tricky, because some writers fall into a "wordy" trap, thinking "Distance-set" means prolonged setting details. While you can use setting (lighting, geography, time of day, ect...) to frame your character's or subject's tenor, too much will draw the reader too far away; minimizing focal points.

In every story or article, there is - without exception - an inherent Narrator. News stories written are offered from close POV, but the "Distance" the writer has to take is dependent on the facts at hand. If the facts in evidence are indisputable - not needing observation to glean what is, or isn't true - the writer can write unequivocally. If the facts aren't absolute, or are vague, a good writer creates distance by stating sourced observations of the subject, or event. In each case, the writer is the narrator.

Opinion based pieces need to have "Opinion Dependent Distance". How much of what the writer says is based on facts - set off against judgement inspired by personal thoughts, passions or morays - will actually set the POV, and even the overall tenor of a piece.

 Let's look at Narrative Distance in a "beginner" way...  Think of a zoom camera lens for a minute. Now, think about Narrative Distance in these three aspects: (1) Close, (2) Near, (3) Far

"Close" - This is either the writer acting as narrator, or one of his characters. The camera lens zooms in close, framing faces, and not the outside world around them. There is no sound, or exterior noise other than the strictly narrated facts or dialogue.

"Near" -  Observed action effected by immediate surroundings is key here. If the writer has two people talking in a crowded room, the people around them, the purpose of the room itself, and even the time of day (among a myriad of other reasons) can set the narrative distance. But let's say the room has a window? What's "outside" this room defined world is sliced out, narrowing the focus of the lens...

"Far" - The key here is to know "far" isn't about "physical" distance. The same two people mentioned earlier in the room are talking, but the thoughts going through their heads as they speak now comes into play. The narrator draws out the "How-s" and Why-s" of what's being said, then adds in observational aspects to set tone, tenor and intent... 

The pieces I write - and you're able to read, since most of what I write you don't have access to - feature a variety of Narrative Distance-s. In the Front Office Fiction pieces, the Distance used is "Close" and "Near". I've written features like my "The NFL and CTE" interview in "Close" and "Far", with zero "Near", which is VERY tricky to do. My novel - Devin Briar - is a character-driven story, so it's written in "Close", Near" and "Far".  

A good writer uses the zoom lens to shift in and out across a broad set of circumstances posed. How you slide between these three aspects of Narrative Distance will determine the flow of what - and how - you write...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Tao of Chip Kelly

...The sudden purge of talented veteran players by the Philadelphia Eagles caught every NFL fan by surprise. Then came the curious additions to offset the subtractions: LeSean McCoy is traded to Buffalo, and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews are added thru free agency. Quarterback Nick Foles bops his way via trade to St. Louis for oft injured Sam Bradford. I could go on listing the moves by Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly, but you've see it all as its streamed in headlines across sports-pages. A life long NFL fan, I've never seen anything close to what's been going on in Philadelphia...

So is Chip Kelly a genius, or mad man?

What intrigues me most, is trying to glean just what he saw - or didn't see - in players most fans thought were pretty damn good? LeSean "Shady" McCoy is one of the elite running backs in the NFL. Why did Chip Kelly opt for Dallas' Murray and San Diego's Matthews; both of whom have had checkered injury histories? Linebacker Trent Cole - now with Indianapolis, and is going into his 11th NFL season - was a key component for a middle of the road defense in Philadelphia. While they added Kiko Alonzo from Buffalo in the McCoy trade, and the competition for linebacker spots looks decent, Alonzo is coming back from injury.  So Kelly shifted from a solid veteran "maybe", to a second year linebacker with potential/injury "maybe"?

"...Kelly gave a contract extension in between raving about the veteran’s leadership qualities. Kiko Alonso is the only return Kelly managed to acquire while parting with LeSean McCoy,Trent Cole, Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Cary Williams. Meanwhile, Kelly has commented on how much time Mychal Kendricks missed last year with a calf injury."

While the 49ers have lost loads of players this off season, it's nothing close to Philly. Players left San Francisco of their own accord. Not so in Philly, where Chip Kelly has made sweeping changes based on his view of what kind of team he wants to coach... He signed a 5 year/$32 million contract in 2013 with the Eagles after flirting with Cleveland. In his first year, his offense piled up big numbers. Averaging 417.2 yards per game put the Eagles just behind Denver and Peyton Manning for the most prolific offense in the NFL. Nick Foles finished with 27 TD passes, only 2 interception, and a league best 119.2 QB rating. A more balanced attack than most thought would happen, Kelly's offense generated 2,566 yards on the ground, and 4,110 in the air. That's 6,676 yards combined, folks!

Then, it happened... Kelly wanted more. After a front office shake up left Kelly with more overall control of team direction, players began to to be shipped out, in what came to look like a wholesale house cleaning. In 2013, wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a career best 1,332 receiving yards. He was quickly shuttled out of town after the season. The most interesting - and for me, down right puzzling move - was the trade of LeSean Mcoy to Buffalo. Over the last two seasons, McCoy's production was fantastic: 2,926 rushing yards/694 receiving, and 16 touchdowns. The stat that may be hardest to replace though, is his 179 first downs over the last two seasons... Lots of moves have happened for the Eagles, but these two kind of set an interesting stage for what followed.

I'm actually enjoying watching what Chip Kelly does. He's kicking over the conventional wisdom table. He's in one of the toughest NFL fan towns though. So many would think the Philadelphia fans would be on the verge of rioting in the streets, right? Not so fast. SBNation's Eagles blog - Bleeding Green Nation - has run a month to month job approval poll regarding Chip Kelly. Take a look at the numbers:

So, do you approve of the job Chip Kelly has done as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles?
Chip Kelly Approval Polls:
Interesting? Add in Kelly's signing Tim Tebow to the quarterback mix, and at times it seems he's going to great lengths to keep the Eagles' fan base guessing? The Philadelphia media - long known for being one of the toughest crowds around - has been held in check by Kelly... For now, anyway. I can't help but think the media hounds in Philly won't allow Kelly much leeway going into the 2015 season. If his great experiment falters even the slightest bit, they're going to pounce on him...

I like the idea of a head coach attacking his job in his own way. Kelly's gone at this with his hair on fire, and foot mashing the gas pedal to the floor. "Great experiments" in the NFL are fairly rare. Conventional wisdom, and conservative moves are the standard for the most part. I'm rooting for Kelly to succeed, simply because he's created an air of unknown possibilities. Will he? I don't know, but it's going to be the biggest story line in the NFL for 2015. Now, let's sit back and watch...

*** A big thank you to Pete Dunbar for the great pictures!***

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NFL 2015: What's Going On With The 49ers?

When San Francisco's linebacker Chris Borland announced his retirement after only a single NFL season, it seemed well reasoned, but odd at the same time. What no one saw at the time is how it cracked open a floodgate...

Patrick Willis, the perennial All-Pro middle linebacker - followed Borland into AARP-land. Losses in free agency added to woes being felt by first year head coach Jim Tomsula. Justin Smith called it a career after 14 NFL seasons. Frank Gore hit the road to Indianapolis, and Michael Crabtree headed across the Bay to Oakland, while guard Mike Iupati wandered off to Arizona. Now, starting right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement, though he left the door open for a return...
If you want to look at all this honestly, drawing the line back to last season - when rumbling of player/front office dissatisfaction began to bubble up around then-head coach Jim Harbaugh - makes some sense? From a distance, I can almost see the 49ers players were split into two camps: Pro-Harbaugh, and Con-Harbaugh... Then again, is it reasonable to look even further to a dysfunction in the front office and ownership?

One thing seems to have an underlying truth to it though: Players are leaving in droves regardless of money concerns. In an age where players seem overly craven where $$$dollars are concerned, the 49ers have people simply walking away...

Health concerns - when it comes to playing the game of football - are very real, and I respect anyone who makes the tough choice to stop playing a game that's been something they've loved. Willis' decision to retire is understandable. He's been struggling with foot issues for a number of years, and pain takes a toll on anyone. Davis' sudden decision is tougher to understand, especially when you consider his hint at a return in the future. Players who are injured get put on Injured Reserve; they don't have to retire to heal. It makes me wonder if Davis' is really injured, or simply trying to gain his release from the 49ers? He did suffer a substantial concussion last season that caused him to miss four games. Is this a response by Davis to resist efforts by the 49ers to force him to play when he thinks he needs more healing time? Could be, but it's just speculation...

Yet, what's going on with the 49ers right now has stepped beyond an aberration. No other NFL team is going through anything close to this. Add in how young the 49ers players who are retiring, and it has to make you wonder what's going on in San Francisco? Not to stir the pot even further, but is anyone else thinking some of this represents a broad showing of a "lack of confidence" in Tomsula/Baalke/owner Ted York?

One of the most storied NFL franchises is in deep trouble. The San Francisco 49ers are still a formidable team, but how much more disarray can they handle?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jeff Somers on Book Promotion

The Jeff Somers 10 do's and don’ts when it comes to book promotion:
(FYI - Remember to read the footnotes)
The Terminal State (Avery Cates)


1. ... get a haircut. Whatever that means to you. Shave your head, dye your hair, buy a new wig, *make* a new wig from the shedded fur of your cat -- whatever. Just do some hair maintenance. Nothing makes you look crazier when standing up in front of a room of people than Crazy Hair [a].

2. ... remember that most promotion has no immediate return. Readings, interviews, web sites, videos, podcasts, advertising - it will all seem to disappear into the endless void without a ripple, and you will despair. All you can do is try everything and hope it has an effect down the line.
3. ... readings, but temper your expectations. I have read to packed houses with standing-room-only crowds, I have *literally* read to my wife and two bookstore employees, neither of whom seemed impressed. Readings are hard to predict, so be prepared for despair.
4. ... couple Readings with something else. Even a packed reading will only move a few copies of your book - if you can get some local news coverage you've hit PR gold!
5. ... make a web site. Incredibly cheap, permanent promotion with potential to reach everyone in the universe. Don't go crazy - it's better to have a simple site with boring design that works than some crazy, animated-GIF hellhole of a site.
6. ... have a few drinks. Before appearances, during readings, afterwards if someone is footing the bill. While you don't want to be disastrously drunk when doing a reading or other appearance, you don't want to be sober either. Sobriety is terrifying.
7. ... learn to dance. Nothing will save a bombing public appearance like sudden and inexplicably entertaining with break-dancing. Watch old episodes of "What's Happening?!" and learn moves from ReRun. Trust me on this.
8. ... prepare for readings. When doing a reading, select the portion of your book you're going to read. Time it so it's around 5 minutes of reading time. Try to end on a strong beat. Try not to choose a section that has a lot of dialog. DO NOT EVER DO VOICES FOR YOUR CHARACTERS. Print it out on letter-sized paper in a big font. Practice a few times. Even reading it once will save you from stumbling over your own words like English is your third or possibly fourth language.
9. ... be prepared for people to laugh at the wrong times. Just go with it, and pretend you meant your dramatic moment to be hilarious.
10. ... prepare for interviews, both in-person and via email. Have *interesting* answers to the standard questions. Trust me when I say that telling us you started writing as a kid and would write for free, because it is your passion, is NOT interesting. In the least. [b]

The Final Evolution (Avery Cates)
Available June 28th


1. ... spend money. Well, not much. Some bookmarks and business cards, a web site registration and hosting -- fine. But self-funding an ambitious book tour or advertising campaign will only end in tears.
2. ... use every communication you have with any other human being on the planet to plug your book. People are pretty understanding that you want to get the word out, but there is a line. Find it, fix it's location in your head, and never cross it.
3. ... attempt black magic or deals with the devil to make your book a bestseller. This does not seem to work, no matter how often I, er, people try [c].
4. ... respond to bad reviews. Ever. No matter how insulting, puerile, or obviously personally motivated they are. You will come off looking like a prick, and the bad reviewer will simply post your arguments as proof of your immaturity. Take it lying down and don't worry about it.
5. ... obsess over your Amazon sales rank. Amazon is still a small portion of the book market overall, and their sales rank algorithm is Fancy Math that no one understands. It may actually be witchcraft, or completely random. No one knows.
6. ... spam. Mass emails are only acceptable if you have a list of people who have volunteered for such atrocities, and even then should be used sparingly, to announce things that are coming up too quickly for people to discover for themselves.
7. ... assault people physically or scream at them, demanding they buy your book in bulk. This results in more arrests than sales, believe it or not.
8. ... make it all about selling your book. Sure, that's the goal and you shouldn't be shy/ashamed about it, but you have to offer people more than a sales pitch. Entertain them. When you're reading or signing books, be fun and interesting. If you're making a video or web site, give away some content and have fun.
9. ... take yourself too seriously. The only people who like serious writers are no one ever. No one likes serious writers. People like their writers humble, inebriated, and jolly. And, if my own experience means anything, pantsless.
10. ... buy a trained monkey. You might think he'll dance and jig and amuse the crowd, and then be trained to fetch you whiskeys when you're home. But in reality he will soil every surface of your house, steal things from your wallet/purse, and then run away at the first opportunity, breaking your heart [d].

[a] I myself had Crazy Hair continuously from 2004-2009. No power on Earth could tame it. My career suffered accordingly.
[b] It is okay to make stuff up when applying #10. Create your own backstory. You're a writer, after all.
[c] Plus, all those dead sacrificial chickens. Yuck.
[d] COME HOME, BONGO! All is forgiven, I promise.