Please pardon the jittering jumble of topics above, because I'm about to add more. See, it's you who do it to me. You asked me to blog about: hamsters, fake plastic trees (and karma police too, both obviously sung about by Radiohead), communism (well, actually, about how socialism is merely an appetizer for communism), dancing, how to pick an editor (will save for later), how to pick an idea (will save for later), and, of course, how to market yourself as an author and not just your books. Meaning, how do you get your name out there for your whole writerly being as opposed to pushing out only the title of the book and remaining in the throes of obscurity. Let's start with... hamsters.
If every hamster is yellow, find your inner purple. Pretend all writers are hamsters (and I'm totally puling this allegory out of my ass, on the fly, using the things you suggested above). Pretend you have to somehow differentiate yourself to stick out of the crowd. Being orange amongst beige or yellow among striped or spotted among plain just doesn't cut it. You have to be purple to stand out. But there are no purple hamsters as far as you know, right? So what do you do? You dig deep inside yourself and pull out the self that always raised eyebrows at school or at parties or at important dinners. All of us have obscure odd habits and quirks. We usually hide them to become like everyone else. But to be a writer you have to become a public figure, and a public figure has to always be entertaining to keep people's interest. You can try faking it, but people are smart, they will sniff you out sooner or later. It's not worth your time. The only way you can be different is to be yourself. I am, by the way, still struggling with this, afraid to fully let my crazy self be. Yet more and more I notice that when I do, writing crazy blog posts like how to pee your name in the snow or writing crazy books like ROSEHEAD (getting better beta feedback so far than I got for SIREN SUICIDES), people love my stuff better. That's what you have to do, find your inner purple and let it loose, online, in person, everywhere. Because it's the authentic you, soon your image will solidify in people's minds and they will be coming to you for YOU, and that's exactly what you want.
Not all plastic trees are fake, not all fake trees are plastic. Again, borrowing from the imagery you supplied for me, comes another rule for creating your own personal brand, because that's what marketing yourself as an author is, creating your own personal brand. And that rule is, once you start being authentic, you have to keep being authentic, no matter what happens. The scary part here is, you will be judged. You know how you show up to some party where nobody knows you except the host and people are quick to judge you by the way you're dressed, the way you walk and talk and stuff? Same here. You might be so outrageously different from everyone else, that people might label you as fake at first. They are not used to plastic trees among the forest of real ones, or they are not happy about the idea of a plastic tree being as authentic as any real one might be. You see, it takes courage to be able to stand your ground when every single thought you have, every idea, every belief is out there for the public to scrutinize, to review, to pummel, to slash, to beat, to twist any way they like, often without fully understanding where it came from. Book reviews are being the prime example. You have to be willing to stand behind your thinking without shame, stand your ground, in the face of all this shouting. With your voice comes power. Again, drawing on my personal experience, I still struggle with it, carefully avoiding topics I'm afraid to publicly talk about, like religion, race, war, crime, politics, violence, sexual orientation, argyle socks versus dotted ones, hunger, rape, circumcision, pink elephants, yellow elephants, drugs, abortion, sour cream... do I need to keep going? I DO have opinions on all of these and I'm slowly coming out of my shell, but it's fucking scary as I've been beaten for my opinions since I was little, so it's a hard road for me. I do intend to stand proudly as one plastic tree among other pines and birches and whatnot, to remain myself, and I suggest you do the same, if you're serious about getting your name out there as an author.
Communism is a lovely idea, but it never works. Think about the idea of ownership - you have to own your image, to care for it. Others will see that you care for it, and they will care for it too. I will illustrate. I grew up in the country that decided to try communism on, to make it real, and failed. It's a wonderful utopia, to be classless, moneyless, whateverless, to have everything and everyone owned by the commune, which means in the end that it would be owned by nobody, which is exactly what happened in Soviet Union. By all means, it's a lovely idea, but we will have to abandon our way of life and return to being hunters/gatherers to get rid of our wish to own things. I better stop here, as I have to learn more facts to start a real discussion and I feel like I don't (might take me a whole book to formulate my thoughts). Anyway. Here is what I do know. I witnessed new playgrounds installed, only to be burglarized and destroyed by adolescents that same evening, as soon as their actions could be covered by the blanket of darkness. Since they didn't belong to anyone, nobody cared. People's apartments became their castles. They ran up common staircases smelling of piss, rode up elevators that could get stuck any moment because the builders didn't care to install proper nuts and bolts and whatever other shit they were supposed to install to make the elevators function properly, and locked themselves behind heavy metal doors, in the place that they could call their own. That's how I grew up. Maybe it's this hate towards the uncaring way of people around me that made me so self-conscious of my image, I don't know, but I don't believe in everything and everyone being equal. We're all different, and that's the beauty of it. Yet out of fear we want to blend in, to not stick out, and if you want to market yourself as an author, unfortunately, it won't work. You will vanish in the sea of others looking exactly like you, and that's a pity, because we want to see the real YOU, because behind all those differences, we have things in common, and we want to connect, to feel united, that's why we read books in the first place. But, I'm getting carried away here, let me continue.
Dancing is not something authors do. SAYS WHO??? Here is a prime example of something I was very afraid to do, yet it is so me, so very me, that I will do it more and more. I will explain. After I complete a draft of a novel, usually the 1st draft (because it's the hardest) or the final draft (because it's the most exhilarating), I do a video of a dance and post it on YouTube, like this one when I finished Siren Suicides, or this one when I finished 1st draft of Rosehead, or this one when I finished final draft of Rosehead. It all started on a dare of sorts. I stumbled across a video of Hugh Howey doing a dance if he ever got 100 reviews on Amazon for WOOL. It was so funny that I tweeted about it, and my readers said, you should do it too. So I did. And I got hooked. Why? Because I wanted to be a dancer when I was little. I studied dance, I even took part in competitions and won 4th and 1st places in 2 of them. I loved it. Then I had to move from Moscow to Berlin and had to abandon my dance. I was 11, and I was devastated. it remained my childhood wish, to dance. Now, funny enough, being an adult I can finally be the kid I always wanted to be. Who says authors are not supposed to dance? Fuck that! I want to dance because I get so giddy, so happy when I finish a novel that I want to dance! I'm sure you have a similar thing. Stop being afraid. Life is too short. Do it. Sing. Paint. Wear a cape. Jump on your bed. Do a cartwheel. Run through the streets in your pajamas. Run around your house naked. Hell, run into the street naked, if you're sure you won't traumatize any neighboring children with your presence or have police round you up for indecent exposure (I saw a naked guy standing on the side of the street once, he looked very lost, so I suppose he did it not out of joy). Anyway, do what you always wanted to do to celebrate your achievements, because you deserve it, and the rest of us will applaud to you and feel happy for you and with you.
Sheesh, look at this post, it grew into a monster! Quite a topic, eh? What else can I say? Be yourself. No matter how afraid you are, that's your only choice. You might discover some ugly truths about yourself. I know I did, and that's okay, as long as you continue being yourself without hurting anyone. You see, it's about giving love. You can only truly love others if you learn how to love yourself, but you can't love yourself if you don't accept yourself for who you are. If you start spewing bitterness and hate all around, you'll see it for what it is from the reactions of people around you. Think of those authors that get caught faking reviews, or leaving hateful reviews of other books to boost their sales, or simply are grumpy and unapproachable. You'd steer away from someone like that, right? It's okay, though, as long as you're willing to make mistakes in public and publicly apologize. We all make mistakes, we're only human. We all strive to be better. You have to let go of your garbage and start loving yourself, that's when we will too. Just be humble, be willing to accept help, and you will be astounded at the amount of love pouring at you from everywhere. I know I was astounded, still am. But it took me to stop hating myself, to drag my ass out of suicidal thoughts and go public about my past. If I can do it, you can do it. SO DO IT. You don't know how much you have left to live, do you? Do it now.