Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Neil Gaiman, Storytelling and the World Weird Web

Warning to the folks who come here looking for bicycle stories. There is very little bicycle content in this long, strange, true tale. But, for better or worse, this is the main place I tell stories on the internet and I think this is a tale worth telling, if only so someone (myself perhaps) can point to it from some other place and remember how odd the world was in 2012.

At some point in my life I became aware of Neil Gaiman. I'd see his books in bookstores and I'm sure I picked up at least one and read the back cover, but I didn't buy the book then. Sometime later, I recall being on a bike ride with Mark Vande Kamp, one of our rides where we talk of a good many things, and Mark mentions Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. "It's very good," Mark says, "I think you'd really like it." The book makes its way onto my mental list along with hundreds of others. My brain is full of unread books. It is large, it contains multitudes.

In one of my 6 Books in a Backpack sessions last year I get a copy of "Good Omens" a collaboration of Neal Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Again, I don't get around to reading the book. My physical collection of unread books is not as large as my mental collection, but it is still large and contains multitudes. Pratchett is another fellow who is still on my "I've heard good things, I should read his stuff" list.

Somewhere along the line, I start following Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) on Twitter. I still have not read any of his books, but I read his tweets. Neil tweets that an episode of the Simpsons in which he appears as a character is available for view online. I basically stopped watching TV several years ago so I'd have more time to read books, but I always enjoyed the Simpsons, so I watch "The Book Job". It is clever & fun but it doesn't make me think "Oh man, I have to read this guy's stuff right now."

A few weeks ago Neil tweets something like "Hey the 10th Anniversary Edition of American Gods is $2 for the next day or so on the Kindle." I download it. Then we get hit with a big snow and ice storm here in Issaquah and our power is knocked out. The streets are icy & no power means the bike shop is closed and I'm not going to work. I read American Gods by headlamp on my Kindle. Neil describes his book as being a long piece of prose with something wrong with it, but I can't quite figure out what that thing is. My overall reaction is "Dammmnnn that was good."

Our local library has Kindle downloads so I download Anansi Boys. More fun than American Godswith a lighter story. I like it better in some ways, but American Gods seems like the better book.

Next from the library, M Is for Magic. Holy crap, this man can sure write a short story. Somebody do a DNA test because I'm pretty sure Ray Bradbury is this fellow's father.

One of the stories in M Is for Magic is something that becomes the core Neil's novel The Graveyard Book. All of the copies of The Graveyard Book are checked out of the library and I don't even pause for a second before downloading it at full price full price from Amazon. It was that or Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book is a bit cheaper. And I want to see where the story goes.

While I'm reading The Graveyard Book, Neil tweets something like "Hey Amazon just knocked the price of Neverwhere to three bucks on the Kindle." Again, zero hesitation. Neil and Amazon get my money.

I finish The Graveyard Book. It's my new favorite. I immediately buy another Kindle copy for Christine. So glad to send Neil some more of my money, glad to find a book that makes me go "Christine will love this." It is, as I tell her, "a sweet, wonderful, dark tale that begins with pretty much an entire family being knife murdered."

Authors get most of their readers through word of mouth and I've become a big mouth fan of Neil Gaiman. My friends are getting the "Whoa, you should read this guy's stuff" raves from me. Yeah, I know I'm late to this party, but I don't care. Think of this blog post as more of that rave.

Now here's where the story gets weird and pays off in a weird way. If you've been keeping score, my Gaiman fandom up to this point in my story has cost me a grand total of about $21 plus some tax ($2 for American Gods, $16 for two copies of The Graveyard Book, and $3 for Neverwhere). The enjoyment I've gotten from these works, plus the others I've gotten from the library is far, far greater than the meager sum I've paid.

But we live in a very, very weird world. On a much smaller scale than Mr. Gaiman, I also tell stories and I don't tell them nearly as well. And I mostly write non-fiction but I do a bit of fiction now and then and it almost always involves bicycles. And I've got a story now that will be something, not this story but another one that you'll get to read another day and it involves bicycles and graveyards. And I think it is a story worth telling and it is what it is in part because of Mr. Gaiman's odd stories. So I'm getting value there as well.

But that's not the weird part. The weird thing is how that $21 has already come more than come back to me in just plain old, crass American dollars. And as @neilhimself will tell you, the American Dollar is one of the American Gods.

I'm an Amazon affiliate and if somebody buys something from Amazon after following a link on my blog or something I've tweeted, Amazon knows I sent you. Amazon knows a really spooky number of things. Amazon doesn't charge you more but I get a small percentage of the purchase price as a referral fee. depending on the item it may only be 1.5% or as much as 10%. In the case of books & ebooks, it's usually 6 or 7%.

So a few days after Neil's tweet about Neverwhere, I notice it's still at the low price. I tweet:

Neverwhere by @neilhimself is still only $2.99 on the Kindle. A great price for some really great writing. amzn.to/zGrvSs

If any of the 1600 or so people who follow me on twitter follow that link and buy the book, I'll make a few cents. I'm happy to spread the word about a good book and if I make a little money in the process, that's fine too.

@neilhimself noticed my tweet and retweeted it to his 1.6 million followers. It only takes a small percentage of 1.6 million people to buy something for it to be noticeable. Amazon tells me that at least some of those people didn't already have a copy of Neverwhere.

And that, my friends, is how you sell books in the 21st century. In that one click, Mr. Gaiman has paid for every book of his I'll probably ever buy. And I have this strange, true story to tell you.

By the way, I'm reading Neverwhere now. It's fabulous.

Keep em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA


Gex the gecko said...

And you still haven't gotten to my favorites yet - lucky you! Stardust is wonderful, and will probably always be my favorite of his. And this is an odd one, but even if don't have kids, his children's book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish is priceless.

The Handlebar Code said...

This came at just he right time, excellent. Now I know what I'm going to be reading tonight !

Alex said...

How have you missed The Sandman series? Award winning "comic" books that are anything but! Still the books I would save first in a house fire :)


April said...

If you ever get a chance to meet him in person, do it. He's a kind person who loves his fans.

He came to Portland for the world premiere of the Coraline movie (the movie is good, but of course, the book is better) and said on his blog (do you read his blog, too? If not, you should) that he wouldn't have time to do a reading or signing in a bookstore, but he'd be at the red carpet to sign things. And sure enough, he showed up nice and early (and even tweeted when he left his hotel) and took his time meeting everyone who showed up to see him--giving hugs, waiting patiently for people to use their digital cameras with shaking hands, signing things.

He'd just won the Newbery for The Graveyard Book, and I had a hardcover copy, so I brought that. Before signing it he asked my name, and then he drew a little tombstone and wrote "RIP April" on it before signing underneath.

He was just a genuinely nice guy.

Joshua said...

Sounds like Amazon is really onto something. I’m just a student, but the idea seems brilliant to me. Amazon lets you do some marketing for them: they get sales, you make money.

What’s more, the system keeps you pretty honest because if you recommend garbage, people will find out and quit listening to your recommendations. In fact, they’ll probably post something online so others know to steer clear, too.

I haven’t read the book, but this idea is new to me. It’s pretty cool. May be I should become an Amazon affiliate.

Al said...

Worlds always collide. It's nice to see you discover a good read; there is still more to be read however!

Velomann said...

AS I think I've mentioned before, I teach middle school English. I'm currently in the middle of reading aloud The Graveyard Book. Needless to say, the kids are hooked. If you like Neil Gaiman, you should check out David Almond (if you haven't already. Start with Skellig, but really, it's all quite good. And of course Phillip Pullman - the "His Dark Materials" trilogy (first book is The Golden Compass) is some of the best fantasy written since Tolkien. And I don't say that lightly.

A Question Of ITIL said...

Great writer!
It seems The Rhyme Maidens is finally going to be published but the price is brutal!
Upcoming4.me The Rhyme Maidens by Neil Gaiman to be published

manekochan said...

I'm still flabbergasted that you haven't picked up that copy of Good Omens yet. o_o; I wish that I were you, ready to read that book for the first time. I love Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett both but that book put me clearly on the Pratchett path.
My favorite Gaiman book is Stardust, by the way. :) Oh, and don't forget to pick up some more of his Children's and young adult titles, either.

Bill Peschel said...

Great story, and congratulations.

It's never too late to find something cool. I've been a Gaiman fan for awhile, but I just discovered Dr. Who, and I'm a fanboy again.