Brooklyn Author Myke Cole on Social Media, Publicity, and Local Writing Spots

In their review, the popular science fiction website SF Signal called Myke Cole’s debut novel, Shadow Ops: Control Point, “A promising start with a new take on fantasy and military fiction.” Mixing his military experience with science fiction and fantasy, Myke gives protagonist Oscar Britton, an army officer in Vermont, a talent for opening portals — a development that takes him from member of the military to fugitive.

Myke is a local author living in Brooklyn and a prolific writer. Since the publication of his book earlier this month anyone who follows science fiction sites has probably found it hard to ignore him. He answered a few of our questions on social media, publicity, and his favorite places to write.

On Tuesday, March 7th Myke will be in conversation with authors Bob Howe and Saladin Ahmed at The SoHo Gallery for Digital Art (138 Sullivan Street, NYC). Doors open at 6:30, discussion at 7pm.

Your bio is fascinating. You’ve done three tours in Iraq , worked in Counterterrorism, Cyber Warfare, Federal Law Enforcement, and went to the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 during the BP oil spill. You book, Shadow Ops, is military science fiction infused with paranormal elements. How does your background relate to your writing?

I greatly appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t know how fascinating it is. There are literally thousands of men and women with a hell of a lot more experience in crisis-response than I have. I’ve had the pleasure of serving alongside them, and that experience has shaped every aspect of my writing. There’s the obvious creative influences: each of my characters is created based on elements (good and bad) I witnessed first hand in the people around me in Iraq and at home during domestic disaster response. Much of the creative elements in CONTROL POINT are a natural outgrowth of my nerd interests (fantasy and SF novels, comic books, video games, etc . . .) blended with what I’ve seen in my military/disaster response work.

But the military has also shaped me personally, instilling a sense of discipline and urgency that has been critical to my success as a writer. I did a recent 2-part series on this for tor.com. You can read the first part here.

Did your background help when it came to pitching your book to agents and publishing houses? How about with your publicity campaign so far?

I’d actually say that my military background worked against me in the publicity arena. The military is an OPSEC (operational security) culture. Unless you are designated public affairs personnel, the less you are saying in public, the better. My networking with agents and publishers, and my publicity campaign has been far more a function of a naturally gregarious personality. I also honestly think something is wrong with my nervous system. I sleep very, very little. The hamster will. not. stop. running.

I don’t doubt it, I’ve seen you everywhere. You’ve contributed original essays to popular science fiction sites such as Ink Punks and to John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. I’ve also seen you on other authors’ websites. Can you talk about contributions both as a promotional tool and as a way to forge relationships with fellow writers and authors?

I am cautiously optimistic/pleased with how strong the signal has been in the month of January (the month leading up to the book’s release). I have joked with friends that it has been “Myke Month” and that even *I* am getting sick of hearing about myself. I *think* it has had a positive impact on people hearing about the book and first week’s sales. But the truth is that I don’t know. The impact of social media is still evolving and I was just discussing with my agent that we have no way to tell if I am getting a “big” Twitter reception or not. This is because we have no idea what “big” means in this arena. With more and more users flocking to the system every day (and the rate at which it’s diversifying – Google + anyone? Death of MySpace?), there’s just no relative standard by which to judge. I’ve gotten a lot of reviews, but with new review sites going up every day, how do you tell if it’s really “a lot” or not?

But the process has been really, really simple and it’s absolutely repeatable by other writers: I did the following -

  • I quit my day job to give myself the time necessary to really go after this.
  • I said yes to EVERYTHING. Every request for interview, guest post, podcast appearance, convention programming slot. EVERYTHING. YES. I WILL DO IT.
  • I accept the fact that ALL of this is on my dime. I spend freely on it.
  • For those sites/shows/cons that don’t invite me, I go to them and ask (nicely) if they will have me on. If it’s a big venue that doesn’t know me, I send my publicist or agent after them.

Easy-peasy. You just have to want it really badly.
And I do.
Really.
Badly.

Do you find that science fiction and fantasy authors have a leg up in this department — a large, supportive fan and media base that is Internet and social media savvy?

Not at all. We like to *think* that we do, but go on Twitter and compare the number of followers that Snooki or Lil’ Wayne has to the number of followers Neil Gaiman (often thought of as the Twitter beacon of the SF/F community). I love Neil to death, but the numbers say everything. Now, that said, SF/F fandom is the basis for everything writers do in this community. Most of us came up from fandom (I know I did), and without fans, I wouldn’t have a career. Social media is a fantastic way to stay in touch with them (both for my own social reasons and to promote my work), but it’s the same way rock stars and TV celebrities are keeping in touch with their MUCH larger pool of fans as well.

I do see you on Twitter a lot. What’s been your experience with it as an author?

Twitter has been an undeniable boon for my career. But the truth is that I spend most of my life alone hunkered over my computer (except when I’m on duty with the guard), so Twitter is also my main social outlet. I’m happy to have Twitter for work purposes, but I NEED it to stay in touch with other nerds and keep from sliding into the maudlin pit of loneliness that awaits all writers.

Any tips for other authors?
My Twitter “tips” are pretty straightforward:

  • I try to tweet around 10 times a day (usually less) throughout the day, spaced out.
  • I don’t just tweet career related promotional stuff. I am sure to tweet about things I like and am interested in that have nothing to do with me as a writer.
  • I respond to as many @’s and DMs as I possibly can.
  • I *never* tweet about politics or religion. I want people focusing on my writing, not being distracted by my personal positions.
  • I make sure that all my tweets automatically populate my Facebook and Google+ status. If (as often happens) that doesn’t work, I do it manually.

Do you have a set writing schedule or an effective habit?

I DID have a schedule, but it has absolutely gone to hell as CONTROL POINT came out and the work of marketing/promoting it has spun up. I’m at the point where I write whenever I possibly can, which is a rapidly shrinking window. You can refer to the tor.com article I mentioned earlier for a discussion of discipline, self-denial and embracing misery.

Bottom line: Don’t play video games.

Do you have a favorite place to write in the area or a place to hang out when you’re done writing?

  • My apartment in Flatbush. If you want to stalk me there, wear body armor. It’s not a nice neighborhood.
  • The *awesome* coffee shop Qathra on Cortelyou Road further south. HIGHLY recommend this place as a writer’s retreat. They are super friendly to writers, even if you want to sit all day. The wifi is reliable, the prices are reasonable and the coffee is fantastic.
  • The Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library. What an amazing space for any quiet endeavor. Please consider volunteering or donating!

::[Further Reading]::
Buy Myke’s book, Shadow Ops: Control Point, at IndieBound or find it at your local indie
Read an excerpt at Tor.com
Read Myke’s blog post on his site about how he makes writing full-time work financially
Myke’s Big Idea post at John Scalzi’s site
Listen to Myke on the Functional Nerds podcast
Read Myke’s interview with Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds