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Household Name

Publishing, Gonzo Advertising, and a Dildo

by Mike Pohjola
Aug 21,2003

 

Publishing, Gonzo Advertising, and a Dildo

The Date: Sunday, August 3rd, 2003.
The Place: The biggest science fiction convention in the land.
The Mission: To publish my roleplaying book being at noon.
The Briefing: A pre-press conference meeting with the publisher at his hotel's lobby bar at 10 a.m.
The Problem: Me still sleeping in my bed at 10 past 10. Dreaming of everything going wrong.

What happened before

The previous week was kind of half busy. Couple of calls with the publisher on the exact time and place and contents of the press conference. Writing the press release. Preparing stuff for Ropecon, which was a roleplaying convention a week after Finncon, the scifi con.

The website for the book proved a bit of a hassle. Jami did the graphic design but we'd agreed I'd take care of some of the more boring tasks like making banners the right size for our forum, and coding the image maps for the main page. It didn't really force me to think, but it kept me busy enough to hold the nervousness at bay.

When the site looked good, I wrote the textual contents. This took much longer than I'd anticipated. Most of it was very basic stuff: What is roleplaying? What's special about this book? FAQ with some basic questions I made up. Links. While none of this stuff was that difficult to write, there was so much of it, it took quite a bit of time. And the writing process was constantly interrupted by realizations that my Table tags don't work on Macs, or trying to find out how many people are staying over for Finncon.

I tried to sleep as much as I could, but for some reason Finland is now hotter than it's been for, like, ever. Everybody wakes up in a pool of sweat. For that matter, they go to sleep in a pool of sweat, too! According to an old proverb, the Finnish summer is short and not very snowy. Someone was clearly set on proving the old proverb wrong. The constant sound of crickets and the smell of stale air give the summer a very Lovecraftian feeling.

A couple of months ago, already, I'd reserved a time at my hair salon for Thursday. I've got longish hair, and I'd figured it would be time to dye it again. I wanted a combination of fantasy figure and misunderstood artist, and I've found white works for me in this regard. Thus I spent three hours of the otherwise busy day in there trying to secretly answer phone calls from Ropecon and a local newspaper so I wouldn't piss off my stylist. Or accidentally bleach my phone.

Finncon

The book was printed and delivered to Turku on Friday. For some reason I couldn't find the guy dealing them, and thus spent the entire day in a very uncertain state. I was pretty sure nothing had gone wrong, but I needed something to touch. I wanted to be able to hold my book in my hands, and smell the ink.

The partying on Friday night gave me some distraction, but not enough. I stumbled to my place with a bunch of friends from out of town, and finally got to my bed. I spent hours laying there without closing my eyes. I was too nervous and too hot and just too damn awake.

Saturday morning around eleven I walked to the con with a friend. We spotted the books on sale at the counter of a gaming store, both picking one up. The friend bought a copy, and we're told it's the first one sold, even though the book's been on sale for over two hours by this time. He made me sign the book, and write this as the inscription.

For some reason, probably marketing, the book was on sale in Finncon on Saturday, even though it wasn't officially published until Sunday. I don't know if this is normal or not, but I guess it helped get some extra publicity within the con. This was helpful since the press conference was mentioned in the programme as something everyone is welcome to attend.

As the day slowly progressed, some more copies of the book were sold, and later that night I hassled the manager into admitting that my book had sold better than the recently released D&D 3.5th edition. Not in the long run, of course, but in that particular day.

People came to ask me to sign the book for them. Most of them were friends and acquaintances, but some of them I'd never met before. I'd anticipated this to be awkward or embarrassing, but it felt quite natural. It helped that they weren't acting like fan boys, but just asking for the autographs since they bought the book, and I happened to be around.

Television

I'd agreed to meet a reporter from the main national television channel on Saturday afternoon. He's doing a Finncon spot for the most popular national news broadcast in Finland, and wanted to interview me.

About forty minutes before we were supposed to meet, he stopped me in the hallway. He asked to interview me because I look like Legolas. (It's the hair. I get that alot from people not used to guys with long hair.) Actually, he didn't tell me I look like Legolas. He told me I look like that Tolkien character, the guy with the bow. How's that for quality journalism?

We did the interview after I told him I'm the author with whom he's already got a meeting. He asked me about the book, and about fantasy, and about roleplaying, and all those standard questions. I tried to come off as intelligent and witty, and tried to talk about the book in a way that'll make someone buy it. But mostly I went for intelligent, since I wanted to make the hobby sound good.

After these questions the reporter broke my mask of the clever young author by asking me on-camera which Lords of the Rings characters I think I resemble. I refused to answer.

Pre publishing party

Saturday evening there was a science fiction masquerade at a local teenager dance hell. Why it was set there, I'll never know, but the admission fee was pretty steep unless you came in a costume. One of the friends staying over had no costume and no money, so we had to improvise. I gave him the tabard featured in the cover of the book.

He realized this would be a good time to advertize my book. We printed a paper saying "Buy Myrskyn aika" and pinned in to his back. I don't know if this subtle maneuvre worked on anyone or not, but it seemed kinda funny at the time. And it started a gonzo advertising boom among my friends that would later culminate in Ropecon.

The party had lots of fun costumes, and for me and some friends it's kind of a publishing party, albeit before the publication. The publisher met me at the party. Neither of us feeling up for a serious meeting, we agreed to reconvene in the morning at his hotel. My friends did their best to embarrass me in front of the publisher.

I left the party with my friends and as we're walking to my place, it starts to rain. Finally. Tired puns about the Age of Storm (or in Finnish, Myrskyn aika) being upon us. Somehow, though, the rain doesn't make the weather any cooler, just wetter.

As the wee hours started to grow bigger, we failed to go to sleep. The friends criticized the website, read the book aloud, tried to nitpick on the rules, complained about the dance club, talked about the masquerade costumes, and coached me for the press conference tomorrow. I finally got to my bed after 5 a.m. And somehow, sleep didn't come. This time, it takes even longer. I was afraid I'll screw something up because I'm too tired. I was afraid I'll sleep too late.

And sleep too late I did.

Press stress

I ran to meet the publisher almost half an hour late. We chatted a bit about how to do the press conference. The adrenaline and the tea slowly woke me up. I was really nervous, but tried to stay focused. We took the taxi to the con location.

The press conference was in a classroom with room for maybe fifty people. It was half full of familiar faces with more coming in all the time. Roleplayers, journalists, science fiction writers, friends and family. My parents sat in the middle of the room my dad shooting the entire thing on video. Just this once, they seemed almost proud of having a writer for a son.

The first half an hour of the conference was spent with me explaining roleplaying and live roleplaying and fantasy and Myrskyn aika and the website to the audience. The publisher asked me simple questions like "what's the difference between live roleplaying and theatre," and I tried to answer in an entertaining and intelligent manner.

Then came the audience questions. They asked me about the rules, about the writing process, about the themes, and about my influences. I recognized writers from at least two major Finnish newspapers in the audience, and if the questions are anything to go by, there were a couple of more journalists in there, as well.

Friends later tell me I was very good, and managed to be funny in all the right places. Afterwards my friends gave me a publication present wrapped in a brown paper bag. I later discovered it's a dagger-shaped glass dildo called Crystal Fantasy. My parents gave me a publication present, which turns out to be a pasta kettle. I'm sure both presents will come in handy, but I wouldn't have minded getting some roses, too.

The following day there was a big and very positive article in Turun Sanomat, which is the newspaper for the Turku area, and one of the biggest newspapers in Finland. The main news broadcast on Saturday also featured me speaking about roleplaying. This is probably the most press a roleplaying book has had in Finland since, well, ever.

It was pretty cool, but nothing could prepare me for the media hurricane and the celebrity mania that was Ropecon. All about that in the next installment.

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