Where's my red paperclip?

The locked gates. The give and take of what people need versus what they want when they give you access versus you giving them exposure. Getting your foot in the door.

I've been thinking about stuff like that lately after interviewing several big name authors for a story in my day job as a reporter. Although to be honest it was a way of crossing the streams between my day job and Falling, and the honest intent was publicity for the book. I'd pitched an idea to a magazine I last wrote for more than a decade ago (Good Reading) after I got back in touch with the editor to ask her about getting Falling reviewed or plugged somehow.

She suggested making the story about why sci-fi and horror don't get any respect in literary circles, and the payoff was that I'd get a nice blurb at the end about Falling with links and everything.

I lined up Matthew Reilly, David Brin, Greg Bear and Ramsey Campbell, quite a rogues gallery of acclaimed authors from genre fiction, got some great responses and comments from them, put the story together and it came out great.

One of my ulterior motives, of course, was that they'd be so chuffed at the story they'd feel like they owed me something and – when I kept in touch and befriended them to enough of a degree – I could raise the idea of getting them to read and endorse Falling.

I'd already sent it to Matthew Reilly but I know how busy he is, but I emailed both Brin and Campbell with crossed fingers and they both (graciously but flatly) refused. I don't harbour any ill feeling toward either of them personally – as they both explained, they're busy writing their own books.

As although they didn't say so, it's implicit in the working relationship that if they agreed to read a book every crackpot looking for publicity asked them to they'd never get anything done. I thought I might be able to leverage some slight feeling of a favour reciprocated, but from the perspective of an author being interviewed for the media they're doing their job and I'm doing mine.

If I was doing an in-depth profile in The New Yorker Magazine that had the potential to elevate their public profile (and lead to a lot more sales) they might feel more of a sense of obligation. Authors – even big ones – are actually a lot more available to publicity opportunities because despite how it looks there aren't a lot of filthy rich authors, and some very influential names in book publishing are surprisingly easy to track down and surprisingly agreeable to talk to you if you're in the media.

But in this case they probably considered a few questions by email for a tiny books magazine on the other side of the world a favour they were doing for me, if anything.

There's nothing wrong with aiming high and trying to get David Brin (or Stephen King or Martin Scorsese for that matter) to publicly say how great your story is and in doing so write your ticket, but most of the effort to publicise a self published book when nobody's heard of it (or you) follows the Red Paperclip principle.

Remember the story about the guy who advertised a red paperclip on Craigslist? He traded it for something slightly better, traded that for something slightly better again, all the way up until he swapped the last item for a house.

In the same way, you might have to build a fanbase one reader at a time, eventually recruiting more people to endorse you, which might recruit people with slightly more influence, who might do it again in turn, until glowing praise from Ramsey Campbell, David Brin, Stephen King or Martin Scorsese are the house you end up with after the red paperclip you started.