INsites: T.L. Hines

With his new novel, Waking Lazarus, poised in the chutes, I'm hoping Tony Hines will finally give up his day job as Spaghetti Cutter for Chef Boy-ar-Dee. When he's not meandering through Montana cemeteries, he's comandeering the juggernaut that is TLHines.com. Recently, the near-feral staff of Decompose gang-tackled Tony and threatened to paint his toenails Radiation Red if he didn't answer a few questions. What follows is the lurid unfolding.

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MIKE: No doubt your interview on Decompose is a career highlight. Exactly how high on your list does this rank?

TONY: Easily makes the top five. Probably somewhere between discovering the secret of cold fusion and winning three air guitar contests.

MIKE: Cold fusion I believe. But three air guitar contests? How did your website, TLHines.com, come about? What was your initial vision for the site and how has it changed?

TONY: The original vision for the site, really, was just to amuse myself. I posted some work on there, a few rants and raves, and got into blogging in 2003. Did a blog series in 2004, in which I interviewed a series of long-shot presidential candidates called "The Dark Horse Dialogues." Why did I do this? Again, a vanity thing--the only thing I really ever envisioned getting out of the site, realistically, was a chuckle or two.

Oddly enough, the site ended up playing a key role in getting me a publishing deal after an acquisitions editor downloaded a sample chapter. So the vision changed after that, obviously. Once that happened, I knew the site had to become a marketing tool.

That's when the site really became two sites: one, the main tlhines.com site, has a lot of background information, press information, Q&A sheets, and my main blog. It's the nuts-and-bolts side. The other site, which I call The Other Side (for reasons people will understand when they read WAKING LAZARUS), became a more immersive kind of site--something that gave people a chance to participate in this strange, wonderful sensation of being a first-time novelist. It gives people a lot of "inside" information, such as my whole marketing plan, a companion e-book with commentary and deleted scenes, a photo tour of the book's locations, and a chance to win some unique prizes: a share of my first royalty statement, an iPod Nano, or a role in my next novel.

MIKE: What kind of person are you targeting with your website, Tony, and what would you like the average reader to come away with?

TONY: That's part of the reason for having two sites. The main site is aimed mostly at press/media, bloggers, and casual readers who might read my book and wander to my site once or twice. I try to give it a bit of personality, but it's mostly informational--the basic who, what, where, when, why stuff.

The Other Side, however, is aimed at the kind of people who really enjoy the book and want to tell others about it, and writers who want to share/explore ideas of their own. These are the people who want to light a fire, and I want to give them a bit of kindling.

MIKE: What are those strange typewriter-like symbols that appear at the top of your page when the cursor hovers over a category? Are they part of some sinister end-time code?

TONY: Oddly enough, those are symbols from the keys to an old manual typewriter.

They are also, as you've suggested, cryptograms sending encoded information to key operatives helping me establish a global one world government. I can't say a lot about this, obviously. But let's just say when Brian Boitano, former champion figure skater, rises to a position of global prominence, the end is nigh.

MIKE: Just as I thought -- a conspiracy in the making! Your Mighty List'o Links is pretty mighty (I stopped counting at a hundred). If you had to select five or six must-see web stops from that list, which ones would you recommend?

TONY: Well, naturally I would tell folks they must start by visiting Bethany House Publishers, the brilliant folks who acquired WAKING LAZARUS.

Among the writerly folk, Stephen King, F. Paul Wilson and James Lee Burke are faves. Aw heck, all the writers listed are faves. Brandilyn Collins runs one of the most informative writing-related blogs out there. In my "iPod Fodder" links, a few of my favorites include David Crowder Band, the Pixies and Wilco. And finally, under the "Bloggin' Fools," be sure to visit Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light blog. Teresa is an editor with Tor/Forge, and always has a well-trafficked, informative and entertaining blog. I don't necessarily agree with her ideology, but I'd hate to only read people who agree with me.

MIKE: You seem like a real digit-head, er, I mean, you have a lot of e-savvy, often commenting on web trends and technologies. How important is "web awareness" and a "web presence" to authors nowadays? What advice would you give to a new author regarding websites and blogs?

TONY: I'm just a tech geek at heart. I enjoy web stuff, and trends, and technology, mainly because I like to tinker. And frankly, I'm fascinated by online culture and where it's going. It's the kind of thing authors such as Orwell and Heinlein were writing about in SF novels just four or five decades ago.

In my mind, every writer these days needs have a web presence of some kind. Even if you don't use it for true promotion, even if you have no interest in blogging, your web site is the single easiest avenue for helping your readers find you.

When I finish a book by an author I like, I hop on the web and visit the author's site. I doubt I'm the only one who does that.

So, my advice is: get a web site. If you don't have the money or knowledge to create and design your own, get a blog. If I only had one web presence these days, I'd create a page on myspace and start blogging/connecting with readers and writers there. It's getting phenomenal traffic and attention right now, and I don't see it fading much in the next year or so (although there are those who disagree with me). Long-term, who knows? Myspace may dry up and go away. But it's a great place to be right now. And don't let all the stories about predators on myspace scare you. The vast majority of people on myspace are non-creepy, and I'd hate to see nice, normal folks avoid it, simply leaving it to said creeps.

MIKE: According to your bio, you have a background in marketing. In what ways has that helped your writing career? Why is it that so many writers abhor the prospect of marketing themselves?

TONY: I've worked in marketing and advertising for 16 years, and owned an ad agency for eight of those years. (I merged my agency with a larger agency in 2003.) I've spent a lot of time thinking about the marketing side of writing for a couple of reasons. I love the marketing side because, as you point out, that's my background. But you know what? It's something I have to be careful about as I work on my new novels. It's easy for me to get online, blogging, chatting, emailing with other folks, and waste those few precious hours of morning writing time. I have to be disciplined to keep myself away from the marketing constantly.

I have a theory about why so many writers hate marketing, and it's this: Writing is a solitary pursuit that attracts naturally introverted people. Marketing is a community pursuit that attracts naturally extroverted people. Polar opposites. On top of that, by and large, I don't think writers feel comfortable talking about their own work. Sometimes it's too personal, sometimes it feels too much like "bragging." Writing and marketing go hand-in-hand, but most often, each requires a different kind of personality.

MIKE: I like the layout and feel of your blog; it's straight forward and easy to navigate. What are some of the more innovative web sites –- per layout and design -- you frequent?

TONY: This may sound blasphemous for a web geek, but I love sites that manage to build stickiness without the bells and whistles of flash animation or other gimmicks. That's why I love sites such as McSweeney's, the literary journal. C. Monks, a writer, always has hilarious things to say, and I just love the "phrenology" navigation of his site Utter Wonder. The Onion. Man, I LOVE the Onion--and not because of its design. Content is king.

MIKE: A common tension faced by Christians in the arts has to do with artistic integrity versus getting the Gospel out. Where do you see that balance? Is the first objective of the Christian artist to get the message out or be true to the craft?

TONY: This, frankly, is probably the most basic question for any Christian in the arts. And it's a raging debate.

However, I'll go on record saying that for any artistic endeavor--be it literature, canvas, music, film, or whatever--the art should always come first. And that's okay, because a Christian will naturally express something of God in her work.

I don't think art should ever, primarily, seek to "convert" an audience. Why? Because when it aims to do so, it's not art; it's evangelism. Evangelism is worthy and noble--it is what the Great Commission is all about, after all--but it's not art. And again, that's fine, because both serve worthy purposes. Evangelism brings hurting people to a God who loves them, and art is a personal expression--something that, for the Christian, expresses a bit about God.

MIKE: To help launch your new book, you've employed a unique online venture called the Other Side (inspired by the lead character in your book). There, people can sign up as Volunteer Book Publicists, agreeing to tell others about the book, convince their local libraries to carry it, and so on. You even send free business cards to Volunteer Publicists. How'd you come up with that idea and what kinds of response have you had?

TONY: I was inspired, in part, by Seth Godin's "Launching the Ideavirus," and in part by the open source software movement. I love the idea of communities, united by a common interest or goal, and I wanted to do all I could to develop one for my first book. So, I share a lot of "inside" information with folks who sign up as Volunteer Publicists at the Other Side--everything from the Marketing Plan to extra commentary and deleted scenes. In return, folks get a chance to share in the success of the book, since the top 100 publicists get a share of my first royalty statement. (There are other prizes, as well.)

I've been rather pleased with the response. Roughly 200 people have signed on as Volunteer Publicists--and this before the book's release. So, those people have signed on without actually reading the book for themselves, which is encouraging. Once the book actually releases and starts getting some readership, I expect membership to grow quickly.

But even if I don't get a huge volume, I do think I'm building a relationship with a core audience--a sizable "street team."

MIKE: What plans do you have for TLHines.com? Anything your readers can look forward to in the near future?

TONY: I just started podcasting, and plan to post a new podcast every Wednesday. I've been thinking about more video--maybe taping a reading or event--so I'm guessing I'll have something along those lines soon. As I hit the road for a few booksignings and such later in the year, I'd like to be able to webcast an event or two.

Above all, though, my ultimate goal is the same as it was when I launched my own web site: I want to have fun. If it's fun for me, chances are, it will be fun for a few other folks as well.

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And that it is, T.L. That it is. So there you have it, kiddies. If you've not visited TLHines.com, skeedaddle over there immediately. There's no pics of him with Radiation Red toenails, but if you look closely, you'll find he bears a strange resemblance to the king.


Michelle Pendergrass said...

Excellent interview! I love the way you guys make me laugh! :)

Oh, and Mike...when you interview me, I will allow you to post my radiation red toenails, complete with toerings and all the bling.

Heather Smith said...

Great interview, Mike. I'll have to check out his book!!

TL Hines said...

People always think I'm joking about that air guitar thing. But it's true. Really. Two friends and I dressed as ZZ Top (complete with beards and such), and won two contests at our school--as well as a county-wide air guitar contest. After that, I hung up my air guitar, preferring to retire with an unblemished record.

But I can still remember all the words to "Sharp Dressed Man."

Mike Duran said...

Thanks again for the interview, Tony. I'm always looking for intelligent, innovative, quality sites, and some of the ones you mentioned look clutch -- especially Utter Wonder. I really love the layout of that baby!

Ame said...

Funny! Mike - I love how you bring laughter into your intelligent (despite being "near-feral")interviews ... makes them fun ... and makes those you interview intriguing!

Kelly Klepfer said...

I asked Tony a few questions on my blog, and not only did we not get techie, but I didn't realize he had plans to take over the world.

I just thought he had a really good book. My bad.

Can I be a court jester? You know you guys will need a laugh break now and then. Taking over the world is really stressful.

The Curmudgeon's Rant said...

Great interview Mike!