An Anthropological Take on the Underdog by Guest Blogger JK EVANCZUK

David and Goliath

David and Goliath–the original underdog?


There is something distinctly magical about the idea of the “underdog.” Seemingly present in most–if not all–fiction, the underdog is only too easy to identify with. Who hasn’t felt that the world is against us, our problems are too great, our skills are too inadequate? What ultimately happens to this character becomes tantamount to our own abilities to succeed, or to fail. The need to read on, to learn how the underdog will summon his strength and overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds, consumes us.

As the saying goes, everyone loves an underdog.

But I wonder if this intense bond we tend to form with our beloved underdog stems not from simple empathy, but from some more primeval source. I recently was reading a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites, an interesting analysis of the origins of war and ritual sacrifice, which despite its subject matter provided some insight as to why we crave fiction and how, like ritual sacrifice, it might satisfy an unconscious, primitive hunger we all share.

Let me explain: way, way back in the day, and I’m talking men-wearing-loincloths-and-drawing-on-cave-walls-back-in-the-day, humankind lived in fear of the beast. Before primitive technology like arrowheads or what-have-you (forget about more advanced technology that came later, such as the bow and arrow or the gun), we lived in fear of the lion, tiger, bear, wooly mammoth, etc. We were the hunted. The occurrence of people being plucked from their villages and dragged into the lion’s den to become, well, supper was not uncommon. Eventually, we did develop those primitive technologies and shifted our circumstances so that we graduated from being the “hunted” to becoming the “hunter.”

I describe this transition simply, but it was monumental. Even hundreds of thousands of years later, our fear of being the “hunted” lingers even now, like our innate fear of the dark. On at least on a biological level, we still haven’t quite gotten over the fact that we’ve since situated ourselves nicely at the top of the food chain. And because our species remains in a state of perpetual disbelief, we reenact that tremendous transition, over and over and over again. Hence, there are ritual sacrifices. Hence, there is war. We recognize that our species was once weak and then we demonstrate our newfound dominance by shedding blood.

So, wait, how does this relate to fiction again? I wonder–and here I venture into the exciting world of the theory–if fiction serves as another (less bloody) method of reenacting our graduation from “hunted” to “hunter.” More specifically: the underdog serves this purpose. And maybe this would better explain why we just love to see our puny, powerless, and beloved characters–the hunted–transcend their overwhelming circumstances to become the victor. The hunter.

And we do love to see the underdog succeed, over and over and over again. Such as in war and ritual sacrifice, just one reenactment will not do. Even when we know from the outset that the underdog will indeed overcome those impossible odds, we read on anyway because it is not the ending we are interested in. It is the act of transcendence, which so mirrors our own so many years ago, that enraptures us.

Here I can once again thank the horror movie for so baldly demonstrating my point. Think of your standard horror movie fare: a big scary monster chases some poor kids around for 90 minutes. The monster is bigger and stronger and the kids are woefully unmatched to him, but somehow they survive. Maybe I’m speaking too much to my own interests here, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to willingly submit to being terrified in a dark theater for an hour and a half if not to ultimately experience that thrill when the protagonists miraculously survive.

So, yes, the concept of the underdog works so well in fiction because by nature the underdog inspires conflict, and such a character is infinitely more interesting to read about than one who gets everything he wants with little to no opposition. And yes, it is handy to the writer that the bond forged with the underdog helps pull the reader through the rest of the story. But beyond these more technical aspects, the underdog works so well in fiction because we need it on a primal level. We read on primarily to see the underdog achieve and thereby vicariously experience, once again, the thrill of making that phenomenal step from the “hunted” to the “hunter.”

Cross-posted at Lit Drift

Permanent Press picks up The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl


As the first run of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl (published by PS Books, the books division of Philadelphia Stories) inches closer to selling out, Marc Schuster is pleased to announce that the Permanent Press will be publishing a new edition of the novel in 2011. This edition will be significantly different from the current edition published by PS Books. More details to follow… In the mean time, be sure to get a copy of the original while supplies last!

Progress by guest blogger Elizabeth Mosier


by Elizabeth Mosier

Author Marketing in a Web 2.0 World by Don Lafferty


Cross-posted on Don Lafferty’s blog

by Don Lafferty on October 21, 2009

Push to Publish My stressful Saturday morning melted into a tremendously positive afternoon after arriving late to Rosemont College for Philadelphia Stories’ one day writer’s conference, Push to Publish 2009: Strategies and Techniques to Get Your Work in Print and Online.

I met a bunch of cool local writers who reminded me again why I continue to bury myself with live events.

I participated in two jam-packed panel discussions, both focused on best practices in selling yourself – something I’m always willing to do at the drop of a hat.

Kelly Simmons moderated MARKETING: SELLING YOURSELF, with Rosemont College’s very own, author, Lynn Rosen; author/publisher/wonder woman, Karen E. Quinones Miller; and debut romance author, Lisa Dale.

Kelly Simmons Lynn Rosen Karen E. Quinones Miller Lisa Dale

For the final panel of the day, I moderated PROMOTING YOUR WORK IN A WEB 2.0 WORLD with the ¢entcible life blogger Kelly Whalen; poet and owner of the Barefoot Muse, Anna Evans; and children’s author, Nancy Viau.

Kelly Whalen Anna evans Nancy Viau

Between the two panels we covered a ton of best practices for authors marketing themselves and their work.  Here are our picks for the top ways and author can market their work in today’s Web 2.0 world.

1. Define your personal brand.

Do you write children’s books, steamy, sexy vampire tales, or political satire?

When agents, publishers and readers search for you on the ‘net, be sure the online presence they find showcases your expertise and clearly demonstrates your alignment with the other authors on that shelf.

Include the unique twist or angle that sets you apart from the pack, but frame it in such a way that your work compliments the other books in your space. A fresh take on a proven concept is easier to sell to most editors than a revolutionary new way of approaching the market.

2. Blog!

HEY! Don’t run away now. Get your head out of…the sand, and face the reality of being an author today. A blog is the number one way to drive social search. If you ignore this critical weapon in your marketing arsenal, you’re tying one hand and one leg behind you back before you even reach the starting line.

There are plenty of authors blogging out there, so browse until you find a style and structure that fits with your comfort level and copy it.

You do not have to blog every day; you simply need to create enough content, so when a potential agent, editor or reader finally takes ten precious seconds of their life to look at you, they get a quick, accurate feel for what you’re all about. If you’ve done your community-building homework, crafted a clear brand, and really understand your target connections, this is where you’ll convert casual interest to brand loyalty a.k.a. revenue, in the form of book deals, book sales, speaking engagements, teaching opportunities, job opportunities and other paying gigs.

3. Join Facebook.

Facebook is crushing MySpace. Facebook’s exploding demographics are growing younger and older, so get on Facebook. As weird as it may feel, authors should create a fan page in addition to their personal Facebook account, even if you don’t publish it right away. Facebook accounts have a limit of 5000 friends, while fan pages allow an unlimited number of fans. You’re shooting for the bestseller list, right?

4. Stalk the authors in your space.

Make a list of the top authors in your space, watch every move they make, and cozy up to them wherever you can. Once you’re there, you’ll find yourself surrounded by your potential readers, colleagues and media.

You can do this online by joining in the conversation at their blog, and connecting in the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn communities.

One creative, hard-working author (I promised I wouldn’t say who) tucked a postcard into every book by every similar author in every local bookstore, driving his self-published book to sales in excess of 25,000 units inside the first two months of publication. That’s pretty cozy.

5. All signs should point home.

Wrap your online strategy around your home base; your blog/website and building your email list. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and all the other online outposts should point back to your home page where your content will convert a casually interested visitor into a loyal reader.

Offer an incentive to trade for an email address. A free short story, a free how-to e-book or some other form of exclusive or premium content.

6. Know your local booksellers.

Buy the Books More importantly, make sure they know you and your book. When your book hits the shelves, a passionate bookseller can be your best advocate. Create an Indiebound affiliate account and put that link to your book on all your Internet outposts.

When you do a “drive-by book signing” tell everybody in your online community where they can find signed books. Follow up with the bookseller to make sure your signed books are moving.

Blog about them. Thank them on Twitter. Put their pictures up on your Facebook page. Remind everybody you meet every day in every way you can to support their local bookstores, and if you absolutely, positively must use an Amazon link, list it last.

Most publishers require authors to provide links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s and Books A Million, but they don’t have the bandwidth or the authority to police the manner in which you display the links. I like to use the graphic here, linked out accordingly.

7. Get active in your local writing community.

Writing may be a solitary pursuit, but marketing works better with an army. Push your social beyond your comfort zone. Enlist the help of your local writing community by offering whatever support you can. Pay it forward. It works.

Go to and you’ll find lots of local writers getting together for lots of different reasons; critique groups, genre-specific discussion groups and general discussion groups. If you don’t find one in your neighborhood, start one.

When you meet other writers, be sure to connect with them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Engage them publicly on Twitter using the @ reply. Re-tweet their tweets. I know it sounds ridiculous but you’re playing a numbers game and you need more followers to sell more stuff. Engaging publicly in a non-selfish way raises your trust quotient in a social context.

My buddy, Chris Brogan recommends messaging 12 times about other people’s stuff for every 1 message about your own stuff to build your trust.

8. Use free tools to automate your social media work process.

Google Reader, Google Alerts, RSS Feeds and a Twitter application like TweetDeck can be combined to create an automated “listening post” that’ll help you minimize the time suck of social media engagement, and maximize the effectiveness of your social media marketing strategy.

9. Brainstorm your key words and find them.

There are millions of conversations being had out there in social networks every day. Yes, conversations. Status updates, comments on status updates, blog posts, comments on blog posts, comments on the comments, tweets, re-tweets, and more re-tweets.

You can use free search tools to identify your target connections by defining the key words and key word combinations being used by your target connections in the social space, and RSS Feeds to deliver the search results to your Google Reader.

Use your list to create “comprehensive”, “once daily” Google Alerts, and direct them via RSS to your Google Reader.

Go to and search each term and combination in your key word list. Create RSS feeds for these searches and direct them to your Google Reader.

10. Be social! (I’m yelling here)

You can be a recluse, you can be a curmudgeon or you can be an asshole, but those romanticized, stereotypical author personalities won’t succeed in a Web 2.0 environment.

When someone takes the time to leave a comment on your blog, send you a message, or comment on your Facebook wall, pay attention! Respond! Thank them for their time! Answer questions! Make suggestions that add value to your relationship. Give them a reason to come back.

Engage and build brand loyalty.

Never before has it been easier for an author to connect with their public than it is today. All things being equal, the author who engages in Web 2.0 will crush the author who ignores this social space.

Times aren’t changing, they’ve already changed.

What are your best Web 2.0 practices for building platform and connecting with your readers? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks to Christine Weiser, the folks at Philadelphia Stories, my fellow panelists, and everyone who gave their valuable time to stop by and listen.



{ 1 trackback }

thursday roundup — the ¢entsible life
October 22, 2009 at 10:15 am

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly October 22, 2009 at 11:04 am

Great roundup.

These guidelines apply to everyone who uses web 2.0. Great stuff.

Again, it was great meeting you, hope I get to talk to you again soon. :)

Roxanne Smolen October 22, 2009 at 6:23 pm

An inspirational post. I’ve met quite a few writers who feel social media marketing is beneath them and continue with signings at bookstores. They’re missing the boat.

Don Lafferty October 22, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Thanks, Kelly. It was great meeting you too; just too quick. I’ll be in touch.

And I hear what you’re saying, Roxanne. I used to get more of that, but things are changing.

Author signings are still a great way to connect with readers, but when an author takes some pictures or video at the signing, creates a blog post, and ties it all up with a story about the bookstore or the neighborhood, it carries that live event to the readers who couldn’t make it, multiplying the marketing power.

This is a great way to promote goodwill with the bookstore, even if the showing is on the light side, and let everybody know where they can find your signed books.

The bookstore winds up with a nice feature article they can use to promote themselves, and everybody wins.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to chime in.

Gerri George October 24, 2009 at 12:44 am

Great piece, Don. Great presentation at Rosemont.

Jerry Waxler October 24, 2009 at 6:35 am

Thanks for all this great information, Don. It sounds like a dizzying amount of work, but it’s all to the good. By reaching out to other people, we’re linking the world together. I think writers have always been the glue of civilization (not to mention its conscience, its fantasy life, its dreams), and now, with Web 2.o at our disposal, we’re turning readers and writers into a global village. Thanks for all you do.


Memory Writers Network

Chris Bauer October 24, 2009 at 9:00 am

I promise to do all that stuff, Don, honest, just as soon as I can find the time.

Yep, famous last words. One of these days I’m going to listen to you. Right about now would be good.

Don Lafferty October 24, 2009 at 10:03 am

Gerri, I hope you know how much I appreciate you giving me your time.

Jerry, you’re onto something there. I hear a lot of talk about the Web breaking down traditional hierarchies on the way to the ultimate democratization of media.

Chris, Chris, Chris. You’re in big-time sell mode, brother, so I suggest breaking this list up into small bits of work – yes I know, it’s work – and start chipping away, one bit at a time.

Glenn Walker October 25, 2009 at 12:35 am

Good stuff, Don, as always, great information. Thanks!

Kathy Kulig October 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Great advice Don, Thanks! I’m going to share this blog with a number of loops. I’m sure they will like to see this. V. Cool!


Lift: Book Review by Marc Schuster


liftcoverfinal-183x300Rebecca K. O’Connor‘s memoir, Lift, offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of falconry, a form of hunting as storied as it is complex. Ostensibly telling the story of her efforts at training a peregrine falcon, O’Connor deftly uses her experience with the bird as a metaphor for overcoming–and, indeed, soaring above–all of the curve balls that life has thrown at her. Her mother, for example, left the family when the author was a young child, her father was always distant, and her unearned reputation for sexual promiscuity led eventually to work as a stripper. None of this, however, causes O’Connor to wallow in self-pity for even a moment. Rather, it serves as the backdrop against which she frames the rest of her life. Her history presents a challenge, but rising to that challenge, like rising to the challenge of gaining the trust of a wild animal, is what ultimately makes O’Connor’s life, not to mention her memoir, so satisfying.

In addition to allowing O’Connor to comment on her own life (and, by extension, the human condition in general), Lift offers the author an opportunity to shed light on the sport of falconry as well. Or perhaps a better phrase would be the art of falconry, for O’Connor’s efforts at bonding with her falcon amount to a curious mix of patience, experimentation, improvisation, and, most of all, patience; that she names her falcon Anakin after Darth Vader’s alter-ego is also a hint that the sport is as much about discipline as it is about the forces that bind the universe together.

While O’Connor’s examination of falconry frequently borders on the mystical, she also has the rare ability to immerse her reader in the romance of a subject without romanticizing it. For this reason, Lift amounts to a fascinating reading not only for anyone interested in the sport but in stories well told and lives well lived.

Reviewer’s Note: Lift and Seducing the Spirits (by Louise Young) make a great paired reading! Birds (of one feather or another) are at the heart of both books, and both explore the rugged terrain of the human heart in loving, compelling detail.

Marc Schuster is the Associate Fiction Editor for Philadelphia Stories and the author of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl.