For a long time, I disdained the people who focused on getting published. When I was in graduate school, great writers came to talk to us and teach us: Denis Johnson, Ethan Canin, Francine Prose, A. M. Holmes, Jamaica Kincaid, Lucille Clifton, to name a few. (Wow, name-dropping is fun!) Inevitably, the questions that came would be peppered with concern about publishing. I always wanted to know about craft and about sustaining the creative part of a writing life, and to be honest with you, I felt pretty good about myself for that attitude.
When FSG published my first novel, this seemed a validation of my focus on craft over career. Because my novel contained lesbian content, and FSG had not published a book with lesbian content before (except, funnily enough, in their YA division, where they’d published Nancy Garden), people at my readings often asked me, over and over, how I’d gotten my book published. I had no answer for them beyond the hard work I’d put into making it strong.
Pretty quickly, though, my naïveté about publishing and marketing caught up with me. I didn’t know that there was a three-month window after a book is published for it to “succeed” or “fail.” I had no idea what I might do to promote the book. In fact, in the months after my book was published, I was packing and moving across the country, leaving behind all the connections I had to local writers and bookstores.
The head agent at my agent’s office met me and told me that the only advice she could give me was to have fun. I understand why she said that–it was Zen good advice. But seriously, folks, if you are a novelist–and this is more true now than it was then–you are a small business owner or you have a hobby. Those are your choices. You might get published once or twice if you have a hobby of writing books, but you cannot sustain a viable career unless you make it your business not only to write books but also to sell them.
(As an aside, I would like to mention that if you are a writer or anyone who cares about textual storytelling, you’d do well to make it your business to buy books, too, and to promote other people’s books and the world of books in general. If you never buy a new, hard cover book, you are going to have a heck of a time believing other people should buy yours.)
It is still a pet peeve of mine when people who have not written one polished, lovely book are hyper focused on selling it. The truth is that while “bad” books are published all the time, the one best marketing tool you can have is an excellent book. That’s why my motto is: If your readers can’t put your book down, they’ll have to buy it. This implies that you’ve written an irresistible story. You’ve worked on it until it’s powerfully strong.
But my motto also implies that you’ve then gotten your book into the hands of some readers. These are the two parts to our business, and they can feel antithetical to one another.
In the privacy of your office/ bedroom/ café table, you reach into the depths of your mind and scale the rocks and hard places of your soul/ high school experiences/ life, and you come back with a story. The cadences, whether borrowed, stolen or invented, are yours. The sentences and the images and the characters are all yours. Yours the way a baby you birth is yours. And then you have to put the squalling, fragile creature of your heart out into the world, and what’s more, you have to promote it.
Here’s the good news: I’ve been studying marketing, marketing with integrity and heart, and . . . (drum roll) it can be fun. You want to get your voice out into the world. You have something to offer readers, and you know this because books have been your lifeline, your pleasure and pastime. Right?
So let’s start here, with your commitment to be what Michael Port calls fully self-expressed. And here, there’s more:
I am teaching an exciting new course called Technique. Set goals, write and master the craft.
GIVEAWAY ONE: TONIGHT, I am offering a FREE CLASS BY TELEPHONE. Email me for a space and information about how to call in.
GIVEAWAY TWO: Post a comment on this blog post this week to enter a random drawing to WIN FOUR WEEKS of the Technique Course (value: $150) Winners announced Monday. Please check back and include an email so I can contact you!
FINE PRINT: Class meets by conference call on Wednesdays, 6 – 7:10 p.m. PST. The only charge will be whatever your phone company charges for the call. (You can use a cell if you have free minutes.) If you enroll now to ensure a space or are already enrolled, you will win an extra four weeks after your paid course runs out.