This year is just about gone, and next year holds the usual mystery – what will happen? And when?
2014 is the year that I owned my crankiness about the publishing world. Despite the fact that I’ve been writing for almost thirty years, and publishing regularly for the last fifteen, I never really thought through the business end of this endeavor. The man who published my first story collection in 2011, All The Roads That Lead From Home, wasn’t very helpful when it came to giving me advice on how to promote the book. I do remember him saying that reviews and awards don’t sell books. I was perplexed by that remark then, and still am. Obviously, his comment leads to the question, What does sell books?
If you’re a first-time author, by which I mean if you’re bringing out your first book, no one really knows who you are. If you’re publishing with a big house, publicity on your behalf is more or less automatic. Your book will be sent to the big review outlets and probably showcased by at least a couple. If you’re with a small press, or just on your own, you have to find someone who can handle the publicity for you. This isn’t always the case – the small press publisher Graywolf Press seems to do a lot of work for its authors. I’m sure there are other small presses that do, too. But generally, you should assume that the promotion end of the process is up to you.
And what does that mean, exactly? It means working with someone who knows how to get people interested in your book. I worked with one publicist who sneered at the idea of advertising. Her words might have carried more weight if she’d been able to secure at least one review of my new novel, What Is Found, What Is Lost, which she didn’t. Nor did she care to answer my direct questions about where she was sending the book, who her contacts were, or what I could realistically expect. I found another publicist who was both more expensive and much more effective. She got my book included on several holiday shopping lists in places like BuzzFeed, Working Mother, SheKnows, and USA Today. You’ll notice that in the USA Today piece I’m classified as a romance writer, which I’m not. For the sake of pulling a list together, in this one instance I didn’t mind all that much. Why not? Because I saw a noticeable bump in my book sales. Am I pleased? You bet.
I’ve also discovered that advertising is only a short-term boost. The longer term comes down to how solid your author brand is – how much name recognition you have. Are you writing articles and getting them placed online? Are you teaching? Giving a talk now and then? Editing other writers, or working as a coach or mentor?
With all of this new, valuable knowledge under my belt, I find myself confronting another problem: I’m not writing all that much these days. Have I lost interest? Am I burned out? The answers would be, “not really,” and “yes.” Why the burn out? Because starting almost four years ago, in January 2011, when I learned that my first story collection had been accepted for publication, I’ve brought out a total of three books. All The Roads appeared that August; Number two is my beloved linked collection about the rambunctious Dugan family, Our Love Could Light The World, which saw daylight in May 2013; followed only eighteen months later by my debut novel, (What Is Found, What Is Lost) in October 2014.
I’ve been telling myself it’s fine to take a break, but I think the break must come to an end, and soon. I’m just no good if I’m not working on something solid. Building my Twitter base is fine – I currently stand at 24,700 followers – but it’s not nearly as interesting as getting inside some weird character’s head. And while I love writing my articles and blog posts, which are listed just below, they don’t nourish me as much as fiction. So, in the end, there’s really no choice, is there, but to return and resume? Can’t give up now, when I’ve come this far!
Articles and Blog Posts
“What It Takes To Be A Writer” – not a technical analysis of skill development, but a discussion of finding the courage to get started and keep going
“Mistakes To Avoid In Short Story Writing” – a brief list of the problems I encounter over and over in my work as fiction editor for Eclectica Magazine
“Sooner or Later” – my irritation with Tom Hanks’ juvenile short story, “Alan Bean Plus Four” published in The New Yorker Magazine.
Take a look, see what you think, drop me a line and share your thoughts.
Two upcoming publications: Next February look for “In Defense of Head-Hopping,” where I explain my deliberate choice of narrative voice in Writerunboxed, and “An Angel Within,” a piece of flash fiction in NewPop Lit.
Next time I’ll be talking about recently read books, including an old favorite, Light In August, by William Faulkner.
Until then, may your literary lights shine bright!
And Happy New Year!