This has been one helluva summer. My third book came out, I had a small book tour, mainly locally drivable places, but a few out of town venues involving airplanes and hotels. We had an awesome exchange student from Spain, I’ve read a ton of books, given a couple of blurbs and delivered the book proposal for the next three books in my Sarah Beauhall series.
The Day Jobbe has been extra crunchy for the last six months with double helpings of going the extra mile and doing more with less. Writing for me has been problematic, but I’m getting back on that pony. All and all, I can never complain that my life is boring. What I wouldn’t give for a month at the ocean with a little house and no responsibilities.
Of course, that is no where on my horizon. I’m on the hamster wheel and there is no end in sight. I have my fair share of frustrations and set backs, but there are moments where you have to find a way to put it all in perspective.
As a writer, I spend my life on this merry-go-round leaning way out on that pony with the worn stirrups and the tarnished saddle. That’s the horse the real writers fight for, because it allows you to lean out far enough to grab that brass ring.
I spent a lot of years working my way from frozen unicorns to flaming nightmare stallions before I figured out it was that horse, the one that requires work and a commitment to really wanting it that was going to allow me to reach out and snatch that ring.
And I did it. In 2008, I sold my first novel and friends and strangers alike were quick to tell me I’d made it. I’d won the lottery. By the time Black Blade Blues hit the shelves, my management at the day jobbe was having meetings to discuss just what the hell they were going to do when all my money came rolling in now that I was a famous author. They were convinced I was moments away from ditching my career and living the care-free life of a published author.
What they didn’t realize, and what most folks don’t seem to get, is that this first novel, this first brass ring is not the top of the mountain. It’s the crest of the first hill. There’s an entire mountain range of goals, work, deadlines, and problems to overcome further than the eye can see.
We call it — trading up for a better class of problems. Unfortunately it doesn’t get easier. In my personal experience, it gets harder.
Now, not only do I have my day jobbe and the existing novels, but I have to produce the next batch of work, under a deadline, and I have to do all that while I’m also teaching myself to be a marketeer.
That’s right. Marketing is not just the publisher’s responsibility any longer. Until you are a big name, it is your responsibility to manage your image, including getting your name out there. This blog is one of the ways I accomplish this, but it’s really not enough.
I read reviews, try to land interviews, do podcasts and anything else I can come across to reach a wider audience. Book signings with three people are not uncommon. Heck, I’ve had autographs sessions at cons where the only people who showed up were friends.
But you do it, you dig deeper, put aside the fear and despair to crank out that next piece of work, find that next marketing opportunity, write that next letter of introduction and debate how you could possibly get Neil Gaiman or Pat Rothfuss (or any of the big names) to talk about your book without actually asking them to. For an introvert like me, it’s that much harder because is seems rude to ask for help. It seems inappropriate to ask other authors to blurb my work. I’ve seen how a well placed comment can really impact book sales, but those moments are hard to fabricate and are usually the honest and uninfluenced comments by a fan. Big name writers are also fans of other people’s work. They are readers just like you and me.
You have to learn to balance the difference between and eager and honest request for help, and that obsequious and incredibly annoying “buy my book” shilling that is so prevalent on the internet today.
And there are no real rules beyond not being a dick, as Wil Wheaton reminds us. Be polite, engage people honestly and straight forward. Don’t be pushy and treat everyone with respect.
If someone is willing to give you a bit of advice, or a helping hand, embrace that for what it is, thank them for their time and move on.
There are so many examples of the wrong thing to do out there that I won’t go into them. Just be kind, be respectful and don’t be a jerk.
The real trick is to buckle down and write the next story, novel or screen play. Keep honing your craft and write a better story than the last one. It’s a matter of time before the next thing (or the first thing) sells. Keep your irons in the fire. Meet people — cons are great for that. Network and pay it forward. You’d be surprised how wonderful it feels to help other people. That takes away a lot of suck, let me tell you.
Yes seeing books on the shelves of retailers with my name on them still gives me a jolt of that old fantasy come true. Only now I know it’s just the first rays of sunshine breaking over the horizon. I have a lifetime of work ahead of me and I’d better damn well enjoy it. This doesn’t ever get easy. It is, however, the most personally rewarding thing I can think to do with my life.
But you gotta want it with every fiber of your being. There is no half way here.
And at the end of the day, you have to find the focus to understand what the important things in life really are. Writing is work. It has a time and a place. But your family is way more important. Your health is worth more and your sense of self-worth exceeds any book signings or convention panels you will ever enjoy.
Proceed with your fantasies in check and a firm grip on reality. Then you may just survive this most amazing journey.
Because, frankly. If you can’t hack it, there will always be a need for doctors, plumbers, teachers and cab drivers. You can always find a fulfilling career to help you have a good life. I happen to think that writing is the best of them all. But it’s not for everyone.
So, as you grab the brass rings in your life, enjoy that moment. Don’t think about the others you keep in a box on your book shelf. Enjoy the effort it took to get this ring. There’s always another one waiting for the next time the wheel turns.