A comedian once said, “You know who cares about your problems more than you do? Nobody.”
I’ve opened and closed two alternative medicine practices. The first time I shut it down because I moved far away. The second time was November 1, to write and publish full-time (and here we are!) With each experience I learned this: It is stupefying how unimportant I am. When a business is over, it’s over. People with whom I’d developed long relationships moved on, disappeared and, for them, I no longer exist. They came for a service and they have no interest in checking out what I’m doing now. For most, you have one role that fulfills their needs and just because you’re interested in something new means nothing. I’m not bitter. (Really!) But I was…inexplicably…surprised. On my last day of work, there were no fireworks. Just a little second-guessing: What have I done?! And rum. I toasted my wall certificates and twenty years of service now behind me.
I had a similar surprise with the birth of our first child. I thought the universe should stop, leave us alone and just send in the checks, thank you very much. And shouldn’t every child born in a hospital receive a plaque that stays up forever? (True story: as I stood by She Who Must Be Obeyed while she was in scary labour, a client walked into my office and complained to my secretary that I wasn’t available. And she was really angry about it. As an accomplished massage therapist, even I couldn’t pull said client’s head out of an ass that deep.)
Silly Narcissism and Advanced Entitlement Syndrome.
The disease is a pandemic, a silent killer of your hopes and dreams of literary legacy.
And so we come to your dreams in publishing. I have dreams, too. And they don’t matter, either. No one owes us a chance. The only way to develop an audience is to give people a reason to pay for your book with your unique voice, your twisted plot, your different take, your soaring prose, your quirky charm and wit. Or at least have a sexy cover and write a book blurb that makes them suspect you might be capable of these talents. People pay for books because they read your amazing blurb or someone they trust recommended it or you got a good review or a great intro from a celebrity or won a major contest or they received a free excerpt and (this is critical) you entranced and engaged them.
Your friends and family? They’re already tired of you going on about your book.
(Don’t feel bad. It happens to everyone. I’ve already exhausted my friends, too. And I have so few.)
Extend your reach somehow.
Get into Goodreads, do a podcast, hold a contest, do a give away, do press, make an event.
In short, do something that engages strangers with your work. That’s right. Scary strangers who may hate you. Your mom can only buy so many copies.
There’s a parallel in stand up comedy. It’s really hard to get a start in stand up. First, you have to be funny and you need to write a lot. The hard part is the on the job training where you get onstage at open mics and start impressing people or humiliating yourself horribly in ways you never really forget and hardly ever live down without therapy.
Some comedians start out with “Bringers.” A Bringer is where a club manager will let you on his stage to do your act as long as you bring a bunch of friends to fill seats and pay for the two-drink minimum on a Monday night at 11:30 PM. It’s scuzzy. You perform (a bad act) for free, the club gets paid on an otherwise off night and, you hope, your friends laugh. They’re your buddies so they probably will laugh. And that’s the problem. It’s safe and you won’t know what’s really working and worse? You probably paid for half their drinks and their tickets. Instead, perform in front of dangerous strangers.
Artists must write and paint and dance and sculpt and perform for strangers. It’s not really working unless people—who could hate your work—love your work.* Your publishing dream is a nightmare until people you don’t know start a buzz about your books.
This is not to say that friends can’t help you in your publishing journey. I am saying friends can’t carry you all the way around the track. You must somehow figure out how to expand your network beyond the people you know and the immediate few contacts of the people you know. We must all write for strangers. After they decide they like what you write, maybe you could be Facebook friends.
Don’t give up on your dreams. Do wake up to make them happen.
Yes, that sounds like the platitude pasted under a sunset in one of those inspirational posters people routinely ignore.
*”It’s not really working unless people—who could hate your work—love your work.” Please note: Many of your critics make no distinction between you and your work and you certainly won’t, either. I was being coy. Art, especially now, is a business of personality. This business couldn’t be more personal. Those strangers who hate your work will actually hate you and they all want to cut you with rusty spoons.**
**This point is only mildly overstated for full effect. Have a nice, productive day.
Filed under: ebooks, getting it done, Publicity & Promotion, self-publishing, writing tips, Blurb, books, buy books, ebooks, entitlement, Goodreads, Marketing, Narcissism, obscurity, promotion, publicity, publishing