An Author’s Lament; With Promise of an Upbeat Sequel

Someone on the Writers’ Union forum posted a link to this interesting piece into a journalist’s journey into self-publishing yesterday. http://nyti.ms/1w2v6Gg — from “I Was a Digital Bestseller!  by Tony Horwitz from the NY Times, June 19 2014. Not a lot of resonance for me in the piece because journalism, actually making a living from writing is a different sack of cats from my quest to write fiction that will live on in the annals of Canlit. But this small excerpt from the article lit my fire: “FIVE months ago I published a short book called “Boom.” Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.”

Absolutely true. Most authors know that their books will not only lose money, but they themselves will subsidize their ephemeral creation. Small regional presses are often described as “not for profit” businesses. Shouldn’t that be enough of a clue?

I’ve taught many introductory creative writing courses, facilitated workshops, mentored new writers, and I always make it clear that if anyone is there because they’re looking for the road to fame and fortune, they’ve come to the wrong person. I am not the guardian of that secret map.

After 20 years of courses, encouragement, publication in literary magazines, an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, four books, and essays/stories in several anthologies – still no vacation home in Tuscany. As for fame, I’ve been shortlisted for a number of fine awards, and with that come validation and the chance to party in good company. But no reward to deposit in “income from writing.” Still, I count one of the greatest benefits of my writing life in the number of good friends I’ve made. In fact, it’s often our “woundedness” as authors that bring us together over coffee or wine for affirmation that what we do is not about the money. When one of us wins an award, scores a fine contract, we have the chance to celebrate, to be the cheerleaders, knowing that when it is our “turn” the cheering squad will be there for us.

Why, then, is it so difficult for so many authors to be their own cheerleaders? I know a few authors who don’t shrink at all from self-promotion. Who, when the opportunity arises, or they create the opportunity themselves, will hold the book aloft and shout, “I wrote this! This is a fine book! Buy it and both of us will be rewarded!” I am one of the other sort – the author who quietly enters book clubs with her bag of “car stock”, leaves it inconspicuously beside her chair, and at the end of the evening, if the group feels receptive, pulls the bag forward and mentions, just mentions, that she has copies of the book being discussed as well as copies of her other books if anyone is interested. Then goes home wishing she’d asked the host in advance for a table on which to display her books and a bit of help in promoting them.

A few weeks ago, I attended a book club appreciation night at one of our fine indie bookstores at which each staff member recommended a book for the fall lists the book clubs were putting together. I was delighted that The Boy was among those recommendations. Okay, I told myself, this is an opportunity you will not ignore. I plucked a copy of The Boy from the display and inveigled my way into every cluster of conversation going on in the room. Polite smiles from some corners, congratulations from a couple of others, and a few groups who simply looked annoyed at my intrusion.

Feeling rather humbled, and just a little embarrassed, I made my way back to my husband and the good friend who had come along to the event. They gave me the affirmation I needed: Of course you should introduce yourself and the book to everyone in the room! You’re the only author of any of the recommended books in attendance. Get over it! It’s your job to sell your books now that they’ve had their brief flash across the heavens.

So far, no invitations to any of the book clubs at that event, but a swift kick to remind me that unless I do more promotion the books of which I am exceedingly proud will dwindle to a shadow on a bookstore shelf, remaindered along with hundreds of other fine books that died too young.

I knew all of this, of course, because I’d met the indomitable Susan Toy just before Delivery was launched in 2009. She came to a reading that I was participating in and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Susan. I’m your sales rep.” “Really? I didn’t know I had one.” “Well you do, and we need to talk about how to promote your new book and the previous two and whatever else you have in the works.” A meeting a few days later, and Susan was off and running with ideas and contacts that took me to libraries all over central and southern Alberta, and as many book clubs as I could fit into my writing life.

Susan has moved on, although she continues to promote mine and the books of other authors from her exile on the beautiful Caribbean island of Bequia. But lately, I’ve been hearing her voice in my ear, and she’s telling me that the books will only die when I stop breathing life into them.

So to end this Author’s Lament, here’s the pledge I’ve made to myself (and to any authors I can influence as well) to rip up the DNR order on every single book. Stand by for Part Two: Utterly Uninhibited Authorial Promotion of Fine Books.

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8 thoughts on “An Author’s Lament; With Promise of an Upbeat Sequel

  1. Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    Thank you to Betty Jane Hegerat for these wise words that will be of interest to all writers, no matter where they are in their careers, and for her kind words about me! I would not be the author promoter I am today had it not been for Betty Jane’s support, encouragement, and fine writing!

    • Susan, it is a pleasure always, to tell the world about your passion for books and your generosity.

  2. Thanks, Betty Jane for sharing the difficulties you have in promoting your wonderful writing. I was so impressed with your contribution of “Finding My Grace” in the anthology “A family by any other name”. Your honesty and openness to sharing your vulnerabilities really touched me. And your creative use of the analogous phrase “she had moved out of the mainstream and into a tributary with a long history of discrimination, exclusion and abuse” really resonated within me. It demonstrated how mundane my writing is in comparison. So – if you have difficulty with self-promotion – just imagine how those of us still trying to develop the skill that you have attained, must feel. I know that self-promotion is necessary, yet I’d rather have a tooth extracted without anesthetic!

    • Sharon, thank you for all this. It is you who inspire me in so many ways. And when you’re ready to self-promote, come to me. I will administer the anesthetic. 😉

  3. Reblogged this on blindoggbooks and commented:
    My friend Susan Toy (yes, the same one mentioned in the following post) shared this post with me. It is an excellent reminder to every independent author out there that, no matter how futile it may seem at times, the only way to reach your goal, whatever that goal may be, is to keep working.
    Working hard and promoting yourself is actually harder than writing the book…but as soon as you stop doing it your book(s) will begin that long, lonely descent into oblivion.
    Don’t let that happen.

  4. LOVE this blog and your honesty, Betty Jane! Sometimes we imagine our stories are dead. BUT. Every once in a while along comes the right reader and we (I) are reminded that our stories have lives that go far beyond the dusty shelves of our own imagining!

    • Thanks, Anne. We need to remind one another that the only way the books live on is by dusting them off and bringing them out into the light of day once again.

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