Friday, October 31, 2014

Self-Promotion versus Creating Community--Where Is the Line for You?

Fame has always been a hot topic of discussion among writers.  An unsavory one.  A necessary one.  If we long to be published, we ask those who are published:  How did you get there?  We read the bestseller lists and wonder about the process of climbing to such recognition.  Once we have that contract, that great agent, we still must struggle to get our work received, recognized, reviewed.  It gets wearying.

Because, for many of us, all we really want to do is make art.  We want to write.  We want to sink into the worlds on our page. 

I signed on for this book-writing gig because I believed in my topic.  I wanted to share ideas with others, be part of the creative community.  I loved talking about writing and I loved (most of the time) to write.  I didn't dream of bestseller lists; in fact, when my first book won a national award, I didn't even go to the awards ceremony in New York City.  I'd gotten a second contract and was desperate to get more pages written.

Time passed, I published more nonfiction books.  They sold well; one was the publisher's bestseller for that year.  Then I switched genres, went into memoir and self-help.  They sold well too, and I was proud to talk about them on radio and TV, even though I didn't know much about how to do either.  My publisher suggested I hire a consultant to teach me how to look good on camera, and it helped.  Sold more books, publisher was happy. 

Then my first novel was accepted.  It was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner, mentioned in a New York Times interview, and discussed on WNPR.  But it sold terribly.  Readers sent me lovely letters and emails about how much they adored the story.  But a roaring commercial success it wasn't.

I blamed the publisher.  I blamed myself.  I blamed that serendipity of the industry which limelights some and not others.  My book was, is, good.  But it languished.  I wondered what I could've done better.  I told myself I just didn't enjoy the pushy promotion that success requires of writers today.

A recent encounter with one of those well-published, successful novelists led to an interesting discussion.  I wrote her asking what went wrong, what I could've done differently or better with my beloved book.   "This is Every Author's Lament unless you've written Gone Girl or Wild or are Malcolm Gladwell," she wrote back.
She says she just writes books, she doesn't look at the numbers.  "I feel it is my job to write books as long as someone wants to publish them." 

And that's why I got into writing.  Because I wanted to write books.  It was good to hear it from someone else.  An important reminder.

This week I also came across a wonderful article about making commerce versus making art, written by a first-time author who is encountering these big questions as she promotes her book.  It's very thought-provoking, for anyone who is in this crazy work of creative expression.  Check it out here and as your weekly writing exercise, spend some time freewriting about where you are on the continuum.

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