Doing the Numbers

I went to the Litquake panel, “First Time Authors Reveal All,” last year, but it was worth going again. Five new authors, five different stories.

In the past, I would go to panels and conferences expecting to learn “the answer.” How to get an agent, how to get published…I approached this whole writing thing like I was making a loaf of bread and left frustrated when I didn’t get the recipe.

Finally, though, I’m getting it. Not the recipe, but that there isn’t one! Yeah, I know I’ve said this before but this time I get it AND I’m okay with it. I was actually relieved to hear the five authors tell widely different stories of how their first books made it out into the world.

What they all agreed on was the perseverance and persistence are crucial, even more important than talent according to one writer! I don’t totally agree but I do understand. I have some amazingly talented friends whose creative works will remain in a drawer because they don’t have the energy/confidence/motivation/discipline/etc. to take the next step.

I sympathize! Not too long ago I had one of those weeks of feeling totally overwhelmed and angry. This is bullshit! I thought. I’m a writer. I’m supposed to create a fictional world in my mind, translate that onto paper and then I’m done! I’m not an editor, marketer, PR person, social media coordinator, and on and on. This is nuts!

Once I pulled my head out of my ass and looked around, I realized anyone trying to start their own business is scrambling and trying to deal with these same issues. A chef loves to cook, but becoming a caterer means hiring and firing people, doing accounting, managing supplies, advertising, networking, and all the same web/social media stuff I’ve got to deal with. It would be lovely to hire someone to take care of everything, but when we are starting out, the budget for all this is zero.

For me the key is to take the time I need. Slow and steady. My novel is one thing, the business of selling it is another, and I’m taking the advice of experts seriously. I’m making a plan. I’m not following any one guru’s “how to” list, but rather picking elements from many that I believe I can do, and acknowledging that I might not do them well at first. Can I make a website? Yes. Will it be the best site ever? Probably not. Can I tweet? Sure. Will anyone follow me? No, but that’s okay. Can I blog? A bit. Will anyone read it? Nah. Right now the reason I have any views in my stats is because I check on it from the ipad downstairs. Can I network? Not really, but I’ll show up with a drink in my hand and see what happens. Can I make business cards and promo postcards? Technically, yes, I’m a graphic designer, but oh my god, you should hear writer me and designer me going at it. “That doesn’t look sci fi enough.” “I hate cliche sci fi imagery! Wadda ya want, a starfield?” “Well, kind of. I like space and planets and all that, and there are lots of references to stars in the book.” “Sorry, we aren’t going that route. Consider your audience. You want smart readers who read all kinds of different things. A black cover with a spaceship will totally turn those people off.” “I know, but a sunny daytime scene doesn’t feel menacing enough.” “There are drones everywhere! It’s the juxtaposition of the drones with the seemingly idyllic city.” “Fine. We can always redo it later.”

Next step: create a mailing list. I’m a little nervous because my first email will be my first “push” to the outside world. Recruiting friends to read was a bit pushy, but we’re a tight-knit group and we help each other out. I expect that I’ll get about a 30% “unsubscribe” rate…though it might be higher. Ah well! This is a business as well as a creative endeavor and I need to be a professional.

I am a professional, and I’m going to do this!

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