Get Over It
Get Over It
by Susan, the Cranky Book Tart
Look, I understand the need to whine. I can bitch with the best of them (ask my mother—she’s listened to me complain for so many years she's gotta be on the fast-track to sainthood). But reading Elizabeth Royte’s essay, “Publish and Perish,” in the New York Times a few days ago stepped on my last nerve. She talks about the “fleeting” excitement that writers feel upon publication of a book, fleeting because of the “tortured journey” one must take to promote, which “can only be described, in hindsight, as self-induced misery.”
So, Elizabeth. Promoting a book is misery and torture? No one paid as much attention to you as you’d hoped? Oprah didn’t embrace you with open arms and let you jump on her sofa yelling, “I’m in love, I’m in love!” Didn’t have tribes of drooling fans showing up at your every store event?
Bring on the Kleenex, 'cuz I'm crying me a river.
It’s sort of like when my tiara pinches my skull and gives me a headache, and my arm gets tired of doing the beauty-queen-wave from the back of the Book Tart Mobile. Man, it sucks, it really does.
What, my possums? You detect a scintilla of sarcasm in my tone?
Sigh. You got me.
I’m no good at pretenses, so I’ll be blunt--or maybe just crabby--as usual. What I’d really like to do after reading this woman’s essay is to grab her (and the other unhappy authors she quotes) roughly by the shoulders, shake her ‘til she’s dizzy, and say, “Lizzie, darlin', get over it. You’re published, and you’ve got honest-to-God books on the shelves to promote. Put on your big girl pants and deal with it.”
For Pete’s sake.
Maybe my sympathy is in short supply these days, particularly for authors with big-name publishing houses who act slighted when their realities don’t live up to their dreams. Hey, this is the big, bad world, right? If you’re not Donald Trump and can’t pay for the end results, you’ve gotta take what life deals you. And sometimes it isn’t exactly what you imagined.
As y’all already know, it was years before I finally got published traditionally. I didn’t take shortcuts (because no one cared to give me the directions, and I didn’t have any relatives in the biz to play the crony card, dammit). And when I was finally pubbed by a small press that did 2,500 print runs of my books, I worked my ass off to sell whatever copies were out there because my publisher did nothing to help. (And, yes, Charlaine Harris will tell you that I have no ass left. Ask her.)
The basis for everything I know about promotion and the publishing business (like how vital distribution is above all), I learned while I was a small press author. I had to figure out how to market my mysteries because my publisher admittedly didn’t know beans about the genre. It was hard, hard work, and I spent more time and money publicizing AND THEN SHE WAS GONE and OVERKILL than I should have. But I felt that I had to do whatever I could. That might've been my only opportunity to get my foot in the door and pave the way for something more, the career I’d always wanted.
Fortunately, that work paid off. I found an agent and landed a three-book deal with Avon for the Debutante Dropout Series. "Oh, boy," friends warned. "Look out. You’re a paperback original author. No one at your publishing house will lift a finger to help you sell your book."
My God, like that would scare me? Hello? I came from being unpublished for a decade, to banging my head against the wall daily in small press hell, to getting a series deal with HarperCollins. Nothing that would happen from that point forward could frighten me. And I knew what I was capable of, both on the writing and promotional fronts. (My mama didn't raise no sissy.)
So I used what I knew, and I promoted my Debutante Dropout debut, BLUE BLOOD, while the publisher made a solid effort behind the scenes to earn my book wider exposure. I traveled like a demon, sat on panels at conventions and conferences, spoke at libraries, book fairs, schools, women’s clubs, and reading groups, anywhere they’d have me. I’ve learned to do this promo thing year-round, too. It’s part of my routine. Strangely enough, I enjoy the hell out of it. I’ve made friends across the country whom I stay in touch with, no matter if I’m touring or not. I spend far more time emailing than I should, but, geez, gotta have a vice, right? I’m not sure how other people handle promotion, whether some only do what their publisher arranges or if, like me, they go all-out and accept as many invitations as humanly possible (even cutting into writing time). Or if they sit home, light a candle, say a prayer, and hope for book sales. Whatever works, I say, so long as you smile and do any whining behind the scenes.
The point I'm trying to make, beyond the babbling, is that I take nothing for granted. I am a published author. I am living my dream every single day. If you ever catch me publicly pissing and moaning about how awful it is to promote my books, please, do me a favor and kick my nonexistent ass. Because I’ll deserve it.
I remember very vividly what it felt like to be unpublished. To be writing and submitting and getting rejected, and having an old family friend say to me at my grandmother’s funeral, “Are you still writing?” Like I was the most pathetic creature on the planet.
I will never forget the moment I signed my very first (yes, small press) contract, or when I held my first published book in my hands. I still feel the same way when I see my books now, or even when I see a cover flat. I get chills. I grin like a total idiot.
Perhaps, I’m odd or strange or just plain weird, but I feel privileged to be out there promoting. I love speaking to booksellers, librarians and readers, hanging out with other writers, seeing parts of the country I’ve never seen. It’s an unbelievable journey I’m on, and, yeah, sometimes it wears me out and I feel overwhelmed, but it sure beats the alternative.
P.S. Elizabeth, sweetie, on the off-chance that you actually read this, I do realize your essay was intended to humor, but I needed to rant about something. So thank you for being my unwitting pin cushion. And, um, are we still on for lunch next Tuesday? My treat.