On a 16th century globe, there is a portion of it where cartographers did not yet know what lay beyond. So, it seemed prudent to them to leave a warning to would be adventurers. It read simply: “Here Be Dragons.”
Recently I spoke to our members at the Atlanta Writers Club about marketing books. We have writers at all stages of publication in our club, but many are at the beginning. This talk was a collection of years’ worth of information gathering, research, and trial and error in my marketing journey, but as I drove home with my husband, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people I scared. Perhaps, like me prepublication, they thought all they needed to do was write a good book, get it out there, and it would start selling. Their dream would come true, and they would be happy. Now here I come telling them that once their friends and family are done buying it, they better have a plan to keep the momentum going if they want to keep selling it. Much like the cartographers of old, I have a “Here Be Dragons” warning, only I know exactly what’s on the other side: more damn dragons to slay. Publishing the book was only the beginning.
Getting sales is tough. Getting reviews is even tougher. You’re building a mailing list, a website, social media, and then when that isn’t enough, you’re troubleshooting. My God, where did the magic go? In a world filled with dragons to slay, you’d think there would be a little magic somewhere.
I stare out the passenger’s side window, watching the world go by as I remember my pre published life. That state of grace. It was a beautiful thing. Like having a crush. A tragic beauty. You don’t yet see the flaws in your object of affection, yet the longing is painful. “Do you ever miss that state of grace before you were published when you were free to just enjoy writing without worrying about whether your book sold?”
“In some ways, yeah,” George replies.
“There was a kind of magic there. You know? Now, I worry about sales, if I’m pushing enough, the right way. I wouldn’t want to go back to worrying about whether or not my work would ever see the light of day, but there was magic in that space. It reminds me of an old Star Trek life philosophy poster that used to hang in my room. It said, ‘Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is strange, but it is often true.”
He thought for a second. “Well, I think I find more happiness in the publishing process because I focus more on what I can control. I already have the books. I can go out and talk to readers about them and go to bookstores to hand sell them. That brings me joy.”
He has a point, and while I truly enjoy the in-person selling aspect of it as well, very much actually, so many of our sales happen online and most people who buy in-person don’t end up leaving a review which could lead to more sales. However, reaching for something beyond our control, like whether someone leaves a review, is an elusive thing, always a little beyond our reach, and that nearly always equals stress.
So why keep doing it? Why keep publishing? If it doesn’t bring the perceived joy, we thought it would, why bother? Why do some couples remain married after 20, 30, 40 years? I think it’s simply proof of true love, even though honeymoon is over, and shit got real. The spouse has woken in a grouchy mood with morning breath. But we love them and sometimes a certain smile, on a certain day…magic. There it is. So it goes with publishing.
A week later I’m at a signing at Poe and Company bookstore in Milton, GA telling the owner, Kate Seng, about a story my husband and I are working on together, and I feel myself smiling and my arms are waving around as I talk. Here I am, once again, in the grips of magic. I’m irrationally excited. I know if we write this book, whether we traditionally publish it or self-publish, we will have to market it. I will worry about selling, reviews, and every other damn thing, but I’m already in deep and this love is worth it.
Always has been.