Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Being In Control

"The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business." John Steinbeck

This month the theme is "Guide to Publishing for the First Time". I keep hearing Sade singing, "Never As Good As The First Time" for some reason. That's because remembering the first everything connected to Night Magic still makes me smile. There was the first time I listened to the voice of an editor from NYC on my answering machine saying a publisher wanted to buy my book. Then there was the first time I told someone "I sold my novel". The first time I saw a copy of what would become my first cover. Ah, memories can be lovely.

Writers who have just sold a book have a different world from the one I stepped into back then. For one thing publishing can mean selling to a traditional publisher or being an indie author. Two very different sets of advice I think. There are some similarities. Like knowing that you should do some promotion of your own, and having a well designed website is essential. Indie authors don't really need an agent I think, but once they get an offer from a traditional publisher a good IP attorney would be smart. Traditional authors can decide whether they want an agent based on a variety of factors. There is so much more, but all of that stuff you can find on the web with a search. So I'm going to go all psycho on you instead, psychological that is. Being a clinical social worker I tend to think about such things.

My biggest advice is this: don't put someone else in charge of your happiness. What does that mean? Develop your career goals based on what you can control, and be realistic about you control. For example, you can set a goal to sell 100 books at your next book signing. I hate to tell you this, but you can't control how many books sell. The weather might turn nasty and no one shows. People might not be interested for a variety of reasons. The manager might decide to only order twenty of your books because in his view you're not "famous". Yeah, this happened to me. Sold all of the books in the first forty minutes of my two hour signing. The manager apologized, and was horribly embarrassed. The day before your signing a store employee might accidentally strip half the books ordered  for the event before the assistant manager goes in the back and screams, "Stop!" Yeah, this also happened to me.

The same thing goes for selling X number of books on the Kindle store, etc. Readers decide if they're going to buy. Now you can do things to make your book more attractive, or put in the effort to locate your target audience and get the word out to them. Those things increase your chances of selling. But if anyone knows of even one action you can take that guarantees a certain number of books will sell please tell me. Other than buying the books yourself that is. I will pay good money for that info!

You don't control what kind of reviews you might get. Sure, you should write the best book you can every time. But reading is subjective. I have yet to meet a writer who set out to write a bad book. So we all have stories of a nasty reviewer, or a reader who took time to tell us we need serious writing lessons.  

If you pin your happiness on these kinds of things you might as well expect to check into the Heartbreak Hotel on a regular basis. Instead set your goals on things you can control: how many books you will finish; making your website up-to-date and visitor friendly; reading more non-fiction writing books to work on your weak spots like description or dialog; join a professional writers group for networking and even more learning opportunities; perform at least two marketing activities per day to spread the word, etc. Notice these things are all dependent on what YOU do.

Finally, love what you do, and do what you love. Write the stories that seduce you so much you have no choice but to write them. Make designing and updating your website a fun exercise. Promote in ways that you enjoy. Life is too short to do things with your teeth clenched, not to mention that's bad for your poor teeth.

I had to learn the hard way. You'll hear lots of "musts", you must write this way. You must do this promotion activity. Be wary any time you hear advice that insists there is only one way to write, promote, etc. I can probably easily come up with a half dozen examples of authors who didn't follow that "rule" and did just fine.

Okay, I'll finish with a funny story. I learned the hard way that book signings are definitely in the "results may vary" category. Once I took part in a multi author book signing at this large store in the New Orleans area. Being a new author the other more veteran authors invited me as a wonderful gesture. I smiled a lot, but didn't sell many books. The more established author sitting next to me felt bad, so she tried to help me out. One woman approached and picked up Night Magic from the stack in front of me. Looking at the cover she asked what it was about. I said it was a romance novel set in Louisiana. The lady didn't look impressed so my fellow author  enthused, "Her book is a romantic suspense novel, and it has voodoo!" The woman dropped Night Magic like it was a snake and backed away from me. Her eyes were big as saucers as she said, "I don't fool with that stuff!" I thought she was going to whip out a crucifix and and shove it at me like I was Countess Dracula.

If we ever meet at a writers conference, and you buy me a drink or two I might tell more stories.  Yeah, I can be bribed. :) 

Lynn Emery


Charles Gramlich said...

"I don't mess with that stuff." Must be my problem in selling books. :)

Liane Spicer said...

LMBO! Lynn Emery, voodoo priestess!

Great advice. In the maelstrom that the pubishing industry has become, focusing on what you can control is definitely the sane way to go.

Lynn Emery said...

I know, Charles. Sometimes I wish figuring out how to sell more books wasn't like staring at tea leaves, roots or chicken bones for answers! LOL

Okay, I don't do any of that stuff. I swear.

Hi Liane. Yes, preserving sanity is important for us writers :)

Anonymous said...

As Commander Adama told his son in Battlestar Galactica - you never lose control. And it wasn't a compliment.

I think sometime we need to let ourselves lose control. That's when the unexpected happens.

William Doonan

Lynn Emery said...

Yes, slipping out of control is sometimes called for. Agreed. I also know that accepting that sometimes you don't have a choice, and learning to deal with it is just as important.

Jewel Amethyst said...

We can't always be in control, but we can be happy inspite of anything that occurs in our life or writing.

Lynn Emery said...

Well put, Jewel.