The start of the new year is a good time for a reckoning. For me 2018 was all about the BOOK—the book being my novel, Gina in the Floating World, that was published in September 2018. It felt like it consumed me, and as I look back over my diary notes from the year, that feeling is verified. It was a lot of work: interesting, challenging, mystifying, frustrating, tedious and rewarding work, all in service of the BOOK, the BOOK that took a lot of years and its own kind of sweat to write. But as I look back on this past year, I marvel at what I didn’t know beforehand and what I managed to accomplish at this stage of my life. I tested myself and have been stretched in new ways.
I don’t know what I expected this experience to be like, and of course, it’s not over, but here’s a sampling of ways I’ve had to adjust to the unfolding process of putting a first book out into the world.
I had or have to---
Learn more than I ever thought I wanted to know. I had some sense when I began this process that I would be thrown into an alien world—the world of marketing a book. In an earlier post, I gave some flavor of what that involved, from obtaining back cover endorsements from other authors, to creating the right elevator pitch to deliver to people who wanted to know more, to honing my deficient social media skills, to approaching bookstores for events. To learn, I read, listened to podcasts, took endless webinars, and asked published authors for advice.
Put myself out there. Like many writers, I am more introverted than extroverted. I didn’t find it easy to make all the “asks” that are required, much less to keep telling people about my book so that they’ll buy it or come to my events. But I did and still do, and my friends don’t seem to mind.
Develop a thick skin. I was lucky. My initial external reviews with Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, two highly regarded trade magazines, were good. And most of my on-line reviews from Instagram bloggers and on Amazon and Goodreads have been positive, if not glowing. Some people have been less enthusiastic, which is fine—a book can’t be all things to all people. But then there are the nasty people who can’t find anything to like. I have to remember the advice I always gave my clients in my previous career. If the negative comments/reviews are the outliers, embrace the positive.
Own what I wrote. My novel is sexually explicit, perhaps surprising a lot of people who thought they knew me. I have to proudly claim the self that wrote it at the same time denying that it was autobiographical although “inspired” by actual events of my life. And I can’t care if they wink and nod.
Keep at it even when I don’t really know what difference my actions made. The list of things to do was always long, and even now, I still have events to publicize and prepare for, blog posts to write, social media to stay on top of. Does any of it make a difference? It’s hard to know. The advice out there is diverse, and if you tried to do everything, you’d never get any sleep. As a first- time author, you throw the spaghetti against the wall and hope some of it sticks. And eventually you focus on those things you enjoy and can do well.
Live with uncertainty. My least favorite question these days (although I understand why people ask it) is, “How are your book sales?” It’s not that I have no idea, but without seeing that first royalty check, which won’t be until March, I have little idea. It’s as if I worked daily on a job without knowing my salary. My solution is to consider any money I make icing on the cake. The novel isn’t my livelihood; it was my dream, a dream I fulfilled.
At the same time, I am grateful that I had this opportunity to share my work with the world. It's been a gift that keeps on giving: thrilling to see my book on bookshelves, to have friends tell me how proud of me they are, to see words of praise, to sign books, to read passages out loud, to become a part of the community of authors, and just to handle this little piece of myself. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. And if you are reading this post, thank YOU for your support.