Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Word about Book Promotion

My mailbox has been spilling over with gooey literary goodness these past couple of weeks. Publishers seem to sit on their hands through the summer, waiting for the first cool afternoon breeze of fall to carry all the magical books into hungry mailboxes. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

I am getting dangerously close to finishing the manuscript for my second book. Which, for me, means I'll probably have it done by New Years Eve. I am an unapologetically slow writer, but I also don't feel much urgency in getting this book out there in the marketplace. Now that I have already seen my name on a book, which was one of the highlights of my life, I don't have the same anticipation for the second one. I know from experience that writing and editing the book is by far the best part of the process. Because once the book is incarnate, the book promotion begins.  Dunt dunt daaaaaaaaaaah.[Cue: THUNDER!!]

I wrote a lengthy post about my philosophy of book promotion a few years ago, so I won't go into that here. For today, I want to talk about the feelings that promoting evokes.

I haven't met a single author who, if really pressed, would say they like the promoting process. Some of us break out in hives when we hear words like "platform" or "brand." Some of us would rather roll in honey and go on a bear hunt than do an radio interview. A lot of us are introverts and our ears are still ringing from the time our publisher told us that we have to do publicity for our own book. Um, my name is on the cover, isn't that enough?? Sorry, you want me to do how many interviews? And they pay what? Nothing?? Because this is their version of a favor for me? What kind of f'd up system is this??

Sure, we have moments of satisfaction when we get an email from a reader who loved our book or a listener who appreciated our talk. Those are fulfilling interactions, and they remind us why they wrote the book. But no author that I know got into the business in order to promote their work. Writing itself is incredibly vulnerable work, and the vulnerability increases exponentially when we have to talk about our writing and convince people to spend money on what we wrote. It's like putting a $12 price tag on our blood.

Apparently, a few years ago, right about a day and a half before my book was released, all publishers everywhere ran out of money and decided that authors should be promoting their own books. About 2 hours after that ruling, Twitter was invented and we all took to the tweets to try and pay the rent. It didn't work, and most of us live in cardboard boxes now. But we writers are a persevering lot, and we are still at it.

Here is my favorite tweet from a fellow author in the last couple of weeks:
Emily's book, by the way, is called A Million Little Ways, and I highly recommend it. I'm particularly taken, not surprisingly, with the chapter called "Listen."

Emily captures the ambivalence we authors feel. We tingle with pride in holding our book in our hands. We got into this business because there was something in us that had to come out, and now that something has page numbers and a cover and endorsements and a pretty picture on the front. When we die, in some dusty corner of an abandoned library somewhere, there will still be a copy of our book that outlives us. Our exuberance is only matched by our sheer terror. My book is awesome! My book is terrible. (Don't trust authors who don't have a least a small suspicion that their book is terrible). I want to share this part of myself with you! Oh god what if you hate it? I want the world to hear my message! Am I shouting too loud? Am I being annoying? Should have I second gin and tonic at 10am?

Last week my friend Sarah, who is releasing a game-changing book next month, asked for my input in how to promote her book. I was typically unable to offer much practical advice (I should get a job writing Ikea furniture manuals, because then people would have a name to go with their assembly rage. "Why won't this stupid hinge fit on the freaking door??? Dammit McHugh!!!!"). But as I was thinking out loud with my friend Sarah, I realized that....Sarah is my friend. And she is my friend because when I had a book to promote, I reached out to her. And then I guest posted on her blog. And she guest posted on mine. And then I made fun of the fact that she lives in Canada. And then she threatened to check me into the boards. And then I told her that Ann Voskamp called to say that she is NOT grateful for her. And then she told Ann on me, which probably ruined my chances of Ann endorsing my second book.

All these books I am getting in the mail these days have my friends' named emblazoned across the covers. And we are friends because I reached out to them or they reached out to me, because we realized that we are in this crazy book promoting business together and we can't do it alone. We encourage each other and we sympathize over every bad Amazon review with each other. Maybe promoting a book is closer to cultivating friendships than it is to selling a product. And I know that my second book will get some attention, not because it is all that amazing, but because I have writer friends out there who will care about it because I care about it.

So, read my friend Andy's book Playing God because he is brilliant and insightful and the conversation about the proper use of power is so critical in our culture.

Read my friend Addie's book When We Were on Fire because she is funny, can turn a phrase like a DJ on a 4 pack of Red Bull spins records, and because the life of faith is less like an inferno and more like a smoldering coal.

Read my friend Jim's book In Search of Deep Faith, because the man can combine theology with travel writing like no one else.

Read my new friend Mandy's book because it is called Thrashing About with God and because you want to give up on God but you haven't.

Consider yourselves introduced to my friends.