This is a post about what you can’t do and what you can.
I had a talk with my agent today, really a schooling, about the current state of publishing and BN. She’s far more up to date on things than I am–she has to be and thank goodness for it–and made me aware of changes in the industry. I think I’m pretty good about staying on top of things, but I had missed this one. Specifically, many books aren’t even getting into BN. They are not getting shelf space at all. If a series isn’t doing well enough, the sequels simply don’t get ordered, a lot more than used to happen. Now BN has become a heavy hitter in the industry, because it’s one of the few major bricks and mortar stores left out there, and because of that, their order of a title is substantial and will impact how the publisher will treat you, and whether or not they will want more books from you. Whether BN orders your books depends entirely on your numbers (which means that new authors will have to overcome having an unknown name, to some extent). That last part isn’t really new, except that having an untarnished name isn’t necessarily the answer anymore (ie using a pseudonym).
I honestly don’t know who is carrying my latest book. Previously I’ve been in Wal-Mart, which is a good thing. I’ve been in many indies (thank goodness for indies), and BN. But I don’t know at this point who is carrying what. That’s frustrating. But at the same time, there’s not a damned thing I could do with that information. I can’t get bookstores to carry books. No author can. Oh sure, you can befriend your local indies or chains and they will order because you’re local or some such, but a wider reach is not in our power.
It used to be you could make more impact through blogging and social networking. And certainly, you still can have some effect. But it doesn’t have the impact of a few years ago because so many people are blogging and reviewing and readers only have so much time. Also, reaching new readers–people who won’t already pick up your work–isn’t that easy to do. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to do it myself. Another thing I can’t do. I blog and do what I do on FB and Twitter because I like to. I have quit joining new networking sites unless I really like them (Pinterest is a wonderful place). But then, I tend to keep up with the sites that I do because it allows me to reach out to people and enjoy friendships that I could not otherwise enjoy in my tiny little town.
I can’t make people buy my books. I can’t make people aware of my books without spending a lot of money I don’t have. I can’t sneak into their lives through email or other electronic doors and shout out my merits. I try, through blog tours and through interviews and that sort of thing, but it has limited impact. To really reach out and stir up interest, that I can’t do. Can’t.
In some ways it’s really disheartening that I can’t do it. That I can’t make that happen. The best I can do is ask my readers to do it, to help create buzz. And I do. But what really works best if readers are so excited about books that they thrust them on their friends and strangers out of the joy of the reading and the love that they have for the books.
On the other hand, there’s a freedom in that inability. I don’t have to feel bad if the things I try don’t work. It was a longshot anyhow. And better still, I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t spend that much time doing it. Because there is one huge thing that I can do, one big thing I can invest my time into.
I can write. I can tell stories and put them out there–easier now than ever before. I can enjoy my craft and learn it better and I can simply put my heart and soul into what I love. That’s my best advertisement and that’s the only way I can actually gather new readers and inspire the passion in them to tell everyone about my work.
Patty Briggs likes to to say that after 13 novels, she became an overnight success. It’s true. Her earlier novels didn’t catch on the way the Mercy books have. They are wonderful novels and I was a fan early on. But she stuck with telling stories and eventually the Mercy books grabbed readers’ imaginations and that was that. Sometimes that happens with your first book. Sometimes it happens with the 14th or the 30th or maybe never. There are other writers who have a steadily growing readership and continue to feed their fans good books. The key is to keep writing. As Neil Gaiman says in his graduation address to the University of the Arts, keep going toward and up the mountain. Do whatever takes you closer to your dream, your goal, your bliss.
Giving up or quitting never gets you closer. That’s another think I can’t do. Won’t do.
So I write. And I write.