My father had a small business which I thought imprisoned him, and as a kid, I swore I would never “do retail.” .
Boy, was I wrong! As an author, I wound up owning my own small business and it’s as vulnerable to competition and the vagaries of the market place as any physical store. Sometimes it’s just as exhausting.
From the beginning of my book publishing career in 1990, I was deeply involved in pushing my work, contacting venues for readings, investing in posters and postcards, writing my own press releases when I thought my publisher hadn’t done a good job, and constantly faxing or mailing strangers around the country about my latest book. I spent thousands sending myself on tour when my publisher wouldn’t do it or going to conferences to push my work and build my presence, and so did many of my friends.
Then came the Internet and everything shifted to email. Add a web site that needs constant updating, newsletters, going on Twitter and Facebook, maintaining visibility on various listservs, blogging, blog tours, producing book trailers, updating ebooks in various ways, and the constant reaching out to strangers in the hope of enlarging your platform and increasing sales. It never ends.
And neither does the advice offered by consultants. I’m constantly deluged by offers to help me increase my sales, drive more people to my web site, help me discover the secrets of SEO. They come on an hourly basis and when they tout success stories, I sometimes feel as if I’m trapped on a low-performing TV show while everyone else on the schedule is getting great ratings.
Going independent for a few books after I published with big and small houses momentarily made me feel more in control, but that control morphed into an albatross. When my 25th book was published recently by a superb university press I was relieved to be intimately involved in things like the cover art and promotion, but not be the one ultimately in charge of every aspect of production.
The burden of business has often made writing itself harder to do, and sometimes it can even feel pointless because it initiates a whole new business push. But that’s the author’s life, like it or not.
If you’re going to be an author, prepare to work your butt off at things that might not come naturally to you and might not ever feel comfortable, whether you’re indie published or traditionally published. Way before the book even sees publication. Do your research. Know your genre. Be smart. Be patient. Play the long game. Hope for success, but don’t expect miracles.
One author friend who’s been a New York Times seller for years confided to me that despite all the success, “I feel like a pickle salesman, down on the Lower East Side in 1900, hawking my goods.”