Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 7, 2016

The Marketer Dreams of the Window Seat

It’s a dream come true to have published a novel last fall and to have books coming out this fall and next spring. From the outside it may look like I’ve had a few prolific years. Really, these three volumes represent more than a decade of slowly writing and patiently-as-possible submitting and fielding rejected manuscripts, until at last they found the right editors at the right places at the right time.

I liked talking and writing about the Alcott sisters and other women who’ve enriched my life to interested readers, sometimes getting a little more dressed up than I do for a day on the window seat. Marketing brought a small sense of power that came from taking the fate of my work in my own hands. I’m grateful for help finding lovely hosts who gave me opportunities to speak or write about my research and fiction.

geraniums

But there’s also something to be said for long stretches of quiet in which to mull. For the past few months I’ve been glad to spend less time nudging a book toward readers and more time shuffling new words in my computer. Writers dream of publishing day, but when it happens, we might either be disappointed that the lights weren’t as dazzling as we’d imagined or realize how accustomed we’d gotten to the dark. I often wondered if I was waving my book in peoples’ face too much. Yes. Was I doing enough to get my book in front of potential readers? No. Was I showing enough gratitude to readers and kind strangers who blog or talk up books? No, how can there be enough?

I’m hardly alone with my ambivalence about marketing. Mention the word to many authors – often introverts like me — and you’re likely to see faces twitch. Google “marketing” and you won’t find deathless or even imaginative prose. Writers who are marketers have to decide how much effort to put into blowing small horns and how much to trust to publishing fates. There’s no clear formula for balancing the work of tending to sales and the needs of new words. It’s a world if not of spread sheets then to-do lists, which are never-ending. Like say puppy-training, gardening, or housework, lists loop around more than reach an end. (Though puppies, plants, and books give back more than kitchen counters.) The things we can cross off lists aren’t usually the important things.

Marketing aims for ever-rising numbers, making a climate of never-enough. Every small success pushes up expectations. We can cheer for sales, but if we let ourselves check rankings, perhaps and usually obsessively, we’re bound to see them dwindle. It can be as unnecessarily dismal as peeking behind the scenes of a butcher shop. Learning sales information brings thrills, disappointments, and attempts to stay sane, for with every book sighting, a greedy little voice may whisper: Hey, but why aren’t there more? I remembered that Buddhist hungry ghost with its unending appetite, fairy tales about the king whose touch turned everything terribly to gold, curses disguised as charms, and adages and advice about being careful what you wish for. The chant of never-enough isn’t a good music to create from. That needs a place of trying to feel settled where we are.

Book marketing is a game with no winners or clear stop signs. The novel I already gave a lot to, and love, still needs me. But too much attention to sales is like focusing on the wedding dresses and cake and not the marriage. Marketing means being busy, while creative writing is about allowing in idleness. A marketer has an end in mind, while when I write fiction or poems, I’m more attentive to the surprises of the present than goals.

We publish partly because there is a need to call something finished, and that’s marked in a festive way by finding readers. We make publicity efforts because selling books gives us a chance to publish more. It’s a circle, just like day to night, and just like that, we need the dark murk of creativity at least as much as we need to put our work on shelves.

spring

Recently, I’ve spent less time with my eye on the very small crowd and more time looking inside. I swapped reading short forms on the Internet to reading longer books on my lap. I stepped away from the not so very bright lights to spend more time in the dark, spent less time reaching out and more time reaching in toward a first draft with all its mess and forgiveness. I wrote fewer blogs that I hope don’t sound too much like begging or bragging, and drafted a novel, with wide margins or many pages that not only allows but grows from mistakes. I shifted my attention from smooth surfaces to craft wrong ways where new things can happen.

I like having people read what I wrote, but that’s never been the whole reason I write. I chose this work partly because when I’m composing something new I feel more alert to the beauty of people, dogs, trees, and clouds I find along my way. Everything seems brighter. We have to dig in earth as well as set nicely cut vegetables on the table. Writers need to wear old clothes, not dress with an eye on the mirror. A time comes to leave baseball metaphors with their pitches, hits, misses. and scores. To spend less time fixing words and more time writing wrong ones, leaving lists and letters and getting back to the big space of a book. I need the closed room necessary for creation, to reenter the land of wrong turns.

Of course the marketer-in-me will be back soon enough. For now I’m enjoying time just with the raw page before getting back to peddling stories and verse I believe in, while trying to muster some grace.

 

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Responses

  1. Yours is yet another in a line of posts I’ve read recently on this topic. And just at the right time as I too needed very badly to step out of the role of marketer and back into that lovely writing place. I actually did not have an aversion to marketing but I do now – it just sucks the life out of you and it is truly a no-win; it’s never enough.

    I truly believe Someone greater than me is guiding me because here is your post, plus an amazing post yesterday from a Michelle Cushatt (her book is Undone) and then finding a new literary friend in Constance Woolson AND your referral to The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn. PLUS my favorite marketing guy out of the blue offered free 10 minute phone call consultations to all those who had purchased his pricey course on book launching. That was a HUGE blessing.

    As a result, I have totally retooled my blog, taking it physically away from where the marketing is being done so that it looks like a blog again and so I can write more freely. I have a ways to go before I gain back the writing voice I had for my book because that voice is lost at the moment. But at least I grabbed back the safe haven where I can explore that voice.

    And then there’s the work of my life looming and I long to get lost in it.

    Thanks for sharing this! It has been so helpful being reminded again and again that these feelings are common and shared.

    • Such an interesting post, Jeannine…I’ve been wondering about this marketing stuff, as I watch authors on Facebook and Twitter and keep track of their activities. I had no idea that publishing today involved so much of this type of work! Glad you’ve found the space to carve out time for the soul nourishing living that makes for a writing life.

    • Susan, such a touching story. I’m glad my post was one sign among others for you to shift focus. For everything there is a season….

      Tara, yes, in the 20 years since I first published there’s been a shift more and more toward the author presenting past the covers. Some of it is joyful. It’s wonderful to connect with kids. But making plans for such can be tiring, and it is a different focus than one has while writing — which I suppose is some of why it can feel tiring. An editor for 5 of my earlier books did not care for this trend or even much of a focus on choices beyond what she and I saw on the page. She no longer has a job in the field, and there’s probably at least some link there. But her voice stays with me, and brings me back to honing my vision. A complicated business, but so is yours, teaching.

  2. I’m glad you’ve had concentrated time to read and write and enjoy your puppy. I have lots of that creative time, and realize I don’t do enough marketing. On Twitter today, I recommended my (one and only) picture book in response to someone asking for beach-related picture books, and felt embarrassed at even mentioning it. What’s with that? Obviously, I need to work on “owning” my meager success. And probably on sending things out into the world.

    I am so grateful for you and your post, though, which reminds me that I’m not alone with my discomfort!

    • Yeah, Kelly, what’s with that? Yes you do know of a beach themed book! But I understand, of course. It’s tough stepping out. And then being ready to step back in, where sometimes what we bake or the dogs we walk and the poetry we give ourselves time to read or the naps we take can all feed a really important part of us.

      I do nudge you to send things out though. Another big discomfort for sure. I guess there’s another post there. But your writing is so good, the reader in me wants more. xo

  3. How very apt. How very beautiful!!

    • Lovely to think of you on this rainy day!

  4. This beautiful post truly resonated with me. I think you are being so wise to step back for a while and enjoy the writing process itself. And yet how wonderful to have two new books on the cusp of publication. This time, because of your earlier and recent successes, the books may (and should) largely sell themselves. Like the woman about to give birth, cherish this time.

    • I’m glad this resonated, Patty. And yes, always a good idea to cherish the quiet nurturing times. Hope your spring is a good one.

  5. “We need the dark murk of creativity…” These words really resonate with me. While I don’t have published books to market (yet!), I have students and teachers who depend on me every day. It’s challenging to carve out moments to write “a first draft with all its mess and forgiveness.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts on finding this balance. Looking forward to reading whatever you cultivate!

    • Hi, yes, everyone has to balance those needs that call from outside — and you clearly have lots of calls — with the quieter voices inside. Thanks for your kindness.

  6. “The chant of never-enough isn’t a good music to create from.” — very wise! I like your celebrations of wrongness and mistake-making. Go forth and bumble around! 🙂

    • Tabatha, what a beautiful blessing. Go forth and bumble around should be in cross stitch or at least my screen. Thank you!


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