Lemur

Alice Close Your Eyes has gone to print. Just galleys at this point, but still, people will soon be reading my story and judging me it. After all these naughty hours in a snug dark corner, it seems that Dad has crashed the party and is reaching for the lights. 521d6ae0ca617327b75d636e5adb85d8

For comfort, I reread one of Betsy’s old posts about how success almost never happens, how the publishing world is sleepy and indifferent, and most books fall right through the cracks without leaving so much as a claw mark on the floorboards. I admit I sometimes wish for that. Failure ensures anonymity, it’s predictable and safe. It’s darkness for a lemur. The center of a school of sardines, a chalk-blue gannet’s egg in a cliffside nest. It’s the palest, weakest, coldest moon no earthly soul longs to inhabit, which therefore makes it home sweet home. I have no more fear of failure than I do my living room sofa.

But I’m not in this alone anymore. For the sake of my book, I have to learn to hope for success, and allow that toxic optimism back into my mind. Recently I was emailing to catch up with an old friend, telling her about my books and whatnot, only to realize after hitting send that I sounded not only foolish and starry-eyed, but even more self-centered than usual. I hate myself for every sanguine word I wrote. I fucking hate to play the rube. Promotion is inherently optimistic, at least it seems so from the outside, and for that reason alone it scares the hell out of me.

How do you manage your psychological quirks when it comes to writing and promoting your work?

41 responses

  1. I’m still working on that . . on one hand, I don’t want anyone to feel obliged to read my stuff if they normally wouldn’t dream of doing so. On the other hand, I want my stuff to be read, and that’s difficult to arrange if I don’t tell anyone I’ve written anything.

    • Exactly. It’s a pickle. Some people seem to handle self-promotion so gracefully (or at least with enthusiasm), but I’m pretty sure most of us feel about it the way you do. We just want people to know our stuff is out there—salesmanship doesn’t enter into the picture.

  2. My psychological quirk.
    Considering what I get paid to write, I want to do ten minutes of stand-up and rehash my columns using all the profane language I omit when I do my editing. For some reason people really think it’s funny when an over sixty matron says fuck.

    It’s amazing how we work hard, hope and pray for success and when it mentions our name, we turn around and wonder who the hell was that bitch success speaking to, surely not little old me. Maybe it’s one of those be careful what you wish for things.

    One editor told me to be an advocate for my own success. Not sure how to do that without sounding, like you said, self-centered. Actually if it takes me to the bank I’m all for it.

    • I’m ashamed to admit that our teensy bank account is putting the boots to me. It would be nice to leave money out of the conversation, but that attitude is for people who can afford it.

  3. I’m terrible at self promotion. I don’t even tell family and friends when I have something published; they have to pry it out of me.

    Having said that, I do make small strips of paper with my story title and where someone can find it online, and I leave these in various places where they can be found: between the bricks in funky cafes, between the pages of books at stores and libraries, inside jars and vases and such at crafty shops. That sort of thing. I call it guerilla marketing, and I can hide behind anonymity as I do it.

    Rest assured, your book will be purchased by me. In fact, I’ll probably buy several copies to donate to local libraries to add to their collections.

    • What a lovely thing to say. I have the nicest friends.

      I dig your idea for guerilla self-promotion. You might be interested in an online store called MOO, which prints up business cards and mini cards, and they have all sorts of ideas for what to do with them. I was thinking I’d make some into bookmarks with ribbons or beads (or something more clever if it occurs to me) once the book is out and about. If I’m brave, I’ll hand them out. If not, I’ll leave them behind with the tip when we eat out or when I get my toenails done or whatever.

  4. Anne Enright reflecting on failure: “The writer’s life is one of great privilege, so “Suck it up”, you might say – there are more fans than trolls. But there are two, sometimes separate, ambitions here. One is to get known, make money perhaps and take a bow – to be acknowledged by that dangerous beast, the crowd. The other is to write a really good book.

    And a book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time. A novel is written (rather pathetically) not to be judged, but experienced. You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.”

    That’s the way I see it for all my introverted fears. My writing is the gift I have to give and I would like before I die to be able to give it.

    Can’t wait to read your book.

    • Yes. I absolutely believe that the point of all this is to write a good book. I did my best with this one and it’s going out into the world, for better or worse, and now I get to try again. What I need to work on, I think, is keeping my desires and expectations personal; I need to remember that success for me is about connection, not money or numbers or any of that other shit we use to keep score. But it’s hard to keep your eye on that ball once the opinions start rolling in.

  5. I can’t wait to read your book!!

    As for my psychological quirks? I’m pretty sure they’re what’s helping me write this thing, the fact that I can spend this much time alone and not go nuts, so I’m not complaining. Not yet, anyway.

    • God, I hear you. You need a high tolerance for your own company in this business, and a pretty fucking insistent voice relaying the internal dialogue. No wonder so many of us go off our heads.

  6. yes. people will be reading your book and they will be judging you. you got that right before the strikethrough. oh, sure, they’ll be judging “it,” but only insofar as they can reflect and refract such judgments onto you.

    you you you.

    no place to run. no place to hide.

    it may be helpful to keep in mind that the latest clinical research into the wet-dreams of critics indicates that nine out of every eight of them is a toe-fucker at heart. remember that. even the ones who love you. don’t go gaga over the good reviews. not any more than you would go dismal swamping over the bad reviews. to keep your equilibrium, whether the review is good or bad, just say to yourself, “a toe-fucker wrote that.” if there are no reviews, you can say, “the toe-fuckers won’t even review me.”

    so, that’s settled. now, on to business.

    “How do you manage your psychological quirks when it comes to writing and promoting your work?”

    how do i do what? manage? manage my what? i used to manage my what with psychoactive substances but in a fit of fitfulness i gave such management up.

    i’m a liar. that’s why i write fiction. which is probably a lie. i may manage — who can say with certainty if i can’t, and i can’t, or won’t, say i can — but i may manage by avoiding pot-headity and drunkenness. maybe not, but this experiment has no control group. as far as further management goes, i did tell susan that if i should ever purchase or otherwise come into possession of a handgun, she is to call the authorities at her earliest opportunity. let them manage that.

    promoting? not so good at that. whoring around is hard. i don’t have the figure for it. even when i had the figure, i couldn’t figure it in. or out. go figure. oh fuckity-fuck, i facebook, where i seem to have managed to bore or offend or both nearly everyone who crosses my virtual path. and then there’s my blog, which seems to have about two dozen readers outside of the chinese army, the russian mafia, and the national security agency. and not one of them, inside of government or out, is snatching up copies of “high street.”

    as for promoting “high street,” well, there was your interview, averil. I would say i owe you one, and i will and do, but i will also say that if i interview you on my blog i can’t guarantee you much readership (see above paragraph). and as for “high street,” there was jessica’s glowing amazon review, which was published seventeen nanoseconds before the news broke that people had been paying other people to write glowing amazon reviews (i did not and will not). and the guys at outpost19, who published “high street” — outpost19 being two guys, rob in new york city and jon in san francisco — did put together a spiffy you tube promo video. and i circulated some flyers locally and attended a couple readings. but there were problems. at the readings, the problem was “high street” is an e-book, and at readings when people want to buy a book, they want to give you money and get a book; they don’t want to give you nothing and get a website address. as for the locals, the sole surviving local bookstore won’t even talk to me, and the local alternative weekly where my first and third published short stories appeared did not give any rat’s ass.

    i’ve reached the point where i could say i don’t care anymore, but that would be a lie. when i say i don’t care, it means i do care. as far as promoting “high street” goes, the only honest thing i could think of to do — and because i’m a pussy in a pinch i didn’t — is to say, “hi, i’m tetman callis and i wrote ‘high street.’ just read the goddamn thing.”

    i’m tetman callis and i want to read your goddamn book, i don’t care what you or anyone else says about it. they’re all probably toe-fuckers (not you! i don’t mean you!).

    • Let me first say that I will not be reading reviews of my books unless they’re unavoidably under my nose. Good or bad, they’re completely unhelpful to me as a writer. I mean, the book is already finished, so what’s the point? Reviews are for readers. I’m staying out of it.

      (That said, my wettest writer-dream is to get a blurb from Stephen King. I would lose my mind. Just thinking about it makes me slide right out of my chair.)

      E-books are hard to promote in the real world. I don’t know how you’d even go about it, but I like the way Paul thinks. Go guerilla. From what I can tell, a publisher should put a free copy of the book in the hands of anyone who has a voice within the reading community. But in my (limited) experience, only the traditional publishers do that. My e-publisher didn’t send it out to anyone and it sounds like yours didn’t either. But I think you can send it to Kirkus on your own, and ask book-bloggers to read it, etc.

      This little gizmo might be something for e-book promotion…

  7. If only I could manage my psychological quirks when it comes to doing anything ….

    I do think that if I ever finish something to promote, my ‘Venus in Leo’ desire for attention will take over and get me through. At least I hope it will.

  8. Tetman makes a point which I have wondered about quite often; how does one promote an e-book?

    My assumptions regarding such hover between e-interviews and e-reviews. But how does one do an e-book reading and am I stupid to even ask if they exist? Show up, where, take home what?

    Traditionally published vs. e-publishing promotion? How’s that work?
    Ha…like I have to worry about that.

  9. The idea of promoting my work is one of the reasons I decided I wasn’t cut out to be anything more than a hobbyist when it comes to writing.

    • I think you’re a wonderful writer and can do with it whatever you decide you want. If writing is a hobby for you at the moment, what’s wrong with that? There’s no better reason to write than that it gives you pleasure, or releases the pressure valve, or makes other people laugh. We’re all so caught up in the striving businessy shit . . . it’s refreshing to hear a writer say that stuff doesn’t matter. Good on you, Lisa.

  10. I have this Emily Dickinson poem stuck to the back of my toilet door, which could explain my stunning lack of success so far:

    “How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Bog!”

  11. Averil!! Eeee! ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES in print. How could you even calm your fingers enough to type up a post? Talk about a slide out of your chair moment…!

    How do you manage your psychological quirks when it comes to writing and promoting your work?

    What a quandary this would be b/c I’ve always been taught not to brag. Oh, I’ll self promote – if I ever get published – till the cows come home, but I won’t be comfortable doing it – not at all. Unfortunately, I’ll probably make people cringe as I stumble, trip, fall all over myself in the process, or maybe that will be because I would have a good stiff drink just before said self promotion event – which is directly in line with the word “manage.”

    • My parents taught me the same. It was always in poor taste to call for attention the way we all do these days, and it was horrible to brag. But now it seems that everyone has something to sell, or promote, or has visions of stardom in one form or another. The young people handle this with more aplomb than those of us who were raised to be quiet about our achievements. They think of it as sharing. Which is nice, actually, though I’m afraid for our generation it still feels awful as it ever did.

  12. I can’t wait to read it and will tell everyone I know. You have made many friends and word of mouth is an effective tool. Hoping right along with you for a big response!

    • Oh, and pfft on the self centeredness. I went to a local author showcase and stepped up to talk to one of the participants. I was interested in her book, her research, and had a crisp bill in my pocket. Her books were not flying off the table, although she assured me the book is ‘doing very well. VERY well.’ She was a total bitch and I don’t care if her book hits #1. I will never read it, much less buy it. Silly me thought a writer would actually be happy someone was acknowledging their work.

      • I can imagine the undercurrent of hysteria in the author’s voice: “It’s doing just FINE, better than fine, really it is…”

        • Maybe with another author. We’re not talking starving, introverted artist here. She seemed more the type to expect us mere mortals to kiss her ring and bow before a greater power. I get along with everybody, and left pretty sore. She does have credentials with snob appeal. Not actual write-herself credentials, association type credentials. She’d most likely be a fan of the literary vs. commercial article you posted about a while back.

  13. Great post. I really know what you mean about wanting to fade into the blue. I’d throw myself into more writing anguish a million times over – rather than start promoting.. It’s awful and yes it does feel as though you’re on Planet Me.

    I remember that post of Betsy’s. While it demolished me, it also sent out deep waves of comfort. Then I read somewhere what Virginia Woolf said about publishing a book and wrote this blog post : http://thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.fr/2012/02/virginia-woolf-said.html?m=1. Its like sending a child out into traffic X (can’t wait to read yours)

  14. I can’t believe it’s almost time!! I am so excited to be that woman rushing into the store, yelling about this amazing book by this talented writer I know. Just watch me!

    My dear, let me say this: Even now with my third book I am STILL deeply uncomfortable at the promotional stuff–it all feel so terribly self-touting and self-indulgent to me and I don’t know a single writer who would disagree. So what’s the solution? I don’t know–but I do know it is a part of the business, a part that is growing by leaps and bounds each week, and so we must swim in these waters. But take comfort in knowing we are all a few strokes away from feeling as if we are sinking…or at least, barely treading water.

    • What timing! I just started The Guest House and already it’s wonderful. You have such a charming writing voice and a real gift for capturing the flavor of a place. And, hello, Lexi the photographer? I’m IN!!!

      Congratulations, Erika. Looks like another winner, and a perfect way for me to spend the rest of the evening.

  15. The palest, weakest, coldest moon no earthly soul longs to inhabit…I’m there. Love this post, the title of your book, your stamina in the face of ending and beginning your dreams. My psychological quirks pretty much own me, so I just flounder.

  16. “Toxic optimism” is right. I’ve gone on that trip enough times to know about the gut-wrenching emptiness that comes the day after. But go for it, Averil–offer up those veins, inhale deeply– we all know how it is and we are all rooting for you to win.