It’s hard writing a book, but selling it? Damn near impossible. Self-promotion is not my strength, never has been. “I am what I do, like it or not, take it or leave it.”
Reflection of a fragile ego? Not an accusation often leveled at me. I’m certainly not alone with the characteristic: Last summer I wrote for a man who found it impossible to use the first person pronoun “I,” though he is remarkable and has lived an amazing story.
Publicists advise to give the new book away, which I’m reluctant to do. Indecent Exposure sells for $2.99 on Amazon, less than a cheap burger, less than a latté. Took a year to write. What am I saying that’s worth if I make it free? Publicists say I need to read comments by all the readers of all the books like mine, and take their keywords for my own. That feels vaguely false, though I know it’s just playing the game.
The local book store in my home town has canceled my reading. They’d received an email from a woman who said the book was about her. They got three phone calls from the woman’s friends. The owner admitted that not one of those who complained had read the book, but he just didn’t feel comfortable promoting it at this time.
Now questions will be asked. Now the book will be perceived as being about this woman, and I won’t have the chance to explain that it is a work of fiction based upon conversations with countless people over decades, woven together to create a novel hopefully rewarding to read.
So much for art. For meaningful discussion. For relevance.
I had just written another reader, “The book is fiction, a story constructed of bits and pieces, yes, some you will recognize… but it was constructed, and therefore a fiction, to build a theme that I hope is universal; that relative standards are no standards at all if driven by fear, irrational hope or selfishness… how we find morality within ourselves… that faith is required to leap the abyss… how losing everything can be redemption… how what we seek is connection.”
These are the topics I was prepared to discuss at the reading. And what it is like to create, why a story has parts and arc, what it is like publishing a novel, how hard it is to know something, and someone, whether objectivity is even possible, how all of us live in a world of our own creation. And why I chose an optical illusion for the central metaphor.
Now the discussion has become about something else, about something it was never about in the first place. Which, I suppose, is what it is about, in a way.
There has been an unexpected benefit to my decision of having a group of “readers” review the manuscript for Chalice.
Several people I asked to read the book said “You should ask so-and-so, they read all the time. They know books and would give you really good feed back.” So I did.
And what these “strangers” have had to say has been difficult to hear and encouraging — in other words, exactly what I wanted.
“Enjoying the language but people don’t talk like that; I love the fact that it is so well-thought out; I can’t get past thinking of it as dialogue; great job presenting conflicting values; maybe there should be a more dramatic event in the first 30 pages that allows them to open up to each other more quickly; I really dislike one of the main characters by page 7… ”
Informative perspective and often page specific. Immensely valuable.
Even better, these “strangers” are interesting, funny, thoughtful, direct and engaged in what is important to them: Music. Cars. Books. Wonderful people I would not have “met” if not for this process.