“I said 6. The book sold 6 total copies the first month.”
I started counting on my fingers. Mom. My two sisters. Eight members of my writers group. Ten regular attendees of the coffee house group I met with monthly who were all excited and congratulatory when I first told them I’d found a publisher. And that didn’t even factor in the numerous friends, acquaintances, cousins, and neighbors I’d been casually mentioning my release date to whenever I had a chance. Six copies just did not compute.
A genius is never appreciated in her own environment.
THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE
I understood that an unknown author might not quickly pick up new fans, but I couldn’t imagine that everyone I knew hadn’t rushed online to buy a copy within days of hearing the news that the book was available. After all, that was one of the most exciting days of my life. Perhaps, however, I was being unrealistic. Not everyone would make it a priority to purchase immediately. They had their own lives after all and their own priorities.
So I waited, optimistic and patient despite the warning signs. One person surprised me by saying she just couldn’t get into it when I’d been sure it was exactly the type of book she’d love. When my mother and I ran into friends of hers I hadn’t met, she’d proudly introduce me as simply “my oldest” rather than “my daughter, the author.”
The arrival of my yearly royalty statement the following January added the death knell to my expectations. No best seller list for me and my brilliant suspense novel. Despite the 4- and 5-star reviews, it was not yet time to quit the day job and buy a writer’s cottage along the Oregon coast. Even if every person I knew had gone out and bought a copy of the book, it was clear now that word of my Great American Novel had not spread far. My friends and family had not praised the work to everyone they knew, had possibly not even mentioned it once in passing to another human being.
The thing about friends and family and spouses is that both you and they have a handicap called Unconditional Love. Normally a virtue, UL has a dark side. The people who best love me are so assured of my success it never occurs to them I might need their help to achieve it. I am so confident they support me I expect them to know my expectations and hopes without my saying a word.
BUY MY BOOK
With my second book released and 10,000 words written on the third, I have learned a lot about writing and promoting. Mainly that mixing the two often produces an oily sheen on the clear-flowing waters of creativity. Stirring promotional expectations into relationships muddies the waters even further.
Marketing is your responsibility and that of any professional whose job it is to do so: your publisher, your agent, publicists you hire, and writers organizations you join. It is not the concern of people who know you. Stop expecting them to promote the book. Stop expecting them, even, to buy the book. Their job is to pick up the tab at lunch once in a while, send you birthday cards, and make you laugh when you just feel like crying.
However, when appropriate—if they ask, if the opportunity arises and the person seems open to it—don’t be afraid to suggest (key note here: suggest implies using a friendly, undemanding, and non-bitter tone) specific ways they can help you spread the word.
- Attend my book signings
- Share my Tweets, Pinups, Tumbles, and Facebook statuses
- Mention my book to friends
- Post a review
- Buy copies of the book to give as presents
- Comment occasionally on my blog posts, guest articles, and social media statuses
- Paint the cover of my novel on the side of your house and rent one of those flashing neon arrows to point to it.
Okay, maybe not that last one. Unless they really, really want to. Regardless of how much they spread the word, or don’t, it is important for me to remember the one support they have always provided and still do: accept me as the weird, quirky, anti-social writer that I am so that I will continue to sit at the keyboard and put down one word after the other after the other.
For that at least, they deserve a mention in my Pulitzer prize acceptance speech.
Snow Ramirez hasn’t trusted anyone in a very long time, not even herself. Memories of her childhood on Washington’s Yakama Reservation haunt her even on the streets of Chicago. When her squat mate Blitz slits his own throat in front of her, she knows it’s time to convince someone to trust her instincts. Normally she wouldn’t care. Who wasn’t crazy in one way or another in this messed up world? Snow’s little brother Alley, though, there might still be time to save him. If only she can get reporter Jo Sullivan to believe her story before Snow loses her own mind.
Debra R. Borys released her first novel, Painted Black, in 2012. The Street Stories series combines the gritty reality of homeless life on the Chicago streets with bizarre and quirky suspense plots. Debra uses her personal experiences from years of volunteering with service agencies in both Chicago and Seattle to bring the characters and streets to life in these fast-paced, gripping tales. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor and is working on a third Street Stories novel.