Here’s what I thought:
I thought that on the magical day of my book launch, Oprah would call, and I’d be instantly catapulted to fame, riches and the top of the New York Times best seller list. B-List parties. John Grisham on speed dial.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
Ask almost any author about their first publishing experience and they’ll laugh and snort and tell you that getting published is a lot like losing your virginity: You keep expecting fireworks, a swing band, and maybe the scent of warm peanut butter cookies, but usually it ends up being months or years of agonizing build-up for a speedy, clumsy and thoroughly lackluster event.
Lots of authors complain that they aren’t being toured. That our publishing houses giggle over “The only good author is a dead author.” That the publicity department isn’t doing enough (or frankly, anything at all.) That the books we pour our hearts and souls into are in and out of the book stores faster than you can say, “Ethel, box up those returns.”
And all of that is true. Sometimes.
But here’s what I’ve learned about publishing: your publisher will follow your lead. If you call up your publisher-designated publicist every day at 4:00 to whine about not being on Oprah, she’ll stop taking your calls after a week.
Publicists, at least those of the publishing house variety, are overworked and underpaid.
And if you call her up once a week to say, “Hey, can you please ship a poster of my book cover to Cleveland? I just booked myself a speaking gig at the CHICK LIT PANCAKE BREAKFAST at the Elk’s Club. Three-hundred and twelve senior citizens in funny hats, all hungry for a good love story,” she’ll bend over backwards to support you.
The more you do for yourself, the more they want to help you.
“The harder you work, the lucker you get” is a quote from Samuel Goldwyn, distilled from a quote by Thomas Jefferson. It’s also one of my favorites. I think a lot of the authors kvetching about their horrible publishing experiences are the same ones who die on the remainder table. The authors who sell books are the ones who do whatever they can to make a little rain themselves. Even if nobody’s helping them.
So here’s what I’ve learned from my five short years in publishing:
— If you whine, nobody will want to take your calls.
— Yes. They’re not doing as much as they could for your book. It’s the same for everybody who’s not Stephen King. Get over it.
— Publicity sells books. Keep pitching the media forever, and if you don’t know how, learn.
— Make your own press kits. Otherwise, your book will probably go out with a one page press release jammed inside it, possibly written by someone who has not actually read your book. If you need to know what goes into a press kit, email me and I’ll be happy to tell you.
— Be really, really nice to your readers.
— Be really, really nice to other authors.
— Don’t focus on what’s not going right, focus on the joy of what you’ve accomplished. And then, send out a press release. It helps to feel like you’re doing something — besides, there’s no reason you can’t type while you’re waiting for Oprah to call.
–Don’t let the imperfection of the publishing process suck any of the joy out of it for you.
Fifteen Minutes of Shame feels a little bit like a second chance at virginity: It is my first novel, but I’ve learned a lot from the experience of my other book. And you can bet I won’t be waiting around, hoping my publisher will make March 25 the greatest day of my life.
I’ll be hiring the swing band myself.