Thursday, July 2, 2009

Achieving Dreams vs Selling Shoes

When I present the Novelist’s Boot Camp Workshops around the country or discuss the book Novelist’s Boot Camp (from Writers Digest Books), I’m often asked about the best ways to market, promote, and sell novels.

My response usually begins with “first finish your draft and revise and edit it carefully.” I then say move on to your second work—get well into the “Invention” stage of your next work before you begin the marketing process of identifying target markets (publishers or literary agents), sending out queries, and so on.

This is advice gained from the great NY agent and multi-published author Evan Marshall. It’s great advice because it highlights a fundamental truth about writing book-length fiction that many aspiring authors—and quite a few published ones—fail to understand. And failing to understand this fundamental truth can lead to disappointment, unhappiness, dejection, and failure of an author’s career.

Creating—inventing, developing, drafting, revising, and editing and proofreading a book-length work of fiction is challenging but rewarding creative work. If you follow the strategy, process, and techniques in Novelist’s Boot Camp (the book or the workshop), each stage will have you taking what you’ve created in a previous phase, building on it, and making it better. At the end of the process you will have achieved a dream of a lifetime. Even if you toss the completed manuscript under your bed and never show it to anyone, you’ve accomplished something that few people in life ever even dream about, and no one on this earth can take that creative accomplishment from you.

Selling your novel is completely different and requires a radical change in mindset; you’re no longer building a dream, you’re selling shoes. You’re seeing, by way of research on publishers and agents, who might buy your book. You’re sending out queries. You’re amassing rejections. You’re smiling through pitch sessions at conferences. You’re waiting every day at the mailbox or email inbox. And when you do get the contract, you are just one more author with one more book and you start the process over again at book signings and conferences and wherever you can convince a potential reader to see if your size and color shoe—your book—fits.

This is because selling a book—whether it be to an agent or editor or a published book to a potential reader—is not a creative process, it is a business process. If I’ve painted this business process in bleak colors, just remember that business suits are normally gray. There’s a reason.

But we are authors because we are authors, and authors must see their work published, so we enter this gray business world and sell our manuscript as if it were a pair of shoes, noting how stylish, or classic, or sparkly, unique, or cute they are, and just how well they would fit an agent or publisher or how great they would be for a reader. Selling shoes is sometimes enjoyable—as long as you wash your hands afterwards.

But if we are wise, we’ll follow the advice in Novelist’s Boot Camp’s ending Drill (chapter) and ensure that after we send off the last query letter of the day or make our pitch to the last reader at the book signing, we have a creative project calling us back to do what we need to do to be who we are.