You can download the press release for Ezekiel here.
It comes out on June 15th.
You can download the press release for Ezekiel here.
It comes out on June 15th.
A Canadian novelist once said to me that the difference between a writer and an author is that a writer writes, but an author writes and represents her writing, when it’s done and edited. But when I started out writing, over twenty years ago, I thought you wrote something, sent it to an agent, and then got it published. Now, I know from experience, if you write something which fits into a specific niche, or genre, then this could be the case – if you’re lucky, or connected, or a rare exception. Literary fiction, the ‘genre’ my agents placed my novels into, is not such a simple equation.
We are implicitly taught, conditioned, to think this way: the literary writer should have nothing to do with the actual publishing of a book, and very little with the marketing of their work, save giving the odd reading, or interview. Basically, the business side of writing is not our business. That’s for agents, publishers, reviewers, bookstore owners.
I don’t accept this view any more. Simply compare our industry to the other creative industries: art, music, film. Most other artists are always open to new ways of selling or representing their work. But not so writers.
Over the years, nearly every month at La Muse, the writers’ retreat I co-direct, I talk to writers about promoting their work. What I notice is you can have a very eloquent writer who pales the second the conversation comes to contracts, websites, optimization, sales. And if you continue they get agitated, say they have to get back to their desk or go for a hike.
If anything, it’s us literary writers who need to do the most work to find readers. We are in competition with every Nobel laureate to have ever lived, but what is even more threatening to us is that genre fiction far outsells literary fiction.
Genre writers do represent their work. They have good websites. They have automated basic social media accounts where their readers can contact them. These readers who get in touch then become what they call ‘advance teams’ for writing Amazon reviews, or getting the word out there about their work.
Without entering into a debate about what is literary (serious) and what is genre (the act of self-mutilation) writing, we need to start opening our eyes to this need of getting involved in selling our work. Mine, because of conditioning, were closed for over fifteen years. I was reluctant to have a website for many years. The fact that I’d written five novels and had two powerful agents in Los Angeles and New York for two of them, never convinced me I was an ‘author’, because I hadn’t that traditional rubber stamp of approval, of being published. So I only put my website up about five years ago, and I was embarrassed to do so because I still hadn’t traditionally published any of my novels.
This relatively new epiphany of mine doesn’t come from reading articles and assessing statistics, even if I was a researcher in a previous life. This comes from watching genre writers come on retreat together and support each other for the last sixteen years I’ve been a director at La Muse. As literary writers sometimes do, they tell each other about competitions, awards, residencies and become reciprocal beta readers. But they are also not afraid to talk about stuff like social media, contracts and blogging.
Trusting others – be these publishers or agents – shouldn’t be the only way to promote our works. Other people are not going to build us a website, or even push our book for long unless we have landed a huge advance. Publishing is like the music industry, they pour most of their marketing budgets into a couple of books a year, the pop music of their industry, hoping for a huge return. All the rest of us are left with little, and very often no, marketing budget. Why do you think agents and publishers sign people with big social media presences (or to use their moniker, ‘influencers’)? They want ROI – return on investment.
So, how do we come to terms with this tension between being writers but also having to represent ourselves? My suggestion is to see it differently: we are representing our books, not promoting ourselves. Yes, there are more than enough egomaniacal fools out there hashtagging and promoting their books to death. You don’t have to do that. Simply set up a WordPress website with a domain name in your own name for under $20 a year and blog there. Set up a Twitter account if you feel like it, but better again, a Facebook Author Page, because Facebook ads are effective. Invest in your work.
You do not have to create ‘content’ for a blog, simply do what you love doing anyway, write. And only write about what you are actually passionate about. Over the years it will amass into organic ‘content’ that hasn’t been created to promote you, but is representative of stuff you genuinely care about. Blogging does not need to be blatant marketing.
The way I see my blog and my website, they are places where, when my books do eventually get out there, people can read about my work and contact me in response to it, ask me for an interview, or find out about my other books.
There are so many other wonderful tools out there for authors: mailerlite (free email capture tool with great free automation), Bookbub (amazing tool for getting new readers for your back catalog – here’s their stats), Amazon (even if you traditionally publish paperbacks, don’t give away your erights. Become a hybrid author – you can get seventy per cent of profits as opposed to the much smaller cut a publisher will give you) and Patreon (better than the other crowdfunders, because people support you by subscription – many of our writers get their rent paid every month from Patreon).
How long do we spend on writing a novel? Two years, three, ten? We are so busy trying to find solutions to story and character arcs, space and time to write, that when it comes to representing the work we’ve put so much time and energy into, we can feel already spent. However, this is when we need to take a break, and afterwards, realize the work is not completely over. Let’s say we spend two years writing a book. Can’t we spend two weeks trying to represent it? That’s not even two per cent of the time we spent writing. Isn’t it important to honor all that effort, to let people know our book exists?
Some of these are purely inspired by inspirational people who created wonderful art, the others by people trying to encourage us to be creative and think creatively.
I’ll add more as I find them.
Transitions, William Bridges. Great when he starts talking about the Hindu idea of the “forest dweller.”
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield. He writes wonderful historical fiction too.
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh At times heartbreaking, but very beautiful.
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon. Slight, but good stuff in there.
The Courage to Create, Rollo May
Tribes, Seth Godin. Because you have to find your people.
Creative Schools, Ken Robinson. Education is broken, but with guys like Robinson we have ways of changing the system, not just fixing it..
The Zen of Creativity, John Daido Loori
So, here I am giving a reading from my debut novel, Ezekiel, at the The Icelandic Poetry Center, in Siglufjordur, northern Iceland.
I gave the reading as the Writer in Residence for Authors at Large , a retreat program created by award winning writers Robin Hemley and Xu Xi, and hosted by Xu Xi and six time Pushcart Prize winning American nonfiction writer Brenda Miller.
Thank you to the wonderful people at The Icelandic Poetry Center for hosting the event and for Authors at Large for organizing it.
Below is a transcript of the chapter I read, The Battle of France.
He lay dying beside me in the ditch. The blood had passed through his jacket, staining the hand he couldn’t use anymore.
In his other hand was a photograph of a young woman. Her features, the small pointed nose and sly smile, reminded me of Thérèse. He had asked me to fish it out of his chest pocket only moments before. I read the inscription on the back before I gave it to him: “Je t’aime toujours! Veronique.”
My wife, he said, in perfect Parisian French. I smiled.
Above us you could still hear the sound of bullets and screams. Beside us, on top of each other, were two other German officers I had shot.
He reached his hand out to mine, the photo now submerged in blood on his chest. I took his hand in mine. I could feel his fear. We looked into each other’s eyes. Then, as I was to experience so many times in the future when people died in my care, a peace came over him, as if he were bathed in silence. The fear had gone. All that was left was innocence, the miracle of the human being, a deep thankfulness in his eyes, a gratitude. He smiled and said, “Merci, Ezekiel Moran.”
I smiled at him, and then he died.
I closed my eyes and quietly recited Psalm 23, his hand still warm in mine. After a few moments I lifted his hand and rested it on her photograph.
In my other hand was Dad’s opinel, a gift before I had left the mas. Only a minute before I had thought I would have to use it if my last bullet hadn’t done its work on Veronique’s husband. Her husband’s name was Hermann, Hermann Schmidt. He was the last man I killed, in the Battle of France, as a regular soldier.
This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes…
Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self Reliance.