Dear Author: on the topic of book promotion

Dear Author: How do you make sure you spend an appropriate amount of time promoting your book, while still leaving yourself time to write the next one?

Reader, that’s an excellent question. Right now I don’t have a good answer for that. Case in point: I spent my entire day Saturday promoting literature and the literary arts, with the codicil that my book came along for the ride and was set up for display so that people could politely look at it and the beautiful cover.

At Deana’s Java Cafe in Clinton, Iowa, I had a wonderful discussion with fellow authors Teresa LaBella, Karen Musser Nortman, Dionne Witt, Mary Davidsaver, and Francesca Hawley. We talked about publishing, self- and otherwise (John LaBella of LaBella Designs was also there); we talked about making audio of our books; we talked about formatting, fonts, point size, and how to get access to our favorite publishing software. We talked about marketing, Facebook, Goodreads, Kindle and Amazon, distribution, pricing, websites, and our day jobs. We talked about small publishers going under, Amazon taking over, and who we got to do our bookcover designs.

What we didn’t talk about, curiously enough, was writing.

After this event, I barreled home, fixed lunch, got the brownies out of the freezer, and spent quality time with my daughter by having her help me pack up the car for the next event, a vendor table at the Muscatine Second Saturday event, a downtown arts and music festival. It was wonderful: craftspeople, artists, musicians, and regular citizens, wandering up and down the street, smiling at one another. Someone at one intersection was filming a movie. At our intersection, Muscatine Power & Water had set up a hydration station, a brilliant idea. Ace Johnson, a musician from Cedar Rapids, across the street from us, serenaded us all evening. I had wonderful chats with the authors at our vendor table, the people who stopped by to browse their books or learn about Writers on the Avenue, and the friends who stopped by to say hello and deliver a hug. It was invigorating, inspiring, and very tiring.

And I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine about whom I learned something surprising and new. I know him as a teacher at Muscatine Community College and an advocate of entrepreneurial spirit in the area; now it turns out he is also an artist, working with photographs and paints. I sat down and regarding his beautiful artwork and immediately asked the question pressing on my mind: how do you balance the business and the creative side?

Jim thought about this a moment, and then gave me a very sincere answer. His approach to the business side, he said, is rather unconventional; he’s not a guy who thinks inside the box. This makes sense, I said; entrepreneurs usually make their own blueprints, chart their own paths. So he brought creative thinking to his teaching, he said. The two sides help feed each other.

The two sides help feed each other.

I remember, when I was interviewing for the assistant professor job at Lewis-Clark State College—hands down, one of the best jobs I’ve ever had—they asked me a very relevant question. How are you going to approach all the things we’re asking you to do—teach composition, teach literature, teach creative writing, handle your medieval scholarship, be on the committees, and do your writing, all at the same time? My answer was: I’m very good at time management. This wasn’t a glib response; it had been the lesson of my graduate years, learning how to do medieval scholarship in the right way, learning how to write the nonfiction articles that provided my income, and still being able to think and write creatively so I could submit stories to workshop in a timely fashion.

My feeling then was, they’re not exactly separate parts of the brain. The scholarship does something for me that helps my creative side—demands close observation, precision with language, thinking about causes and effects and systems and metaphors. And the teaching is stimulating, creatively and otherwise. And the writing takes in and draws from everything I’ve been experiencing and transforms it into something else, something that addresses the fundamental questions of human experience and how we must live in the world.

So I’ve always believed, too, that the different projects I take on are, essentially, all part of a larger pie: the pie of using words to understand the world, the pie of literature, the pie of close observation of human life, and learning from the lessons of the past, and sharing what I’ve learned. But I think I lost sight of this, lately. I thought I was wearing down because I had been putting my energy in too many different places, taking on too many projects, trying to juggle too many things. (I was sick on my birthday, remember, though I would have liked to take a day off for different reasons.)

I forgot to keep the channels open so the energy could flow both ways, I forgot my intention: that the scholarship feed the creative side, and the creative side nourish and help inform the scholarship. That the editing help me become a better teacher and better writer, that the teaching help me become a better editor, and so on. That the book promotion and literary efforts become an avenue to meet and learn from new writers about this craft we love and share, and not just a source of advice for marketing tips. That the idea is to grow something. Feed. Nourish. Support.

Saturday was a good opportunity to be out in the world, learning from other writers and artists and musicians and creative types, learning from their work, their approach to their craft, their way of seeing the world and appreciating beauty, their ways of softening and opening their heart and others’. It was also a good reminder that the energy needs to go both ways, or rather all ways; that some of it needs to come back and inform the writing, too. That I have to keep that space, dedicate the time to it, and see what grows in the margins, in the interstices, as well as in the pots I’ve been assembling.

It’s all creative work. I’d forgotten that. It was good to be reminded.

Dear Author: on the topic of book promotion

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