Killer Year–The Class of 2007

The BUSINESS of Writing
April 18, 2007, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Patry Francis

Don’t laugh, but before my novel sold, I thought the “job” of a published author entailed two major duties:

1) Lying on the grass in the shade, and staring up at the sky with my hands behind my head while I dreamed up stories. (Then when it got hot, or the Major Serious Author grew fatigued from her hours of labor, she might call the adoring spouse, who would gladly come running with a cold Becks dark. With lime please, honey?)

And 2) Leisurely heading up to the garret and shaping those dreams into something that might illuminate or entertain others. If the resulting stories could somehow manage to do both, the writer might even be said to have created “literature.” Then the whole world would be eager to deliver to deliver cold beers and praise to the author under her tree! But like Greta Garbo, the preoccupied author would shoo them all away, saying, “Please,” she’d say haughtily. “I vant to be alone.”

As for the messy business of actually selling the product of those dreams was taken care of by agents and publicists. Meanwhile, the happy writer would sip absinthe in a cafe (preferably in Paris) or drift back to his or her spot under the tree, waiting for the next masterpiece to fall from the sky and hit them in the head.

Needless to say, that was not the world I entered as a debut novelist in 2007. I soon learned that if an author isn’t willing–or has no clue how to–get out there and promote her own book, it will most likely die a silent, ignominious death, whisked off the shelf like day old bread when the expiration date comes (sooner than you think).

As someone who couldn’t sell Avon products to her own mother (yes, I tried), I considered myself hopeless at marketing. Me–go out there and push my book forward like a vaccuum cleaner salesman at the door, or a shy girl looking for a date to the prom? The thought was enough to bring on late night panic attacks.

The savvy authors who comprise Killer Year went a long way to assuage my panic, to provide daily encouragement and examples of what a debut author could do for him or herself, and by association, lift the group. And to my amazement, I found I actually liked the promotion side of the business.

Everywhere I’ve had the opportunity to read, I’ve talked about the group; and made it a point to buy a book by one of our members. (None have disappointed.) Since I now have nearly the entire collection, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the newest crop.

I soon learned that telling people about something you believe in, whether it’s a book or a cause, a group of writers or just yourself is not the same as shilling soap powder or make-up. When you come right down to it, effective marketing is exactly the same thing we do every day when we sit down at our computers: telling a story. Whether we’re writing or marketing, we’re trying to convey with the greatest clarity, and in the most entertaining way possible, the truth about our book and ourselves, about the characters we’ve created, and the insights we’ve learned through knowing them.

Ironically, promoting is most effective when the emphasis is not on selling, but on giving something away. Yes, all authors want to earn a living through their writing. (I, for one, live in fear of having to dig out my old waitressing shoes.) But when you ask us what we want most, most writers don’t usually list the seven figure advance first. For most of us, the primary goal is simply to be read, to share our stories–in other words, to give.


3 Comments so far
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Hi Patry,
Love the most and it got me thinking about what I really want out of the writing life. For me, it is the chance to do it again. Tell another story. Meet interesting people. Make someone smile or cry. Just knowing that what I’m typing in my dark basement office will be seen by others. A few or many.

Comment by Gregg Olsen

Patry, this is so so so true. And your book is brilliant, and it deserves people shouting from the rooftops. It’s so hard, in this business, to realize that it’s a thing of luck, so often, to get that promotion from the publisher. I think this group has been especially helpful for me, as well, for the same reasons: I didn’t feel alone.

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Gregg, The thing you said in an interview about letting the book be what it is, and knowing you would write another one has stayed with me. It really put a lot of things into perspective.

Toni: Thanks for such a kind and lovely comment. You made my day. I hope this didn’t come across as a rant against the publishing industry–or especially against my publisher. They really did a lot for me, including a tour, which many authors don’t get. I just think that the business is changing so much that there’s no longer an option of staying home in the garret waiting for someone else to make your book succeed. Now writers need to blog, do myspace, and form groups like Killer Year. Looked at in the right light, it’s really a time of great opportunity.

Comment by killeryear

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