Thursday, August 9, 2012

Letting Go

By Jay Stringer

By now readers will have come to expect that I'll stray off topic quite often here at DSD. But these last couple of weeks it's served a good purpose. With Old Gold coming out last month -and all that entailed- I knew I needed to think a few things through and see how my views on publishing would change as published.

It turns out that having your first book published is basically like going through puberty a second time. The emotions get a little heightened, your sleep pattern gets weird, you grow a silly looking beard, and you develop a new line in self-doubt. So I should say a quick thank you to the support network. There were a lot of people who did their bit last month, from people who fielded crazy emails, to the many bloggers, reviewers and interviewers who spent their own free time helping me get my name out there.

Another thing I should say is that anyone who won competitions, or who was otherwise promised signed books, sit tight- they are signed and ready, and I'm making daily trips to the post office.

Something that Joelle commented on once, I believe, is the change from being a writer to being an author. It's one thing to be told that will happen, it's another to experience it and think, whoa. There are so many things to do that are not writing; interviews, promotions, posting, selling, copy-editing, phone calls. Each one is a fun experience in it's own right, and no author should moan about them, but they can also be a large distraction from the job of putting words on a blank page.

More than that there is a change in your thinking. Where once my agent would get random emails from me talking about story ideas, character names, or strawberry milkshake, now it's about sales figures, plans to diversify my career, and the best time of the month to give interviews.

Again each one is a fun and welcome experience, but each one takes time away from the words-on-a-page thing.

And here's where I realised something.

We're all familiar with the debates that the internet likes to have over publishing. And we're all familiar with the cast of characters who take part in these debates. One of the roles that has to be filled is the self-publishing author who seems more obsessed with marketing and sales than with writing and story*.

I used to think that the hardest challenge I was going to have to face in this here career was learning when to let go. And I was half right. I thought it would be about the content of the book; when is a story finished? How often can I return to rewrite it? When do I click 'send' and make it my editors problem? What I've found is that 'letting go' has a whole other dimension to it, and I think this is where the above 'role' comes from.

Writing a book is not something you do for instant gratification. It's a slow and muddled experience, piling words up higher and higher above you and making sure to do it in such a way that they won't collapse. Depending on your process it can take anywhere from a month to a year, and can be very hard to feel like you're accomplishing anything, especially when you're stuck in the mire of ACT 2 and each step forward is followed by two steps back.

That all changes once the book is out there.

There are sales ranks and reviews. You can make a comment on twitter and see an almost instant reaction. You have people sending you messages to say that they're holding your book in their hands, or that they've just ordered it. You can find a sense of achievement every day, just by selling another copy, or seeing another interview get published, and by thinking up new ways to market your work in real-time.

And far more than any of the other distractions, that can be a difficult thing to pull away from. It's far more tempting to sit and send out tweets and watch your Amazon sales rank change in response, than to sit with that blank page and start again from scratch. It's fun to ride that train for a time, but you have to learn to step off and get back work.

*Note, this isn't me calling any particular person out for that, or saying that all self-pubbing authors are like that (I have a self published ebook myself) but I do think it's fair to say that role exists, and gets filled each time one of the debates comes up.


Joelle Charbonneau said...

Welcome to the world of being an author. I was once told that the best way to market a book was to write the next book...that your work (not twitter and Facebook) will be the thing that pushes word of mouth. It is hard to remember that or even believe it...but I'm trying. And yep - books take instant gratification, which is why all the other bright and shiny stuff is so distracting. The one thing that has kept me focused is deadlines...I know I have to face the blank page and fill it.

I'm so thrilled for you and your recent publication. I can't wait to read the other two in the series!

Steve Weddle said...

'slow and muddled'