The Writing Life: A Really Big Echo Chamber

Here’s the thing about being a writer: we’re all terribly insecure to one degree or another. Although we’ve chosen a solitary profession, preferring largely to spend time with imaginary friends rather than flesh and blood ones, we still want some attention. Some sign that we’re not writing into a yawning void. Some sign that someone’s read our work and, just maybe, liked it … or at least didn’t hate it. We release a book and wait … and wait … and wait.

And we wait.

Then maybe we get despondent and we howl a little bit. Maybe throw a little pity party involving an alcohol of choice or a lot of chocolate and marshmallows, or an unwise combination of all three. We put on that crushed and crumpled party hat that we stole from a niece/nephew’s fifth birthday party, which we grumbled loudly about wearing, but secret stole away (after all the cake had been eaten and the creepy magician clown had finished his show), thinking ‘I’ve a use for this!’

It’s one of those conical hats, with iridescent swirls of colour and no real discernable pattern; it’s got the last remnants of the multi-hued paper streamers still pouring out of the little hole in the top; and it’s got a chin elastic that has long since given up the ghost, but which you keep coz it just about holds the hat on your great melon of an adult skull.

You may even have snookered away one of those party whistles that makes a noise between a honk and a kind of baby elephant trumpeting. And you sit around the lounge room in your underwear, hat on head, whistle drooping from your mouth like an unlit cigarette, and you look at the author copies of the book you poured so much love into and you just feel sorry for yourself.

We’ve all done it, but like most experiences we actually need to learn from it and move on – otherwise we become trapped in the vicious circle of writerly wah-wah-wah.

Here is the thing about books and the size of the splash they make: not all books carry the same heft and so when they get thrown into the book pond, their ripples all travel different distances.

Things that affect book reception include:

  1. Whether you’re a Famous Author, or a Semi-Famous Author, or a Famous-In-Your-Own-Circle Author, or a Newbie Author.
  2. Whether you’re with a big traditional trade publisher with shitloads of money to throw behind book launches, book tours, high-end ARCs, promotional packs, etc.
  3. Whether you’re with a small independent press that simply does not have the resources to do the things that option 2 does.
  4. Whether you, as an author, are prepared to take on some of the responsibility for promoting your book yourself – that includes activating your networks to get books reviewed, running competitions on your own website to give away copies of your book, seeking out places that will run interviews with you in print or on radio (a small indie radio program is still giving you a promotional medium you wouldn’t otherwise have had), raising your profile by writing articles about, well, anything but maybe some aspect of your writing process or something you researched for your newly released book that people might find interesting. Frankly, if you won’t work to sell yourself and your book, you’re asking for a book death knell.

Wah! I hear you say, as you gnash your teeth and beat your breast – possibly also throwing on a fetching number in sackcloth and rubbing ashes into your hair – I am not with a big publisher!

You don’t need to be.

I am with two small publishers.

I do all of 4 above.

I also stay in contact with my publishers and we make sure the books in question are going to a whole range of awards – even if it doesn’t get shortlisted, there are still a bunch of people who’ve read the book that might not otherwise have seen it. We make sure the books go out in a regular and dignified fashion to the handy list of reviewers from around the world that we’ve pulled together – so, while there may not be a gigantic explosion of a bajillion reviews of my book all at the same time, there is a steady series of reviews over a period of time, which means at different times different audiences learn about that book. Sourdough and Other Stories and The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales were published in 2010 – they are still getting reviewed now in 2013 and still selling.

Small press is about a long game and strategy – and it involves you as the author, not just leaving everything to your publisher. Be realistic about the cycle and you will find reviews coming up at odd times, like very pleasant depth charges. And don’t just work locally – send books across the seas, into the big wide world.

Maybe one day you’ll be with a big, rich publisher who will take care of everything and all you will need to do is write your golden words and bathe in caviar whilst scoffing champagne with marshmallows in it. But until that day, as a writer your job does not stop when you write ‘The End’.

So, my friends, until that day be patient, be wise, be strategic.

And remember, you are not lost, you are not alone, you’re not writing into a vacuum – the sound of reaction hasn’t been heard because you’re writing in a really, really big echo chamber and the sound just hasn’t come back to you yet. Keep writing and keep making productive noise.

Oh, and conduct a little ceremony and burn the party hat (preferably like this).

Not the whistle though, keep that – it makes noise so we know where to find you.

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