On Determination and Gmail Contacts
There are print campaigns and web campaigns and everything in between. The pros I’ve hired will know how to maximize these avenues and reach organizations and individuals I never could. But they also need access to my personal contacts so that not a stone goes unturned. You never know how one thing will lead to another, or who can get your book into the hands of that someone who just happens to take it to the moon.
Where do I begin? I’ve got over 1500 Gmail contacts and an equivalent number of “friends” or “followers” through social media. My Hotmail account has another 500 names to cull through. In no way do I intend to spam every single contact with email announcements about my book. Absolutely not. But in the coming weeks I will have to sort through every single one of these names and pass the most pertinent ones along to my publicist.
For instance, what about the residencies I attended over the past 3 years: Do they have email newsletters? Facebook pages? Are they willing to link to my book and share an announcement with their mailing lists? Or, consider the President of the National Book Critics Circle that I met last year. Can my publicist contact her about my work and request a review, or am I kidding myself? What about the director of the National Writers Series who also blurbed my book—can he help me expand my audience through a major public event? Then there’s alumni magazines for any school I ever attended, not to mention connections at any of 6 literary publications I worked for in the past. The list goes on…
Professional contacts aside, I am fortunate to have many friends that support what I do and know about my work. Many of them are writers themselves and a surprising number of them already have books published that I’ve bought over the years. I’d like to invite them to purchase my book, but I don’t want to send out a mass email. In the coming weeks, I need to organize these contacts into groups so that I may compose personalized messages with the right tone, all the while making sure I don’t accidentally add someone to multiple lists. Since these will be personal, not professional contacts, I won’t be passing along email addresses to my publicist but I’ll still need to consider how and when to approach each group of people and direct them toward the “buy now” button on my website.
It’s a bit intimidating if you consider that I’d rather be working on my novel…or that I have two freelance arts writing essays due in the next 6 weeks…or that I’m now press managing for 4 ceramic arts groups with upcoming events…or that I coach 7 writers each month who send me 20 pages for critique…or that my syllabus for my upcoming gig at Randolph College is due as soon as I can possibly finish it…or that next month I’m judging a fiction fellowship contest for a respected literary organization out West…
So much of this writing life is built on determination. There will always be people who are more talented than myself. Always. But the difference between writers who make a living doing what they love, and writers of extraordinary talent who never gain recognition or the freedom to leave their day jobs, is often a difference of determination. If that sounds judgmental, that’s not my intent. In fact, this line of thinking humbles me. Someone will always be better. Many people will always be better, in fact. But I’m going for an even-keel approach, not perfection. I’m in it for the long haul, and that’s going to mean probably getting comfy with middle-of-the-road success for a very long time to come. I know I am publishing a book that was as good as it could have been at the time, but experience has already shown me the book could be better than it is. Still: I must stand behind it. I must have total faith in the work. I must sell and promote it with pride and the belief that hard work still pays off in this world. A little “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can,” is what will set me apart and increase my chances of success. As my copyeditor advised me, “Someone believed in the work enough to give you a book contract. You have to trust that.”
What does “success” mean? When will I know if I have succeeded? I don’t know I’ll ever be able to answer these questions, but I do know what I hope for and that is this: I hope my book is honestly and well received. I hope that I can become a respected writer who, if only for a brief a little lifetime, is not forgotten. I hope that my work can inspire at least a handful of readers to take pause and reflect on the human predicament—its joys and its sorrows, its triumphs and its inevitabilities. And I hope that as long as I keep writing, my dear mentor Jack Driscoll’s advice always rings true: “One sentence announces the possibility of the next.” As long as I don’t stop, something will always be waiting for me on the other side of the next word. Even in the face of insurmountable contacts lists, mass emails, unknown reviews, and so much more, that feels right.