I’m three months out from publishing my book as of today. The last time I published a book was fall 2019 when things were still the way they were, and I just hit the road for a few months and never looked back. I worked like this for nearly a decade, which is to say I showed up for many, many tour events, and I did all the self-promotion asked of me, the interviews, the blog posts, the podcasts, the listicles, and on and on. This was my job, and it had looked the same way for a long time. But I haven’t promoted a book since then.
I did have a paperback come out fall 2020 but I think I did just two online events, the smallest of gestures, and even one would have been fine. At the time I just thought: Well, it exists, and it had a nice life already in hardcover. And I am alive, so is everyone I love, and for that I am grateful. So go with god, dear paperback. I did not sell very many copies of it
Sometimes we just have to let our work disappear and eat our failures. We tried, and that was enough. In fact, I have three books that sold like garbage and I loved them all dearly but it seems doubtful they will rise from the dead at this point. I wrote them, I learned from them, they existed, I got dropped by my publisher, and then I moved onto the next.
It’s easy for me to say that I’m fine with it now, a decade away, but it stung at the time, and I promise you in that moment I did not give up without a fight. I read at every little reading series and out of town bookstore that would have me, even the ones where I showed up and they stared at me blankly, having forgotten I was coming in the first place. I tooted my horn — I have a book! — until I noticed no one was paying much attention, and those who did were wondering if I might keep it down already.
As much as this newsletter is about being determined and focused and diligent and not giving up without a fight, there’s a lot to be said for letting shit go when you need to – mostly because it might be getting in the way of something else you should be doing. Whenever I walked away from the thing that wasn’t working, it always led me to a new project, a new space to rest my mind and heart. I’m not trying to be glib about this. I know things can be more nuanced than that. People spend years on their projects. I am not suggesting you throw things away wildly. I am only mentioning this because I want you to know I know the sting of failure. I don’t know any writer who doesn’t have a story like this in one way or another.
And now we are here putting out books in a new environment where the supply chain is fucked up and conferences and literary festivals have been virtual for two years now not to mention the review sections have dwindled and it is just extremely hard for more than a handful (10? 20?) people each week to get attention for their book. But also we have social media: we have bookstagrammers and BookTok and all these dang newsletters and twitter and facebook and everyone just posting pictures of books and saying “I love this” or “I hate this” or “Who wants to talk about this?” People are still reading and are out there talking about it. Is it…more democratic now? I know it’s all certainly shifted.
I have shifted, too. Being a writer, or any kind of creative person, is in part about being limber and ready to evolve and redefine what you do. Our power comes from our responsiveness, how quick and bright and innovative we can be. And also our willingness to learn something new.
In the past, I would have gone to New York City and done a preview reading or two at a series, to see what played well in front of a crowd. Instead, I scanned the chats this spring after a few virtual readings to see what people responded to the most. And I would have frantically pitched a dozen essays to a bunch of magazines and websites, some of which no longer exist. Instead, I have this newsletter where I can be thoughtful and true to my voice. (OK, I am writing a few essays.) And I am no longer planning a year of touring well in advance as I have in the past. 2022 is just coming into focus now. I am certain that the experience of publishing this book will be unlike any I’ve had before.
I would say the not-knowing is killing me except I’m so goddamn happy to still be alive.
I do know we can walk into a bookstore again and run our hands along a shelf and pick up a book and read the back of it or the first few pages (or the ending if you are one of those types of people) and see if it strikes our fancy. And we can chit-chat with a bookseller, all of us in our masks, and they can wave a book at us and say, “Read this, you’ll love it.” And we can all pre-order books, which feels like one of the most important things we can do as a part of the writing community.
Pre-orders can help big and small retailers assess interest in a book and determine how many copies of it to stock in their stores. And this can help publishers decide how many copies of a book to print. Pre-orders are also guaranteed sales, which can really benefit independent stores. All of this helps the author. And it ensures that whoever orders it will get the book right when it comes out.
I’ll remind you all again that I’m doing a pre-order campaign with Books are Magic for signed copies, but of course you can pre-order it from your local indie or any of the major booksellers. I really do think if you have gotten anything out of this newsletter, you will probably enjoy my memoir.
As for me, the one thing I am doing now that is the same as always is burying my head in a new project. It’s where I feel safest, where I can stave off publication anxiety, a place I can drop into for the day and emerge satisfied. It’s where I have the most fun. Getting my hands dirty. Playing in the sun with all my words and ideas. This is where I feel most comfortable, thinking about those things, and then talking about them with all of you.
I hope you are all writing well.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to The NOLA Project.