Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Firestarter

Have you ever tried to start a fire?

Our backyard is the size of a postage stamp, but we have just enough room for a few chairs, a grill, and a fire chimney--one of those cast iron ovens that looks like a pear and makes a campfire safe and supposedly easy.

Well, starting fires isn't easy.

Though a fire doesn't fit the strictest definition of "life" it still eats, breathes, and reproduces. And, like life, it requires care to thrive.

If you're new to starting fires, you'll throw some wood on a pile, hit it with a match, and hope for the best.

Sometimes luck is on your side, and you'll soon have an inferno.

But most of the time, starting a fire takes more effort than that. You need to properly stack the wood, so air can flow around and through it. You need kindling, or tinder, or both, and perhaps even an accelerant. And then you need to keep a vigilant eye on the fire, poking and prodding and feeding it until it's big enough to last for a awhile without constant attention.

Sound familiar?

Yesterday I dropped in 11 bookstores with the talented Tasha Alexander (And Only to Deceive, A Poisoned Season) and the talented Renee Rosen (Every Crooked Pot.)

We were starting fires.

I signed 93 books. Not a huge amount, considering I have several hundred thousand in print. Hardly a dent, really. And while several of the booksellers we met were interested and enthused to see us, in a few cases we were met with apathy. That's how drop-ins go. Some are great. Some make you scratch your head and wonder why you're doing this.

Still, I consider this time well spent. Signed books have a better sell-through. They're put in higher profile places around the store. Meeting booksellers is always a good thing. Plus, tending to your career, even in small ways, is more productive than sitting on your ass with your fingers crossed, hoping things go well.

Your writing career, like a fire, has no guarantees. Sometimes what you think was a sure thing won't turn out. Sometimes you can spend a long time stoking and still not get a good burn going. Often parts of the fire will die when you focus on other parts. And even if you do everything right, it might rain anyway.

But the more attention you pay to your fire, the longer it will last. The same goes with your writing career.

This philosophy, while excruciatingly simple to understand, is still met with a lot of resistance from some of my peers.

Many writers hate promoting. Visiting 11 bookstores in a day (or 618 in a year) is unthinkable. They believe that a writer's job is to write a good book, and that's all.

If you want to write books and then cross your fingers, that's up to you. Build the woodpile, throw the match, and walk away.

But anyone who has had any experience building fires knows the importance of maintenance. The careful cultivation of the flames once they start is important.

For those who haven't been beaten over the head with this analogy yet, tending a fire equals self-promotion.

It makes perfect sense to self-promote. Your books are your brand. No matter how good your brand is, you still need to make people aware it exists. As creator of the brand, you are uniquely suited to extol its virtues. And since it is your name on the brand, you have a vested interest in its success.

But some writers still resist this. There are reasons for this resistance:
  • Fear of failure, or public speaking.
  • Conceit, or a belief that promo isn't needed because the book is so good.
  • The deep-rooted human trait that makes us dig in and defend our actions rather than question them.
  • An incorrect view of how publishing works.
  • A sense of entitlement, which posits that writers write and it's the job of the publishers and booksellers to sell.
  • Having tried self-promo in the past, and not getting the expected results from it.
  • Believing that writers can't make a difference in sales, and that promotion is futile.
  • The need to disagree because if they agree, they'll feel guilty about not doing enough to help their own career.

Do you have to self-promote?

No. There's no law or rule that says you have to.

You don't have to brush your teeth either, and you might still live your whole life without getting a cavity.

That doesn't make it good advice.

For those interested in picking up signed JA Konrath books (along with signed Tasha Alexander and Renee Rosen books) you can visit one of the following fine Chicago establishments:

Barnes & Noble at Webster Place

Barnes & Noble on Diversey

Barnes & Noble on State Street

Barnes & Noble on Touhy

Borders on Clark

Borders on Lincoln

Borders on Michigan

Borders on North Ave

Waldenbooks at 900 N. Michigan

Borders on State Street

Borders on Broadway

On July 25, I'll be at Mystery One Books in Milwaukee, at 7pm until at least 8pm. Stop by and say hi.