*I’m not an expert, a fact my publishing teams on two books can confirm, but maybe this will be helpful anyway?
For anyone who has the misfortune to be personally connected to an author, I am so sorry. For so many reasons. Writers are not only carcass-picking vultures but anxiety-riddled nervous bitches who want both all your attention and none of it at all. But the real reason I feel sorry for you is because you’ll be subjected to literal years of posts and tweets and emails and updates that all feature I HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK as the general theme. There is the drafting and the proposing and the agenting (hopefully) and the selling and the Publishers Marketplace announcing (hopefully) and then the more writing and the sad editing spirals and the more writing and the promoting and the promoting, and right yes, also the promoting.
Sometimes I like to imagine how, say, Nora Ephron would’ve handled having to whore her little life and her little book(s) out on Instagram, making little graphics and tweeting out her little reviews and blurbs or whatever. “I feel bad about my starred Kirkus review ….”? It’s only by putting the state of things for authors now up against the champagne heydays of yester-yore that really highlights for me how this is kind of a set-up for authors, especially in our personal lives. We do the work, we take the fire.
I think it can be particularly challenging for women who often feel pressure both socially and culturally to keep their achievements under wraps. It’s kind of incredible, really. I think a lot about how boys have been taught to never stop announcing their slightest fart and girls learn that like, cure cancer if you must but just be quiet about it I guess?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man post about his book and been nothing but straightforwardly HEY EVERYONE HERE’S MY BOOK PLZ GO BUY IT. Women will post 17 different apologies about their very existence and then ask very nicely for people to maybe consider???? Preordering??? Their book??? But it’s ok??? If you don’t??? I’m so so so sorry???
It’s part of an author’s responsibility (i.e. their job) to do everything they reasonably can to clue readers into the fact that their book exists. Being with a big publisher sadly doesn’t guarantee that, although it certainly puts you ahead of the game in many ways. And I think it’s easy to assume that if a book doesn’t sell well, it’s simply because it just wasn’t a good book. But as it turns out you can’t buy a book you’ve never heard of. Think about how you discovered some of the books you’ve read recently — Listening to an author interview on Fresh Air? An Instagram post from a celebrity or other influencer? A social media share from someone else you know and whose taste you trust? A favorite writer’s newsletter? All of these are connections in a big web of publicity and you’ll never know who helped make that happen — the publisher, the author, or someone else entirely.
Publishers want authors to have a platform because an author’s platform is a built-in book buying audience. We’re expected to push information to that audience (but, you know, vary it a little! Don’t be a droning, boring book megaphone!) And for some of us that promotional process (or just writing life in general) includes cracking the door open on our lives to a certain degree, to share our personal brand. None of this is an especially huge lift for me because I’ve worked in advertising and brand my entire adult life so what’s a couple more years of whoring it out in a lifetime built on it?
But as we’re doing that work, putting ourselves out there with our lives and our names and our image, we’re the ones dealing with the personal and social weirdness of that. Because no one sees what we’re doing as a job. Most people see it as bragging. Can’t imagine why it’s so personally problematic! Social media is this strange space for the reader/author relationship. Readers think they know you because, hey, they know where you went on vacation and what state you live in and what your writing desk looks like and what kind of dog you have. This fake familiarity invites positive connections, sure, but it also invites unwelcome, judgmental, and really fucking weird-ass DMs, emails, and comments. Speaking of which, shout out to every wellness-gilted white lady who’s sent me some shitty or finger-wagging or aggressive message but ended it with this ✌🏻. I will literally punch you in the tit if I ever find y’all in person.
Where was I.
Dear god, there’s an actual Master Class about author platform now, here is the description [emojis mine]: “While traditionally the work of marketing an author’s book and building an audience rested with the publishing house 😭, today that duty has shifted to the authors themselves 😭😭😭. Many bestselling authors are not just great writers 🧐, they also have the business acumen 🧐 to build a platform with an audience hungry for their stories 💀 —often before their books hit the printing presses 😒.” Excuse me while I walk into the sea wearing cement shoes.
I think perhaps another thing normal people don’t understand is just how much the deck is stacked against all but a few books each year. Let’s just take Harper Collins (my publisher), one of the big 5 publishers (or is it down to 4 or 3 now?) They publish 10,000 new titles per year alone. Last year, an uNpReCeDeNteD YeAr to be sure, 98% of the books that [all] publishers released sold fewer than 5,000 copies. The more you pay attention to books and book promotion, you’ll notice that you’re seeing the same handful of books over and over and over again, giving the impression that actually only a handful of books come out each season. Given (*waves hands around*) all of this, how could you not feel like you had to do every single thing possible to nudge the odds even a tiny bit more in your book’s favor?
Hey man, what about book tours though? Most people don’t realize that not only do book tours not sell that many books, but even major publishers don’t pay for book tours for most authors. I paid !!!$10k!!! out of my own pocket to send myself out on my first book tour. I was fortunate to be freelancing with a startup right up until that book launched because otherwise there’s absolutely no way I could’ve afforded nor justified that level of expense. Did my book tour sell $10,000 worth of books? LOL. Adorable. Absolutely not.
AMATEUR HOUR is nowhere near earning out the advance I received for it, which is true for 90-95% of books. (How does publishing even work?? I honestly don’t know!! Are exotic purebred horses just stamping out numbers on a giant calculator? Maybe!) But I rationalized that a) I wanted to do everything I could to try to make the book a success, b) my first book came out the same year I turned 50 and I’m sorry but traveling around the country in a whirlwind, holding events and seeing people from every corner of my life was like attending my own funeral and I cannot recommend it highly enough! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and c) I figured it was obvious I’d never be allowed to write a book again so why not throw everything I had at it? I have zero regrets, especially given how much the pandemic has further fucked absolutely everything up and made selling books even harder — collapsing more media outlets for book reviews and excerpts, erasing most in-person events and now even torpedoing virtual book events because they’re not benefitting the bookstores that host them.
The posts. The newsletters (ahem). The tweets. The emails. The all of it. Authors use these tools and do this li’l dance because these things are either free or relatively low cost. They’re accessible. They’re what we have. This is how we sell now, this is how we all sell now (even when we technically don’t have something to “sell”). Our point of view, our lives, our art.
So when you see a pal posting and posting and posting about their book, please know that (most) authors aren’t clueless about how annoying it all is. We get that it feels like a lot of posts about the same thing or that it feels like us blowing smoke up our own asses (well, sometimes we are, because someone has to) and sometimes you will wonder if it’ll ever end. It can feel that way to authors, too.
If you’re genuinely happy for this person in your life, support them (suggestions beyond throwing a ‘like’ to come in a future newsletter.) But if it’s getting under your skin too much and/or you’re dealing with *feelings* about their achievement and are down your own personal rabbit hole of professional or writing jealousy and comparison, maybe temporarily mute them on social media? Trust me, I get it. I’ve been on both sides of this equation. Sometimes it’s smart to take a break and reconnect when the storm blows over. It will actually, eventually, end. A book launch is a temporary form of insanity, and so is having to witness it.
Anyway tl;dr my book comes out in 7-1/2 weeks so in conclusion: 🌈⚰️
I finally wore one of the white dresses I mentioned in my last newsletter, and not only did I definitely feel like I was in a tampon commercial but I also felt like a weird overgrown 7-year-old walking around in public in her actual nightgown. The looks I received only confirmed this impression! 0/10 for the white dress option!
THINGS FROM ELSEWHERE:
• Putting aside for a moment that we live in a country where billionaires burn cash just to ride a dick rocket into not-even-real-space!!! Teachers are still paying for supplies out of their own pockets!! Putting all that aside!! You can help a teacher out directly via this Twitter thread of teacher wish lists, kicked off by political commentator and comedy writer Erin Ryan.
• The always eye-catching, fascinating bird that I refer to as a “dinosaur chicken.” Illustrations, information, and cool links in the newsletter Wild Life by Amy Jean Porter, a really delightful resource for kids and adults alike! (it’s the only newsletter I actually read every time.)
• “Mary Lincoln wasn’t ‘crazy.’ She was a bereaved mother.” in The Washington Post. I hope I get a chance to see this groundbreaking exhibit at President Lincoln’s cottage museum: “Abraham and Mary Lincoln had four sons; only one survived past age 18. In [the exhibit], accounts of the Lincolns’ grief are presented alongside the stories of modern-day bereaved parents and their kids, showing their similarities across time. Hawkins encountered [others’] discomfort [with grief] when she presented the project to some colleagues. ‘Isn’t it going to make visitors sad?’ they worried. Yes, it will, Hawkins replied. And that’s a meaningful experience.”
• “I Need To Stop Scrolling: The diminishing returns of constant Covid news” by Charlie Warzel. A helpful read if you find yourself being sucked back into the news (and newsishness of social media) because of delta and feeling real bad as a result. “The primary feeling out there is uncertainty, and the uncertainty manifests for many — online, at least — is through the process of constantly consuming iterative information. I notice it in my own browsing behaviors. I took a solid, almost three month break from more than glancing at the New York Times covid numbers and maps. My covid news consumption became almost old fashioned: I checked in every 24 to 36 hours by reading a newspaper article or something else. Now, I’m retreating into old habits, which means frequently scouring the internet and my feeds for new morsels of information. I’m doing what a lot of people are doing: Trying to both navigate a mostly opened society and also to assuage my anxieties about the delta variant with the quest for some knowledge. And just like, say, April 2020, I’m seeing diminishing returns.”
• Thanks to Sam Irby and her butt for sharing the trailer for Season 3 of Succession in her latest newsletter. As a latecomer who binged the first two seasons only a couple weeks ago I have watched this trailer no fewer than 27 times and scream and laugh every time !!!
• “America’s oldest working nurse retires at 96” from NBC Nightly News. I love her spunkiness and her life philosophy and the old photos of her and I just love her 😭😭😭
Preorder BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY here. Preorder a SIGNED copy of BUT YOU SEEMED SO HAPPY here. You can find my copywriting and creative direction work here. You can find my writing-writing work here. You can find me on Twitter. You can find me on Instagram. Please do not find me in real life, unless you want that boob punch we talked about.