The Book Campaign

(I recently wrote a book on writing call The Glorious Grind: Meditations on Crafting Fiction & The Writing Life and have decided to simply publish it in installments here.)

Chapter Twenty-Four

The Book Campaign

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I’m about to start my fifth book campaign.[1] Last week I received a digital copy of the advance reader copy for The Firebug of Balrog County from FLUX and the book is now posted on GalleyNet, which is an ARC distribution website where reviewers of all stripes can request copies of books for reviewing purposes. It’s now April and the book comes out in September, which pegs the campaign lead time for the book at about five months.

I’m excited about being published again by a mainstream press after a six year drought but also wary, with tempered expectations. In the eight years since my first novel was released I’ve attempted to sell my work in about every manner I could dream up. I’ve done readings, big and small, in a variety of venues, happy to sign anything put before me. I’ve sat on panels at conferences. I’ve read at conferences. I’ve run writing workshops at conferences. I’ve sent out splashy press releases, electronically and through the mail, methodically addressing each one. I’ve done as many interviews as my publicists and I could drum up, both via blogs and traditional local newspapers. I’ve tweeted. I’ve co-hosted a podcast that ran for a hundred episodes. I’ve maintained an email list. I’ve created Facebook pages. I’ve written craft articles for literary websites. I’ve updated my blog since 2005 with witty posts relating to writing. I’ve created an author site and redone said author site several times. I’ve created a choose-your-own-adventure game tying directly into the world of one my novels. I’ve gone online and requested my own books to be purchased by libraries across the country. I’ve made multiple video book trailers. I’ve personally mailed out free copies of my work to reviewers and industry names across the country (and once to Russia). I’ve flown across the country to attend the AWP conference and the Bram Stoker Awards in hopes of “networking”. I’ve gotten starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and a bunch of other great reviews, too, as well as my share of duds. I’ve gotten lovely blurbs from big names. I’ve lurked around Goodreads. I’ve Googled myself. I’ve responded to every fan email I’ve received. I’ve done all this—all these things that are Not-Writing—only to see my efforts drop like stones into the lake of marketing, creating naught but a ripple and having very little effect on my sales numbers.

The book campaign is a grind all to itself, set outside the deeply internal work of writing fiction. I’ve found the most exhausting aspect of it is not the labor involved in promoting your work—which can be as little or as substantial as you choose it to be—but the effort you expend trying to forget how vulnerable your book is now, how indifferent the world at large is disposed to it. The time up to a book’s publication date is a slow slog of worry and hope and each day you wake up uncertain what the news will be (or, worse yet, if there will be any news at all). The whole process can feel like a hellish/amazing rollercoaster, especially if you’re a first time author and every aspect of it is totally new to you.

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The entire idea of campaigning is slightly abhorrent to me. I’m not a big fan of war, or politics, or the Academy Awards, or any other field where campaigning plays a significant role. I don’t like thinking of myself as a “brand”. It’s stupid, right? I’m a human being and human beings change on a daily basis, depending on a myriad of factors that begin with how well their hierarchy of needs are currently being met. There’s no constant recipe for a person—we’re not soft drinks!

But the world wants to put you into a bottle anyway, and if you refuse the bottling process you won’t be shipped out to the world in any format. You will stay at home, happily oblivious to joys and many trials of having your work appraised by the multitudes, doing your thing without worrying about where it’s all headed and what others will think of it.[2]

However, throughout every book campaign I’ve been reminded that there are still many, many people supporting literature and helping writers fight the good fight. It’s not all darkness and despair and nobody buying one damn copy of your book at a reading. I’ve gone into bookstores and been recognized on sight and handed a fancy bottle of water and received warm, genuine hellos, we’re so glad you’re here. I’ve driven out to book clubs and seen that gleam in a reader’s eye when they’ve read your work and are suddenly meeting you. I’ve visited classrooms and received the laser-like focus of twenty-five students all interested in my work and how I go about it. I’ve gotten help from reviewers who didn’t care if my newest book was from St. Martin’s Press or self-published—they did not give a flip either way. I’ve found solace in phone and email interviews, in thoughtful book reviews that gave my work their full consideration.

To be fairly considered, I think, is the most rewarding part of the book campaign. Writers campaign to be read and hopefully earn a little scratch on the side. Writers spend so much time alone, hidden from the world, that to be fully considered at the end of the day is a splendid, if terrifying, reward.

[1] I’ve self-published one novel, The Ragged Mountains. That was an experience all its own.

[2] There are far worse fates than this.

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