Three Things I Know Now that I’m an Expert

by Karen Shoemaker

The novel I sometimes thought would never see the light of day is now one year past its release date and that makes me an expert on all things you could ever possibly want to know about a successful publishing career.

Okay, maybe not an expert, and maybe not on all things you could ever want to know. But I can come up a couple of things I think writers should know about publishing that could help them as they march toward literary stardom.

1. Start building you platform within two days after birth. If you haven’t developed a significant network and become a known authority on a topic connected to your book by the time you’re out of elementary school you might as well forget it.  Just kidding. Actually everything I could say (and more) about platforms has already been said well by Brooke Warner and a number of others all over the web. What I think is even more important than your platform is you. You need to be a good person who is good to other people. I know, it sounds cheesy to say that, but really, it’s true. People who run reading series, write reviews and blogs, recommend you and your work to others, invite you to speak at conferences (or accept your pleading to let you in) are first and foremost people. Don’t be an asshole toward them, help them help you, and if you can help them in return, all the better. Write reviews for other authors, recommend other writers to be a part of a reading series, run a reading series and invite them yourself. As a writer, you’re a member of a literary community; be a good literary citizen by actively supporting the community, not just yourself.

2. Social media posts do not a literary oeuvre make.  Social media in general is a Vampire that will Bleed You Dry if you let it and the blood it is draining from you is your creative energy, the very energy you need to be a writer. The barrage of advice about what you need to do before, during and after your book’s publication date always includes the directive to take up tweeting, facebooking, pinning, gramming and blogging on a regular, witty, well-researched basis. I spent far more time than I care to admit creating accounts on various platforms, setting/forgetting/resetting passwords, designing themed pages, staring thoughtfully at stats, and composing pithy bits of wit and wisdom for the various sites. If you do an internet search of my name now, a year later, maybe maybe you’ll find me on Facebook where you’ll learn incredibly important things, such as: 

a) I like chocolate; 
b) I’m thinking about letting my hair grow out to its natural gray; 
c) I have a new grandbaby (okay, that one is important); 
d) links to show that my novel actually has had some success beyond being loved by my family and closest friends (yay!). 

What you would probably find if you find me at all is evidence of lots and lots of what I think of as “pretend writing.”  If you could superimpose a time line on what else I typed into my computer for the three months before and three months after my novel’s release date you wouldn’t find any evidence of any literary endeavor. What. So. Ever. Am I embarrassed about that? A little, but mostly I’m just glad I pulled up in time. I’m writing again, in part because each morning when I sit down at my computer I set a timer and when the time goes off, off goes the “pretend writing enabler” (i.e. social media). My friend Trish Lear turned me onto a time management technique called the Pomodoro Technique and it has changed my life, but it doesn’t work for everyone I know so it’s not a miracle of any sorts. What I do know is you have to find something that works for you and do it. Keep working. Eyes on the prize, babies. Keep them there.        

3. Don’t spend so much time worrying about how the book is doing, or what you’re supposed to be doing, or what you should have done better that you forget to have fun. I write serious fiction, by that I mean my novels and stories have serious themes: life, pandemics, war, God and the absence thereof. It’s no wonder I sometimes have trouble getting myself to start work each day. More than once I have written myself sick because I’ve created a sick sick sick character. Sometimes I set the timer not so much to get myself to start working, but to stop - to remind myself to get up and walk away from the computer, to look outdoors, smell the coffee, call a friend. Anything to help me remember I am alive in my own reality. After staring into the abyss of a scene involving godless violence, it helps to remember, as the immortal bard Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” I need to remember to let the multitudes out to play on a regular basis.Oops, there goes the timer. 

Remember: time goes faster than you think it should, so don’t waste it: Live. Write. Be.

Karen Gettert Shoemaker is the author of the novel The Meaning of Names, published by Red Hen Press in 2014, and the short story collection Night Sounds and Other Stories, published by Dufour Editions, 2002.

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