The other afternoon found me recreating this scene with an alarming likeness outside my apartment. The similarities penetrated several levels.
After fifteen minutes or so of feverishly throwing a tennis ball against my apartment building, I realized I was eerily reminiscent of Jack Torrance (askew cardigan and all) so I called it quits and went back inside to hit refresh on all my social media pages for the fiftieth time of the day. Or was it the hundredth time?
Such is the debut author facing his first book launch.
Terror, dread, exuberance, wooziness, ad nauseum. They’re all represented. To put it simply, I’m a shitstorm these days. You’d have to be rendered insane by ego or stupidity (or some transcendent state of zen-peace with the world) not to live in constant terror of your debut book launch. Sadly, I’m not the zen-peace kind of guy. But it’s what I signed up for. Means to an end, means to an end, means to an end. That’s pretty much the sole mantra I’m living by as I struggle for the first time with public praise, critique, self-promotion and self-doubt.
I decided that night—amid my Torrance-esque throes—that right now is the perfect time to discuss my hopes and fears as a debut writer.
As of this moment, I rest on no laurels and carry no jaded chip on my shoulder. I’m smack dab in the middle of the crucible. The gauntlet is not before me or behind me, but all around me. I’m entirely at the mercy of the esoteric forces and whims known simply as the industry.
1) “Making it” is really hard (or so I’ve heard).
My debut novel stands to be one novel out of what will likely be over a million novels published in 2014. The average novel disappears in the blink of an eye, never to be seen again (a somewhat dramatic snapshot, perhaps). A sparse few of these million novels published in 2014 will receive a vastly disproportionate degree of readers’ praise, while the countless others—some excellent, some terrible—will never see a sliver of admiration.
I mentioned a moment ago that I am living by the motto, “means to an end”, but in truth I can’t define what that “end” really is. Victory or failure is immensely hard to define in any creative field, and ultimately it comes down to what you want as an individual. Sure, I want the proverbial Iron Throne. But at this stage, my task boils down to a much simpler goal: connecting with readers.
That’s the truth, the goal of today. And tomorrow. Connecting with readers. This is because . . .
2) As much as I want it, it’s not up to me.
The adoration, indifference or abhorrence of Anthem’s Fall is no longer within my power. When I clicked “save” on my final draft and changed its name from “Penultimate White Whale” to “Anthem’s Fall”, I washed my hands of the novel. In a large sense, the fate of Anthem’s Fall is no longer in my control. I can promote it as best I can, which I’ll get to in a moment. But from the moment a writer declares his or her novel “finished”, it then has to fight its own battle with every individual reader.
In that battle, only the words on the page matter.
The precarious nature of the tiny little flame that my indie novel represents is that it can be snuffed out, or—more accurately—disregarded, so easily. No marketing team, no perfunctory reviews from big media outlets, no contractually obligated blurbs from mega-authors, etc, etc. (Yes, that was a shot). But there’s power in my flame too, because a novel is one of the most viral products imaginable. Think about some of the best books you’ve ever read. You didn’t just finish it and quietly add it to your shelf. You told everyone about that novel. You shouldered the job of salesman and chatted about that novel to anyone willing to listen.
This isn’t to say that I think my novel will ever be one of the best novels someone has read. It simply means that I have faith in the viability of the novel itself. People are passionate about reading. If readers like something they read, they will tell other readers about it, and so it will spread.
In short, it doesn’t matter what I think about Anthem’s Fall. It matters what readers think. The only thing I can do is to carry on the story by continuing to write, and not allowing myself to implode in a supernova of nerves.
Not yet, at least.
3) F**K LUCK.
If the odds of success are as low as getting bitten by a shark, I’ll chum the damn waters and accept my own “success” or “failure”.
I’ve attended a couple big writing conferences and read enough books and blog posts on writing/publishing to numb the mind. A particular vein of advice that people often insinuate is that “It’s up to luck”. I cannot and will not as a (somewhat) rational person give in to that logic. If at the end of the day it comes down to luck, that means every writer (or ultimately every creator) who has ever been successful has been a maniac or a fool. It implies that every creative field is an assemblage of wild, talentless gamblers. Though perhaps I’ll change my tune later, today—amid the debut shitstorm—I cannot allow myself to think about luck.
Of course luck is a very real and powerful thing—but it is only one variable in the equation. It is a single variable to be mitigated as much as possible. Nothing more. The less I leave up to “luck”, the less I expose myself to the vicissitudes of chaos.
No luck. No lottery tickets. Just readers.
4) Victory isn’t definable. Defeat is.
I’ve established that victory is hard to define. Defeat isn’t. Defeat is the day I stop. That makes things easy to consider, and takes the pressure off my debut launch. I’m already halfway through book two. When that’s done I’ll start book three. Then four. You get the idea.
“You fail only if you stop writing” –Ray Bradbury
That’s all. Just thought I’d throw some genuine thoughts out there amid all this pseudo alienating self-promotion!
Updates on the Anthem’s Fall warpath:
Excerpts read: (Wattpad, Scribd, my website, some others): 1,870 (http://www.wattpad.com/user/SLDunn ---great website. Anthem's Fall currently ranked #34 in sci-fi on Wattpad)
ARCs distributed to reviewers: 83
Goodreads: 757 requesting giveaways, added by 340 as “to-read”, 11 reviews (4.09*)
Librarything: 386 requesting giveaways
Farthest geographical reach: India! (evidently I could beat New Zealand...errr which one's farther?)