The Proverbial “One Piece of Advice” Is Really Two
27 July 2009
I’m only just now beginning to seek out counsel and talk to other writers about their experiences in publishing. And I’ve noticed that people often couch their counsel in terms of the one thing I’d recommend, which is usually born of either a very good, or very bad, experience they had, and learned from.
Right now I’ve got two of those one things on my mind, and it occurs to me that it’s good to have two — one that helps you manage the big-picture, and one that provides a concrete, short-term action you might take.
The big picture piece comes from independent publicist Lauren Cerand, from an interview at Three Guys One Book:
The authors that I see consistently lining up the best gigs and getting enviable exposure are not the ones with the most money to burn or endless time to spend but rather the ones that take the long view of their careers and keep a sense of perspective on things. Fiction takes a while to get going.
Cerand goes on to talk about historical trends in cultural consumption, how writers like Melville and Whitman did not “sell” well in their time, how a once-popular and still-vibrant art form like jazz can become sidelined from the mainstream; but cautions against resigning oneself to irrelevancy. “A healthy outlook is somewhere in the middle,” she says.
This counsel seems sound and wise to me; but I can’t help but worry its realism. What I mean is that, from this writer’s perspective, the messages are mixed: novelists are made acutely aware of the fact that much of their careers rides on how the first novel is received. There is less forgiveness than ever for a first novel that doesn’t sell well, an all-or-nothing short-term menace hovers. We understand that our publisher is not committing to developing and supporting our writing careers over time, but rather calibrating the cost-benefit with each individual work. I don’t lay any blame or judgment here, I recognize that editors hate this possibly as much as writers do. (I would hope that the cost-benefit of this larger systemic shift is also part of the discussion in publishing right now, but I don’t know that to be the case.)
So the second one thing came from a fellow novelist, who published her first book a few years ago. She advised: for your first novel, hire an independent publicist. Because, she reasoned, you only have one first novel; and this is the moment when people might just be paying attention.
Funny that the publicist would be the one to say, Take the long view; and the novelist the one to say, Make sure you focus on this short-term moment. It gives you a sense of the potential for how tense and fraught this whole process might get.
My six-months-before-release promotional push for Long for This World will begin in a month or so. Stay tuned: we’ll see if/how well my two things materialize. Once again, I seem to be seeking that middle path.