There's an area of choice in which I think writers are becoming panicky and paralysed. It's the P-Words: Publicity, Promotion, Profile, Platform. Oh, and pro-active.
Time was when a writer wrote a book, waited for Publication Day, was wheeled out for a few signings and tottered back to a hotel for a claret-laden dinner with editor. (Actually, I have no memory of such days, but allow me some imagination.) Now, we have to be pro-active, partly because often our publishers don't do enough or we have better ideas, or simply because there are so many opportunities and our publishers rightly encourage us to use them. We see other authors Doing Stuff and want to Do Stuff too. For a pro-active, interfering, control freak such as me, this is, in theory, great.
In practice, it's a flipping nightmare, a feast of choices, incitement to wake in the night with Yet Another Stupid Wheeze Which I Usually Actually Carry Through. And then there's the panic when we hear what someone else is doing - why didn't we think of that? The blog tour, the sponsored marathon, the one-woman festival, the colour-coded Tweet-up, the mail-shotting of the fan database. What?? You don't have a fan database, in a spreadsheet, with the ability to identify each category of reader, by postcode? You mean you haven't set up a Twitter persona for each of the characters in your book? You don't have a special blog, posting every day for six months? You haven't organised a book giveaway throughout all continents of the world? Bad, lazy author.
NO! No more, I say, no more. I reject paralysing choice. I will not be panicked into doing stupid things that sound good but wreck me. Never again will I set a world record of school visits in one day, as I did for Deathwatch. Or organise a blog tour AND set up a new blog, as I did for Wasted. Nor will I ever lie awake wondering what mad things to do for the next book. I will reject panic. I will calm down, be sensible and moderate. We do too much, worry too much, glance in too much fear at other people, fret about what we're not doing instead of focusing on what we can do well.
So, here, for what it's worth, is my advice on approaching publication in a state of zen:
- Play to your strengths: do what suits you. If the idea curdles your stomach juices, spit it out.
- Focus not on the excitement of the Bright Idea but the feeling you will actually have when you have to put the idea into practice. Will you regret it? If so, stop it in its tracks.
- Choose a couple of things to do and forget the other possibilities. You have another book to write and a life to live.
- Ignore everyone else: no one is doing everything and most people are not selling as many books as you fear.
- If you wake in the night with a crazy idea, go back to sleep.
- Be strategic and time-focused. Six months before publication, make a plan (in conjunction with your publisher); then do virtually nothing till two months before P-day.Then, look at your plan and follow it. This planning eliminates the need to wake in the night in a panic. Besides, you're not panicking, remember?
- Remember that what happens to your book will depend mostly on luck and the book, more than how many hours you spent promoting it.
- You do not have to have a launch party - it's fun (for some people) but it usually doesn't sell books so only do it if it will make you happy, not if it will stress you.
- Do as I say, not as I do. But I'm trying - I really am.
By the way, in case my publicist is reading this, the book is called Write to be Published. But it's not published till June, so I'm doing nothing yet.