It’s easy to get caught up in pre-publication frenzy, and even easier—at least for me—to succumb to a deluge of self-generated, panic-inducing questions at this time like, Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? What should I be doing that I’m not doing? What am I doing that I don’t really need to be doing? And—no matter how many resources a publisher is allocating or not allocating—it's all too easy to bemoan, Why isn’t the publisher doing more?
Left unchecked, these kind of questions can lead straight to crazy-making episodes of both the literary and domestic sort. Which is why I had to give myself a professional time-out the other day. At 9 a.m. I did a cursory check of emails to rule out any emergencies, and then I kept myself off the internet and away from all marketing-related paraphernalia until close to midnight, long after the kids had gone to bed. It was an internet diet day, totally unplugged, and it did feel like a retro, acoustic version of life as I once knew it, before the computer became my lifeline to all things imagined and real.
Also, just between me and the 2,000 of you, I’d been having a pretty crappy two days prior. It seemed that all at once, everything that could go wrong was going wrong, that things that should have been happening smoothly had just become a struggle without warning, both personally, professionally, and academically. I’m talking specifically about the period between July 7 and 9. If I were into astrology, I’d probably say it was because Venus is in retrograde or entering my fifth house or kidnapping Jupiter or whatever. As it was, I had no idea what was going on, which sent me into insidious spirals that began with, If I have to be a marketer to this extent to continue being a writer, then maybe I can’t be a writer any more, and ended with making mental lists—very short lists—of other jobs I feel qualified to do. I didn’t know what to do to get my right mind back.
So I decide to unplug for a day. And I have to say, it was a pretty terrific day. Yes, it felt strange to be off the computer for 14 hours straight, and a couple of times I cast longing glances in the direction of my desk. But by resisting its pull, I managed to get an awful lot done. Marigolds got planted. Laundry was sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away--all in the same day. The girls and I walked downtown for dinner, then came back and watched an episode of House Hunters International on HGTV and knitted together for half an hour before their bedtime. Throughout the day, my mind started swirling again in the kind of creative patterns that bring new ideas up to the surface—the sort of ideas that sometimes start generating the beginning of a new book. I’d almost forgotten what that feels like. And I realized, when I let myself get too caught up in the maelstrom of marketing, I start losing sight of why I write in the first place.
Before I went to sleep that night I read a chapter in the book Igniting Inspiration by John Marshall Roberts. He’s a communications expert who created his own paradigm for designing marketing messages that inspire people. I heard him speak in Los Angeles just before I left town for the summer, and it was a pretty mindblowing event. Instead of getting into the demographics of a specific target market, he divides Americans into eight levels of thinking and analyzes the psychographics of each one. He talks and writes about the concept of authenticity, as in the importance of being authentic in our messages (incidentally, it’s the same thing I tell my nonfiction writing students).
That night, as I plowed forward in his book, I read the following sentence: “In any situation, the easiest way to determine if you are being authentic is to ask yourself: Is my true intention in this situation to give or to get?” And I realized, that’s where I’ve been getting stuck this past week. Because for me, the marketing aspect of writing is about getting: about selling, and earning, and accumulating. Whereas writing has always been about giving: a message, a story, a kernel of inspiration or hope. And you know, that getting part? When that’s my main focus, it just feels wrong.
So I started thinking: what if I could find a way to reframe the marketing and promotion side of writing for myself so that it feels like it's about giving, as well? If I could start thinking of it as a vehicle for getting a message out to readers, as an essential method of communication, rather than as a means of racking up the sales figures? Would the sales then naturally follow? This is what I fell asleep thinking about—after, of course, I lit a bedside candle and said my special-magic-voodoo-mantras that help ground me and give me a sense of comfort when I’m feeling most down.
I’ll be damned if I didn’t wake up the next morning to five emails from my editor and my publicist, all encouraging, all bearing good news.
Coincidence? Maybe. That’s fine. I’ll take it.