Sometimes all you have to do is ask. For some of us this isn’t easy. I suspect I take on more than I have to not only because I don’t know how to say no – that’s a blog for another day – but because I don’t know how to ask for help. This comes in part of having been let down and left hanging at times in the past. But it’s probably, as well, a result of my working class background, of never having had anything handed to me.
I also knew though that with no money and fewer reserves, if I was going to pull off the launch of my new book Oh Gad! I was going to have to learn to ask for help. I would be reminded that sometimes all you have to do is ask. People may surprise you.
One idea I had was to film the launch and upload the video to my various networks for additional mileage and maybe to compensate a little for my lack of a touring budget by bringing people into the launch experience in Antigua. I knew though that hiring a videographer was going to cost money I didn’t have. As I’ve worked in media and now freelance as a writer and editor, in a 108 square mile country, the people I would be approaching would not exactly be strangers. Still, I remember dragging my feet a little bit before finally reaching out for an estimate. The second person I approached responded in mere minutes, and not only did he respond in the affirmative but he offered to do it for free. You heard that right, for free. Only I didn’t hear it, not right away. He found the idea of a late night launch odd and I took great pains to explain that it was deliberately timed to anticipate April 17th when the book was set to go on sale, with a festive party atmosphere and a countdown to the book’s release and midnight toast. With the explanation I sent another request for a figure. How much is this going to cost me, can we negotiate a discount, a trade exchange; that sort of thing. After hitting send, I re-read his email and that’s when the word ‘free’ jumped out at me. Sure that I must have mis-read, I sent a follow up email, seeking clarification; and he swiftly joked back that he was wondering if I was insisting on paying for it. To which I could only say a heartfelt thank you because truthfully I hadn’t known how I was going to pay for it.
There were other surprises like that. A friend put me on to a wine bar which when I approached them, heavy footed, about the cost of having wine at the event, offered to contribute said wine. The book store suggested I reach out to another colleague, someone with her hand in both the literary and theatrical arts, who might be able to assist. Not only did she come on board with her producing partner to help stage my launch she also got others to contribute normally pricey items, like a PA system to the effort. Now this lady is super busy, but when I reached out to her, she acknowledged that she was busy but willing to help. I asked another friend to help out with music and she, also super busy on any given day of the week, hollered back with an affirmative response right away. My father’s sister when I asked about purchasing some pottery as giveaways at the launch event, pottery being a visual and thematic motif in the book, asked me how many and said she would contribute the small number.
I didn’t know what to do with all this generousity. Now I’m sure I’m going to have to pay for some things – no free launches and all that –but thanks to Belmont Studios, C & C Wine Bar, Chosen Sounds Studios, August Rush Productions, Elvie’s Pottery, ByZIA Photography, the Best of Books, and my DJ for one night only friend, I was not in this alone. And all I had to do was ask.
I have a friend who chastises me for this often, not asking for help when I need it. I can’t say that I’m fixed after this episode, but this experience is reminding me that getting your book out into the marketplace, even with publisher support and friends lobbying hard for people to like your page and support your launch, is stressful. You’re anticipant, you’re worried, you want to speed things up, you want to slow them down; and if you’re like me you’re juggling real life and all of its obligations and deadlines, debts and responsibilities, with this surreal otherness of releasing your baby to the scrutiny of others, living your dream and sort of your nightmare all at once. You can’t begin to explain to all the people who just expect you to smile and be happy, how panicked you feel, or that the only thing keeping the panic at bay is you’ve really got too much to do to sit down thinking about it.
There is no manual for all this. Your book is about to drop, you should feel bouncy and like a balloon hyped up on helium. Shoulda coulda woulda. How you feel is how you feel, and that’s, well, a bit like a chicken with its head cut off (a reference which Caribbean people who have actually seen this might be better able to relate to). Don’t get me wrong, when I first held the book in my hand signing copies preparatory to the launch, I might have finished more quickly if I didn’t stop to flip through and turn it over and just be consumed by the wow-ness of it.
So I am most of all super-anticipant. I wish I could just show up at the party and say thank you and sip wine, and, exhale. I will sip
champagne wine at my launch party – damn it! – and it will be festive if I have a word to say about it. But I’ve got to plan it first don’t I, like a kid throwing myself a birthday party. But these unexpected offers and acceptances are a reminder that, not only don’t I have to, but I can’t do it alone.
So my tips if I have any for others contemplating this journey are remember to breathe, take one thing at a time, try to get back to creating or to see a way where you can do so very soon after the push to sell settles or even in the midst of this (writer, first, remember), and, yes, like my tanty used to say, leave room for disappointment. But even so ask for help, people may surprise you.
THE MORNING AFTER UPDATE (April 17th 2012): Okay, so the reality check that I'll add to this is that sometimes people indeed will not come through. Like my tanty used to say "leave room for disappointment". Either way, you can still have a good time. My launch activity for Oh Gad! was held last night, and no not every one delivered as promised but most did and in the end it was festive and fun as I'd hoped. Supportive people, good atmosphere, my book's coming out. Still smiling.
Joanne C. Hillhouse is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. Oh Gad! is her third book of fiction and first fulll length novel. Keep up with her at http://www.jhohadli.com and http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouse