Perspective on Good News/Bad News in the Book World

            The past few weeks have been wild and crazy—mostly in a good way, but not without a bump or two. Maybe one big bump, when I’m honest.  I’ve had good news, really good news, more good news, too-good-to-be-true news, oops-reality check news, and some of the best news of all. 

            My book launch for Fire & Water was back in March.  Frankly, I’m still flying high off of that—quite a dream come true really.  Launching this book has made me stretch in ways I never imagined. My heart has grown new chambers, it seems, for all of the new love and learning I’ve gained.

            Don’t get me wrong; there’s been work, too. First there was the transition from holding my nose and accepting that I had to participate in loathsome social media to discovering some of the kindest, most generous, and heartfelt connections that could have been discovered in no other way.  I’ve taken classes in technology, marketing, and branding only because I thought them necessary, only to end up meeting people whom I now consider invaluable, both as part of my profession as an author and making deep personal connections as well. 

            I’m being vague; let me get specific.  This will give you the good, better, best news in a nutshell.  Here’s how it started.

            I took a class on a promotion technique called a Kindle giveaway. This has to do with marketing (ugh) and technology (ugh-er) and learning things like “search engine optimization” (ugh-est!).  But by taking this class I learned a ton and met an amazing instructor in Howard VanEs.  In my one-on-one coaching time with him, Howard and I made a connection.  Long story short, we’re now partnering to create a Webinar that marries his skills and mine called “Public Speaking for Writers and Other Introverts” to be delivered in September of this year. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t have the tech savvy or the marketing skills to get it going.  Howard did…and does.  And he’s not ugh-ish at all.  So I’ve learned something, met someone I admire and enjoy, and am now doing something I’ve hoped to do for a long time.  Good news and even better news, right!

            During the time of my giveaway, some other book-related good news arrived.  I’ve been invited to speak at the San Miguel de Allende writing conference in February of 2014. This is a GIANT honor and a thrill for me.  But he even better news, great news in fact, is that some of my most favorite of all time authors will be there as keynote speakers.  Pat Conroy, an all-time idol of mine and David Whyte, a man I could listen to all day, will be on the program—the SAME program as I’m on.  (No big head here, I’m clearly the small potatoes. Still, it’s an honor extraordinaire.) I’ve often said that I would not be one of those screaming, fainting girls at rock concerts, but I do get a little woozy in the presence of some of my rock-star writer idols. 

            Back to the giveaway…

            Attributable in large part to Howard VanEs’s tutelage, my Kindle giveaway was an outrageous success with 38,101 people downloading my book during the three freebie days.  I know, giving away books does not money make, but it buys visibility on Amazon’s giant muscle-y search engines.  Remember, search engines, that other tech stuff I’ve been learning about.  As a result of this massive download, my book rose and gained some new and unfamiliar eyeballs on Amazon.  Not an easy thing for a li’l old unknown author.  Better yet, many of those who downloaded the book gave it terrific reviews, almost all of them 5-star!  Better than that, I got personal letters from readers, people I’d otherwise never have encountered and who might never have found my story were it not for all of that icky marketing stuff.  The letters have been kind and generous, but more than that, they’ve been deeply moving.  Given that my book has themes about loving someone who is mentally ill, I’ve gotten letters from mothers, sisters and wives who shared their stories with me. Some have lost their loved ones due to suicide or institutionalization. Some have had to separate their lives from those whose disturbance was too profound or too treacherous to endure. I’m so deeply honored that anyone would read my fictional story and see themselves in the pages.  The fact that they would take the time to tell me moves me beyond words. 

            We all like to think ourselves above the shallowness of needing external validation, but I, alas, am not evolved enough to disregard such.  I’m reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s quote, “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”  Oh, Georgia how I wish I were so evolved.  But I am not.  The affirmations feel good.  The letters feel better.  What can I say? And criticisms hurt, just a little, despite Georgia’s philosophy. 

            Now for the too-good-to-be-true good news.  Just twenty-four hours ago (as I write this) I received a royalty statement while my husband and I were out to dinner and read it on my iPhone.  My giveaway days ended on July 29th.  The royalty statement showed that on August 3rd, I’d sold more than 9000 copies of my book.  Authors expect a bump after a giveaway, but this seemed an outrageous bump.  But then I’d been reassured by experts that the 38K was an outrageous, even unprecedented, number of free downloads and that I’d exceeded all kinds of expectations.  Why wouldn’t an outrageous sale follow?  Well, 9000+ sales was not only a shocking number, but a shocking royalty payout.  An unbelievable and unexpected windfall.  I started thinking of how we could pay down some debt, share the money with our son who’s struggling to squeak into the Bay Area housing market as a first-time buyer, and maybe even get the guest room painted.  Woo-hoo! 

            This all took place last night and this morning.

            I called my sister, my writing buddies and my son, and was generally floating so far above Cloud 9 that I couldn’t even see Cloud 9 from my altitude. I shared the news with my bro-in-law, who actually hooted into the phone!  I posted my braggy news on my writers’ network at She Writes.  Each person that heard of my success cheered louder than the last. Sure, it was good money.  Who wouldn’t be excited about the money? But more than that it was some feeling that maybe I’d defied the odds.  I was going to be one of those independent authors who busted through the noise of the more renowned and that my book might actually have some commercial success. It felt good.  It felt damn good. I felt legitimized, validated, and optimistic. Sorry, Georgia.  I confess my need for external validation.

            Then the true numbers revealed themselves.  Note to self: Do not read a spreadsheet on an iPhone, and if you do, CONFIRM. I’m not a gullible type and don’t usually fall prey to false good news, but hey, I was on a roll, right?

            The truth is that the breakout of sales numbers scooped some of the giveaways into the column that I thought was actual paid-for sales.  Oops. Sales were not 9000.  Not. Even. Close. Big oops.  I had not broken through the noise. There would be no paying down of debt.  We will help our son, but not as easily as this windfall might have made it. 

            At first I felt a hot flash of embarrassment.  I’d bragged, after all. Bragging was not something that was smiled upon in my household growing up.  More often the phrases, “Who do you think you are?” or “Don’t get too big for your britches,” were the norm at my house. Here I was, way bigger than my britches, for sure. It felt like a large part of my ass was hanging out for the world to see. Not a good feeling at all.  Perhaps that’s where the phrase “cover your ass” comes from? I felt like covering, for sure.  Egg, let me officially introduce you to my face. 

            When I figured out my error, I thought I’d throw up. I scrunched my face as I studied the numbers trying to morph them into what I’d hoped they were.  The truth was undeniable. I indulged in about two minutes of tears. They were embarrassed tears. Disappointed tears. Bursted bubble kind of tears. Then I was embarrassed again. 

            After all of that good news, bad news, disappointing news, the best news of all arrived.  It’s arrived in waves all day.  First, my husband (who was just as disappointed as I was) said, “Well baby, we have nothing less right now than we had yesterday morning.”  This simple, obvious truth is some of the best news, especially when added to the fact that my husband always reacts this way to my efforts, successes, and even the failures. Let’s not forget, I’d had a bunch of great news for weeks and weeks. All of that good news is still right here. This mistake took nothing real away, only the illusion of something not quite real. 

            I got over myself, then texted the few folks I’d told about the windfall and posted my correction on my author network site at She Writes.  What I got was an outpouring of support, encouragement, and understanding for my rookie mistake.  What I got was a reminder of how successful my book giveaway had been, how positive the reviews are, and how much more potential still exists.  I got reminders of all that is good.  I got no scolding for my too-small britches. What I got was a big, fat, wet, kiss of a reminder of who my friends (and family members) really are and what they mean to me.  Friends of these kinds are the people who are cheering when nobody else is cheering, and when others do cheer, they’re cheering even louder.

            The very best news of all—fortunately not too-good-to-be-true AT ALL—is that those who love us, love us in the good times, root for us in the best of times, support us in the worst times.  They forgive us when we make mistakes.  Laugh with us as we sort out our goofs and love us whatever our book sales numbers, our hair color, our weight on the bathroom scale, or our daily skin condition. 

            Really, what more could this humble author want? 

            So Fire & Water hasn’t yet broken through the noise. I’ll continue to do all that I can to help it to do so.  Commercial success may or may not happen, but my pals will be cheering no matter what.        



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