The Vulnerable Side of a Writer's Life
Written by
Sheryl Sorrentino
September 2012
Written by
Sheryl Sorrentino
September 2012

Okay, The Floater has been out for over a month, and I am into full marketing (ahem, hawking) mode. I hired a publicist to run a two-week media campaign, and I’ve gotten several “nibbles.” (And you’d be amazed just how thrilling it is to get any expression of interest from an online newspaper, blogger or review site—even if it means giving books away for free! You’d think I was actually generating sales!) I feel like a job applicant who emailed her resume to over a thousand people, got twelve calls, and is now waiting with bated breath to find out whether any of them like me enough to offer me a job (or in my case, media exposure in the form of a radio/newspaper interview or favorable book review).

You see, in order to “make it” as a novelist, I’ve got to turn myself into something of a mini-celebrity. Not only is this difficult to pull off when you’re a nobody, but as a basically private person, the end result isn’t something I particularly relish. My husband has warned me that, along with popularity comes vulnerability. Once we put ourselves “out there,” we open ourselves up to anyone and everyone who might not like us—or might like us too much. Already, I’ve been taken to task on over a book review I recently posted, and a junior high school classmate popped up on Facebook, confessed to harboring a secret crush way back when, and began phoning, texting and sending me photos with unsettling regularity.

This is the harsh underbelly of a writer’s life: My soul craves the solitude and quiet creativity that go into crafting a novel keystroke by gentle stroke. My heart wants to focus on writing my next novel, but I have made a personal commitment to dedicate six to twelve months on hard marketing and media outreach so that the one I've already written might take hold. What this means, as a practical matter, is that rather than writing, I am spending my precious time trolling Facebook and Twitter; spamming any website or organization that might have any interest in my book; checking my Amazon accounts with unhealthy frequency; and becoming a general pain in my own ass. As my fellow writers undoubtedly understand, once we’ve managed to pen a masterpiece (or two or three), the fun has only just begun. While the writing process is nurturing, creative, and fulfilling, the marketing phase can feel obsessive and soul-depleting. It feels as though I’m a willing participant in some sort of feeding frenzy where my inner vultures are plucking the meat off my psychic bones.

I realize that anything we want badly enough in life comes with a price tag. And I’m sure many writers love the marketing phase just as much—if not more—than the writing stage. I can ultimately accept exposing my soul to the literary media in the hope that my creative output will be well-received. But at what point does a pragmatic, business-minded person question the folly of chasing a dream that will likely never “pay off” in dollars and cents? “Nibbles” or no, so far I have spent a good deal of time and money trying to launch my third novel before a vast, indifferent public, and have yet to see any tangible results in the form of book sales. And even more troublesome is that pesky question of why. Why is it so important to cultivate a fan base? Why can’t I simply be happy engaging in a joyful and fulfilling pastime for which I obviously have flair and passion? Why does writing without recognition not feel like enough?

Face it, no amount of touting my "product" can guarantee that I will become “popular” or “successful.” And in this business, popularity and success are measured in book sales, plain and simple. Until my efforts start bearing fruit in the form of my books being plucked from Amazon's infinite marketplace, my efforts don't amount to anything more than a fun hobby—no matter how many times my name might pop up in a Google search.

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