View from the Bookstore Shelf

I’m proud to say my first novel, JACK WAKES UP, is available in hundreds of bookstores nationwide—Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Independent Booksellers, and most-likely the store closest to you. Three Rivers Press (Random House) has sent out 6,000 copies of the book for people to buy.

So now what? And how does it feel?

Well, apparently, I keep blogging, podcasting, and doing my damndest to get the book to sell. That’s fine with me. I’m comfortable in the social media/Web 2.0 space and I can tweet my head off and Facebook-share with the best of them. But is this the nirvana I’ve pined for, worked hard toward and waited to achieve? In a word: No.

My main point is this: as writers we better enjoy the climb as we’re going up the mountain; the process has to be enjoyable. For me, this happened when I built an audience by podcasting my fiction as free, serialized audiobooks. Once I developed a relationship with fans, I had the feel of being a real writer, a success, way before my book ever hit a single store or shelf.

Why was that good? Because the old model toward writing success (getting fans by finding readers in stores, in print) takes a very, very long time. Even for the luckiest of us—and I now count myself among these (see paragraph one)—this takes multiple books and at least a few years after your first major-market publication. I know many of us come to writing for what it gives us in our rooms, the little vacuums in which we work, but in all honesty it just feels better when you know there are people who actually want to read what you’re working on—especially people who aren’t related to you or going to critique you. Let’s just accept that. It doesn’t make us bad writers to admit we want readers.

Getting picked up by a big publisher is no magic bullet. The fact is, they might not do anything to get your book advertised or sold that you can’t do yourself. For new authors, they’re probably not going to sink in much, if any, ad money. Getting books into stores is great, but when was the last time you bought a book by an unknown author at a Barnes & Noble just because you were there and saw it on a shelf?

So here are my words of advice for aspiring writers out there: enjoy what you’re doing on a daily basis, enjoy the time that you write. It’s your savior.

But also try to build a following before you ever sell that first book. Do this not just because it’ll help you get a publisher, but because it can actually be the best thing you’ll ever receive: better than the advance, the editor and agent, even the final, hard-copy book in your hands. It’s the fans and finding them, and knowing they’re out there that will really lift you up and keep you going. The writer’s road is a long one, and the sooner you can find this support the better.

Now the good news from today’s publishing world: you can start finding these readers on the internet by putting your work out there in the right places for them to find. You can do it yourself, whenever you’re ready. All the in-store cache that comes with the big print deal? I’m here to tell you that the readers are a better payoff, and that the chances are neither will let you quit your day job.

Seth Harwood blogs regularly about the publishing industry on Open Culture, and podcasts his fiction and writer’s adventures at sethharwood.com He will be speaking in September at Writer’s Digest’s Business of Getting Published Conference. For discounted registration, use the code S7Har


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  1. Mike Luoma says . . . | July 8, 2009 / 6:29 am

    Great advice, Seth. Right on! It does means a lot when I Twitter/FB about my upcoming book “Alibi Jones” and a fan messages back, “Can’t wait!!” It’s inspiring & keeps me going through the down times. And I got most of those fans through podcasting my first three books at Podiobooks. Can’t overstate the impact Podiobooks has.

  2. Seth Harwood says . . . | July 8, 2009 / 7:52 am

    Mike, yes! You’re doing all the right things. And when those fans write you, even just that short message, it means the world, doesn’t it?
    Especially when they’re true fans, basically strangers who only know you for your work.

    Seth

  3. Mike Luoma says . . . | July 8, 2009 / 8:00 am

    It does mean the world!

    QFT: “Especially when they’re true fans, basically strangers who only know you for your work.”

    They give you confirmation that what’s inside of your head is actually entertaining to someone else! I realize I’m echoing what you’ve said, but that to me is real validation of your work.

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