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 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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Comments (3)
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  • 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.

  • Seth Harwood says:

    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.


  • Mike Luoma says:

    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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