last may I began a project, a book about wolves. since that time I’ve traveled to montana, yellowstone, wyoming, idaho, montana again, yellowstone again. I’ve read a towering stack of books, and perused articles and op eds galore. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, from hunters to ranchers to conservationists, attorneys, retired schoolteachers, biologists. I’ve written, I’ve listened, I’ve reflected, I’ve written more. and more, and more, shaping and crafting it into something worth reading.
and yesterday, I took my manuscript–after giving it a thorough polishing–and put it down for a nap. it’s going to rest, now, for a few weeks. I’m going to leave it alone, no checking to see if its breathing, for I’m going to trust that it’ll be just fine without me.
a small period of dormancy is good for both of us. I’m going to focus on other projects, other areas in my life that might need a little attention, and I’m purposefully not going to think about wolves. I’m going to tidy up my living spaces, maybe go for a walk. catch up on all those things I’ve let slip to the bottom of the pile. maybe sing a little bit. sweep out a few corners. think about the cover of the published book, envision it on people’s tables and nightstands, in their hands, in their minds.
this period of enforced hibernation is a trick used by many writers, a way to view something with fresh eyes. it’s crucial to be able to step away from your work, to be able to see it from a witnessing viewpoint. to read it as if you were someone else. and this is impossible to do when you’re engrossed in the writing, the creation of it. some parts of my manuscript I wrote 6, maybe 7 months ago, and during my most recent full-manuscript assessment and edit, I had no memory of writing them. some parts I’d written just 2 or 3 months back, and I read them as if for the first time. I know when I pick the manuscript back up a few weeks from now I won’t have forgotten it all, but hopefully the time away will have dulled my memory enough to let it speak to me in a different way. perhaps parts will be less clear, perhaps new ideas will jump out at me, different ways to organize, to express thoughts, to make the story better hold together, intrigue, delight.
when I return to the manuscript a few weeks from now, I will read it from end to end, I will try to forget that I wrote any of it, I will let it speak to me. and hopefully it will howl.
two months ago my favorite publishing company–torrey house press–approached me with an idea for a book, and asked me if I would be interested in taking on the project. let me clarify: they approached me with a topic. a one-word topic, a topic that they said I could take on and write about in any way that inspired me. sounds great, doesn’t it? sounds like a dream job, sounds like something any writer with half a brain should say yes to.
so I said yes, (because I appear to have–sometimes if not always–about half a brain). and thus I find myself writing a book about wolves.
and it is going to be a damn good book.
I’ve been researching like crazy for the past two months, reading and interviewing and traveling to yellowstone and missoula and bozeman, thinking and feeling and synthesizing it all . . . and I am creating an incredible book about something I never even knew I might care about. at least, I’m creating this incredible book when I can tear myself away from the never-ending research.
about a month into my indoctrination-by-overload into the world of wolves, I had eight books stacked on my table and I needed a bike ride. along the route, my biking buddy bob was listening to my current-and-future wolf reading list, and he said to me, “back in college, a professor once told me–after listening to all of the research I’d done–just start writing.”
so I just started writing. and I’m still writing, and researching, and reading, and continuing to write.
there are numerous books about wolves already out there: you can read about the reintroduction of wolves into yellowstone, you can read the science, you can read books with amazing pictures, you can read about people who camped and lived with a wolf pack for six years. mine will be nothing like these: they’re already out there. mine is a personal story, a personal journey, with universal application. it’s a book about wolves, and it’s also a book about what it means to be human, in a world with wolves.
and it’s getting written. slowly. there’s more research to do, more experiences to be had, more people to talk with. but I’m remembering to write. because it’s an awful lot like bicycling: nothing happens when you don’t pedal. and once you begin pedaling, your destination comes closer and closer, one pedal stroke at a time.
one day you’ll want to be reading my wolf book. because not only am I an excellent researcher, but I’m a darn good writer and I’m going to keep writing, one word at a time, each day bringing my destination just a little bit closer, and closer, until one day, the wolf book will be ready for you and I will begin writing something else.
some people can sell anything.
some people can sell anything they believe in.
and then there are those who can sell anything they believe in, unless they were the one who created it. I, unfortunately, belong in this latter category.
my undergrad is in marketing. and although our world has changed dramatically since I earned that degree, many of the principles remain intact. research, target markets, distribution, advertising…regardless of the product, success occurs when all of these pieces come together effectively. to sell something–anything–one must have a marketing plan and be (or hire) a salesman.
all I want to do is be a writer. I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to create written works; I don’t want to create marketing plans. but alas, I live in these interesting times, and I am still an “unknown” in the world of published books. thus, if I want to get anywhere, I have to become a salesman.
at this point I have one co-authored self-published book out there, faith greater than pain. it’s available on amazon. we’ve sold a few hundred copies, which surpasses by far the typical sales number for a self-published book, which is somewhere around 50. we’re kicking butt. but we’d like to sell a few hundred more, then another thousand or so. and then more. according to the Deseret News, it’s a phenomenal read, and it deserves a wide audience. but I still can’t figure out how to effectively market it.
and then my latest dilemma: the next book, the constant possibility of grace. this is a beautiful book, written to bring greater awareness to an amazing humanitarian organization that is working to increase social parity throughout our world. I wrote this book to let others know about CHOICE Humanitarian, and at this point, with the manuscript sitting in the proverbial drawer, I’m not fulfilling my mission. so . . . it’s time to dig out the marketing hat. at least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself to do. and I find it terribly difficult.
a good friend of mine, years ago, when a place was swarming with people would say, everyone and their pet alligator were trying to find space, get in, make a purchase, whatever the situation might be. and that’s how I feel about the writing world: everyone and their pet alligator wants to write a book. everyone and their pet alligator wants to publish a book, capture an agent’s attention, find a publisher. I am just one more.
one more human trying to create a web presence, garner some attention, make a name for myself, drum up interest, build a platform, find someone–somewhere–with a nationally heard voice to support what I do. one more human trying to navigate the world of social media and networking.
so, right now I’m trying to put my creative energies into formulating a marketing plan for my grace book. it’s not enough to simply publish it myself; without a plan to support its introduction to the world I’ll be lucky to sell 50 copies. I’m networking, reaching out to everyone I know who has any kind of a connection, working on tight cover copy and blurbs, designing schemes and promotions. when I’d rather be–my soul cries out for me to be–simply writing.
but I and my pet alligator are joining the fray. we’re here for the long haul, and we’re not giving up. I’m remembering my purpose in creating this book and making that the focus so I don’t have to make it about me. this way I can brag about the subject, not the incredible writing (smile).
pet alligator and I are going back to school, marketing 101. keep an eye out for us, because we’re tenacious. there will come a day when you’ll be hearing about this book from someone other than the two of us.
this afternoon I decided to organize my writing life. a wet version of something between hail, sleet, and snow is piling up on my yard and patio and it’s a perfect day to be indoors contemplating the various paths I might follow during my next half-year of writing.
like the suddenness of this afternoon’s storm, my writing life has just ignited. while I was waiting for a lunch meeting regarding my grace manuscript, I counted back the years of this writing life of mine, and realized that it’s been almost 22 years since I committed to creating written works of art. given, I haven’t yet quit my day job, but I have never truly stopped pursuing this dream. I’ve performed some editing, I’ve hired out, I’ve spent a chunk of time writing “morning pages,” I’ve attended workshops and seminars and written more queries and synopses than I want to think about. printed papers of all I’ve written would likely cover every wall in our main downtown library. essays, short stories, novels, memoir, works of non-fiction . . . I am versatile and prolific.
and suddenly I’m busy. I have one published book out there for which I must stimulate sales and find more ways to market, and I have a completed manuscript for which I’m creating a marketing plan. I’ve just accepted a commission to complete a memoir for a woman who died before completing hers, and I’m working on a short story to enter into a competition next month. in addition, I have a friend who wants me to take a look at her manuscript, and a request from a small publisher to come up with an idea (and eventually a completed manuscript) to meet his current need. not to mention my novel-in-the-works . . .
so I decided it was time to get organized.
my sophisticated system is this: a manila folder upon which I’ve written the name of each project, my current plans and commitments for it, and my 3-6 month goal. it took about 15 minutes, and so far it works for me. now I have something to keep me centered and on task, to help me remember what I might forget, something to keep me honest. it all seems doable.
however, it also pointed out to me that we’ve already finished almost one-twelfth of this beautiful new year, and next month’s contest deadline will be followed closely by my next goal date in april. time slows for no man, does she?
the snow is still coming down solidly, building on top of what came down when I began typing this post. it’s a good quarter-inch higher than it was then, thick and white and wet. it’s resolute, committed, determined, unstoppable.
sounds good to me.
a close friend of mine earned her executive MBA recently, attending a highly ranked program and working harder than you can imagine to do so. she had to do some group work, she had to write papers. she assessed case studies and performed calculations, and had to submit all of her work to professors for their critique and grade.
ugh. I shudder just thinking about it. I’ve had my turn in grad school, but it was long enough ago that the memories (and anxiety) have faded.
talking with my friend today, though, brought back those moments of stress, those uncomfortable times when I had to subject myself to someone’s assessment of my work.
and here I am again.
I created a written work, poured hours and days, weeks, months, years into this manuscript, then spent weeks formatting, proofing, tweaking it into a form I liked. I then pushed the “yes” button and ordered printed copies, and made them available for sale. I eventually created an email campaign to send to close friends and loved ones letting them know about my milestone.
it’s like I’ve written term papers for all my classes, handed them in, and have to now suffer the consequences: I feel like I’m back in school. being graded. scrutinized. having opinions formed about. waiting for word of whether or not I’m going to pass.
I’m astonished by how uncomfortable this all makes me. I’ve been posting to blogs for over 4 years now, so I have apparently become comfortable with “putting myself out there.” why, now, do I suddenly feel such great discomfort when discussing my book with people? the only reason I can find is that I am nervous about the grade. I’ve sailed through 19 years of education with terrific grades: I now am surrounded by fears that what I most love, what fuels me and makes my soul sing, is not going to earn an “A” out in the world.
so, here I am, back in school. author school. manning up, remembering that I have the right to create what I create, to work the way I want to, to express myself in ways that work for me. learning the ropes, learning to subject myself to the feedback, opinions, and grades of others. my friend did it, even graduated and is now succeeding in the real world. she did it, she survived . . . guess I can do it, too.
I think I’ll give myself an A.