Recently, I got off the phone with a reporter from an industry journal and laughed to myself about how old fashioned my business model is.
My answers about my publishing house didn’t include TikTok or growing your newsletter numbers; I kept circling back to organic, genuine connection as the way to sell books. Person to person. Reader to reader—whether those readers are booksellers, authors, publishers, or regular folks who like books.
You to me, and me to you. One person at a time.
In particular, I spoke about getting to know your local booksellers long before you ask for an event or for the store to carry your debut title.
When I got off the phone, I thought to myself, I’m not in it for the minute.
That’s just not how I live my life.
I’m in it for the long haul. For the years, for the accumulation of genuine relationships.
It’s the long game that we need to keep reminding ourselves of, as authors and artists, especially when facing setbacks. Rejections, especially. Sometimes we get so caught up on wanting specific yeses or accolades, as if those will hold up the rest of our careers and allow us to hold our heads high. Or worse, we let a rejection, a loss, a setback define our process for days or even years. We lose our way because an external force says no.
What happens in the minute—when those award shortlists are announced, when a rejection comes in—feels so big. I know—two longlists were just announced last week. My debut novel was eligible for them, but either my publicist didn’t submit or if I was considered and rejected. Neither feels that great. But it’s the daily work that matters most, the return to the page after disappointment or distraction or a health crisis or—yes—even not being on the longlist. Even if you’re a writer who sets the work aside for months, and then comes back: you’re in it for the long haul.
As I thought about this longterm view of my career, though, I realized I’m also in it for the minute. At least when it comes to making art, to being present, to finding joy in small corners. The reason I’m a writer, what propels me to the page, is the work itself. Not the promise of how it’ll be received, but the clarity and joy I find within the process. And that’s very visceral and immediate.
So maybe that’s a distinction we ought to talk more about: with the act of creation, it’s important to stay with the story, to not be running through chore lists or feeling bad about not doing something more visibly productive. To honor the process and whatever draws us to the work.
But from the career perspective, adjusting the mantle of writer or author or artist on our shoulders, we cannot judge or cut ourselves down by setbacks. Those days we don’t write “enough” words. Or any at all. Those days when someone else gets kudos for their work and you get… nothing.
Where art and commerce intersect, it’s tricky.
Earlier this summer, I had the absolute pleasure of being on the Spoken Word crew at the Oregon Country Fair. In exchange for camping privileges and a stipend, I got to take the stage in the forest for an hour a day. To share words and stories. To be present with other fair-goers. Sometimes people came specifically to hear me. They settled into a bean bag or found a place in the shade on the wooden bleachers. Other times, passers-by caught a few words and stepped closer to linger. The transitory nature of the crowd became part of my performance. I connected with people on the fringes by delivering a line to them or a smile. Some of the passers-by swooped back out after a few minutes, gesturing to their heart as a thank you before returning to the jubilant, costumed melee that is Fair.
I didn’t take the ebb and flow of the crowd personally in the forest.
I didn’t expect to sell a certain number of books in the forest.
That’s not why I went.
And selling a product isn’t why I open a blank document and start to write. Ever.
This is a reminder, from midsummer, to do what you love because you love it. Not because you expect someone to praise you for it. Or pay you for it.
I am holding each minute dear, with my youngest just home from her first overnight camp and my teen holding down their first job. In it for the minute, in the sense of savoring each experience. Staying present best I can.
And also: in it for the long haul, coming back to the page over the years and decades. Connecting with all of you and inviting you to respond with your thoughts.
YOUR BRIGHT SIDE INVITATION: Are you in it for the minute, as an artist, or for the long haul? Or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I started this newsletter to build a conversation, to connect and engage and encourage, as a publisher and as a debut author.
Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary has made it beyond the golden first three months of its existence. On the other side of that seemingly arbitrary time period, AudioFile reviewed my audiobook and the Behind the Mic podcast picked it up as their audiobook of the day! If you want a five-minute break from reality, listen to two audiobook experts discuss my novel and how Graham Halstead’s narration adds to the story. Listen here.
I’m elated and honored to be a Willamette Writers Conference keynote speaker! Sign up by tomorrow (Aug. 2) to listen. There’s so much goodness at the conference this year, with online and in person components. My part, Friday, Aug. 5, will be in person and also streaming. There’s a strict COVID mask-and vax policy, which makes me feel much more comfortable about venturing outside my usual bubble.
On Aug. 14, I’m running a workshop through Hidden Timber Books’s “The Work Behind the Work” series. Join me for a presentation on “Bringing Unforgettable Characters to Life.” The cost is $50 for a 90-minute workshop.
Lit Fest is an online literary festival through Oklahoma’s Metropolitan Library System and I’m presenting From Autographs to Workflow on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Write on the Sound, an Edmonds, Washington, conference, is going to be online this year. I’ll be giving a presentation on telling small presses apart on Friday, Oct. 7. By their covers, of course, but also other factors—some of which you might not imagine. It should be great fun and especially informative for authors who are thinking about homes for their work.
If you’re new here and want to join my mailing list, the subscribe button is below. I write once or twice a month, because even though social media experts often suggest you should be on a schedule, that’s not how I like to communicate. (Shrug.) I have too many yards to water and too many circles to skate at the local rollerskating rink.
Love this post, and I’ve been thinking lately about what I want from my Substack. Over the last couple of months I think it’s the connection, like “meeting” writers such as yourself. And long live the Oregon Country Fair!
Beautifully expressed. Love what you do. 💕