The end of the year is always a good time to look back, take stock, figure out what we’ve learned (or not) during the course of the year. It’s one way to gauge how far we’ve come in the last 12 months. Some of the things I learned this year are:
How to sell without selling. Back in March after the Tucson Festival of Books, I wrote about the process that moved me from being an isolated (and insulated) book writer/seller to being a connected part of the human race and forging links with readers. It’s amazing how much difference a change in perspective can make. Now I get to listen to other people’s stories. I get to hear about what’s important to them, what they remember, how they learn. It’s much more enjoyable to meet people person-to-person, reader-to-reader, rather than book writer/seller-to-customer.
Reviews/Awards/Criticisms. Back in August, I talked about reviews and how they can be ecstasy or agony for a writer. Any given book can elicit every reaction from a one-star “horrible” to a 5-star “perfect!” depending on the reader. Does that mean the book is horrible? No. That means, to that person, on that day and at that time, the book did not meet their needs, their expectations, their hopes and dreams. Does it mean the book is perfect? No. It means, to that person, on that day and at that time, the book did meet their expectations or even exceeded them. The book didn’t change; what changed were the readers. The experiences that shaped them and the filters through which they view the world are very different and something over which the writer has no control. What’s a writer to do? Write the very best book they can. Period. Adapting the “Think Globally, Act Locally” mantra, think Amazon #1, think NYT Best Seller list, think Oprah’s Book Club and the Today Show, but just write the best book you can. Don’t write what you think people want to read; don’t write for the market; write the story that wants to be told. Write the book you want to read. It won’t speak to everyone but it will speak to some. Give it the truest voice you can.
AFGEs. Life is a classroom. If we really think about it, we learn something new every day. It may be something as small as learning not to take a deep breath while eating a powdered doughnut, or as big as learning that cancer doesn’t care who you are or what you still want to do with your life when it points its boney finger at you. The fact is that we never reach the head of the class. We always have more to learn. And learning makes us a better person that we were five minutes ago. Unfortunately, we may not always like the lesson that’s being served. In AA they have an acronym for that: AFGEs. An AFGE is Another F***ing Growth Experience. AFGEs may not be the things we want to learn, but for one reason or another, they seem to be the things we need to learn. Whenever we are served up an AFGE, it may be a hard pill to swallow, but the quicker we swallow it, the quicker we will assimilate the lesson and move on to the next thing, a better person.
We’re all in this together. I’m an introvert; I think most writers are. For many years, I toughed out all the ups and downs of being a writer by myself. I went through the anxiety of submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers; I withstood the rejection letters and rejoiced in the acceptance letters. I fumbled and fell into the pit of a vanity press. I discovered pay-to-publish and then, finally, self-publishing. I taught myself the process of formatting a book for publishing, designing the cover, writing the blurbs. I worked out how to format a story for e-books. Then, everything changed. I discovered writers’ forums online. I jumped into Goodreads and LinkedIn with the joy of an ugly duckling who finally finds where the swans hang out. I made fan Facebook pages for all my books and began to discover all the other writers and writers’ groups there. The culmination (so far) has been WANA, the We Are Not Alone forum created by Kristen Lamb. Finding community like this has been a game-changer. I am not alone. I am but one of many, many writers who toil and pour their hearts out and hope for a kind word for their children stories. It’s a new experience, but we’re all learning that cooperation works better than competition. Supporting each other works better than suppressing each other. Together we can bring our stories to light. Together we can raise them up and deliver them to the world. Together we can ensure that the stories that need to be told are being told.
It’s a great feeling.