I’ve spent more than twenty years as a writer who bangs on doors. Literally knocking on doors in neighborhoods like a vacuum cleaner salesman of old, while figuratively attempting to break into the publishing business, sending out manuscripts and queries, song demos and attending parties thrown for other people. I’ve stayed up all night, pounding out the words and the melody, believing that one day, someone might hear something I wrote and it might matter to them in some way. A smile, a tear, a memory, a truth. The next morning, I’m grinning and pretending to be impervious to the nasty looks from folks who don’t want to see me shivering on their front porch in the pouring down rain.
When I signed my first publishing contract for a song, I thought my ship had come in. I was wrong, two decades ago. When I signed a three-book publishing contract, I believed that at last, the tide had turned in my favor. That was two years ago. I was knocking on doors about an hour ago. Sad but true.
One would think that a career in sales would be helpful to launching a book, utilizing lessons hard won for a higher purpose. Nope. Not for me, at least. Because the thing is, I hate sales. Always have. I enjoyed the freedom of setting my own hours and a reasonable standard of living, although in recent years that has declined with a direct correlation to the number of hours I spend writing novels and thinking about plot and wishing I wasn’t ringing somebody’s doorbell.
I hope I’m a better writer than salesman. The trouble is, to make a living writing, an author has to sell. People have to know what we have to offer, must see the need for that product, and then make the decision to purchase it, that wonderful click on Amazon. I hate to think of it in those terms. I’d rather believe that it’s something other than that, but that’s what it is.That’s not to say that the quality of the next great American novel isn’t important. Every now and then, there is a story about a writer who rockets to well deserved stardom and acclaim because whatever she wrote was so good it couldn’t be denied.I love those stories.
I used to believe in the theory that the “cream will rise to the top.” But I’ve known too many killer songwriters who died unknown and destitute, read countless brilliant books by obscure authors, while watching hordes flock to the Kardashians and Fifty Shades of Gray and listen to country-rap music. (Oxymoron) Yet all of those things are hugely successful. The creators of those endeavors birthed empires from vapor, and that’s some damn good salesmanship. The thing is to sell something that people want to buy, and let them know it’s there. I’ve struggled with that concept for as long as I’ve been writing and selling, and for me there has been a dichotomy. Writing is writing. Selling is selling. I want to write true, but I also want to make a living. I hope the two aren’t mutually exclusive for me. I’m still dreaming, still believing, writing hard and close to the bone.
I’ve got three book releases this week, and I’m a crummy salesman. If you read my books, I think you will smile, perhaps cry, and certainly be transported to places you’ve never been. I’d consider it a kindness if you’d “click.”
For the most part, what a salesman hears is “I’m not interested.” I hear it every day, and it wears me out now more than it did only a few years ago.