Paying the Debut Dues Or How I Got a Silver Sharpie

My friends who don't write -- who aren't debut authors and thus crazy as loons most days, flinging themselves from event to event and trying to balance writing and teaching and blogging and the occasional teeth flossing -- see the promotional aspect of my new world as highly romantic. They're fairly sure that I have a whole wardrobe of author-y clothing -- vintage skirts and blouses, and maybe even a hat or two even though I look stupid in most hats, and everyone knows it -- that I slip into while waiting for the car service to pick me up and spirit me off to here and there where I sip herbal tea and say hi to hordes of adoring fans and sign my name inside copies of Dreaming Anastasia with a flourish. Possibly with a vintage fountain pen. Possibly just a really nice silver sharpie. They have outlandish notions that bookstore owners and community relations managers nationwide are emailing and texting me in droves, all fluttery and anxious for me to come visit. That my publisher is sending me bon bons and little hand written notes that say things like "Stephenie Meyer who? Vampires are so over. It's you, Joy. Just you." And other helpful stuff like that.

The truth, of course, is a bit different. My publisher FedExed me a silver sharpie to sign posters, but when I returned it with the posters, I never did see it again. I've got a crazy wonderful publicist who helped me create the blog tour that ate the universe and with whom I joke chummily most days. He comes up with scathingly brilliant ideas like how I'm just so darn droll that I should blog for HuffPo and occasionally rattles on about stuff like the backstage area and then emails me back "Ha ha" when I ask him if that's anywhere near the Tweet Deck. And then I feel too lame to tell him that it was a real question. But I have yet to be driven anywhere except to the Houston airport by a local cabbie with a prosthetic leg. And since I lost the receipt, I won't even be claiming that one on my taxes.

Mostly, at the debut stage of the game, it's a do-it-yourself operation. I signed last week at the wonderful Houston independent bookstore Blue Willow, but only after a lengthy series of events that included reaching out to them in an email last spring, stopping by to say hello and bring them a review copy in June, and a number of follow ups in between. That they loved the book certainly helped. But it guaranteed nothing. You put yourself out there, act graciously, keep your expectations low and sometimes you're wonderfully surprised. Then you say thank you a zillion times, stuff your left-over book marks in your purse and drive home marveling at your good fortune. You even stop at a Starbucks for a late night non-fat Misto because a small crowd came to your event and you got to sign the author wall like a big girl. Possibly a few more people really believe you are a bona fide author.

Some of my writer pals disagree with me on all this. (Not about treating myself to the non-fat Misto. Just the part about how promotion is part of the game and we better embrace it or find that Barnes and Noble decided to stop stocking our book. Okay they can decide that even if we do embrace it. But that's another story) They believe our only job is to write and hone our craft. If the book is good enough it will speak for itself. If it's not, then promotion will only take us so far. Leave the selling to people who like it, they tell me. Just sit at your laptop and finish that next manuscript.

Except here's the thing. I think promotion is part of my job.

I like my book. I hope I get to write the sequel at some point. I hope the other novels I've written find publishing homes and audiences and maybe some really nifty merchandising like candy and little action figures and audio books and maybe even lunch boxes with cool metal handles. But I'm new. I have a trade paperback by a small but rapidly growing publishing house. And to be painfully honest, I have not written a book about vampires or werewolves, although there is a really cool witch and some sparkly magic and a hot guy with a slight case of immortality. If I want to grow an audience, I need to get involved. I need to talk about my book online and in stores and with people. I need to let them know it's out there. If I wait and just hope that it will happen on its own, they might not find me. And that would be a shame. So I don't wait. I'm good with that. I like being a partner with my publisher. They like it, too. It doesn't lessen me as an artist. It just makes me a practical one.

In a couple of weeks, I'll be doing events in Chicago, where Dreaming Anastasia is set. And I'll let you in on a secret. This time someone else is paying for the plane ticket.

Til next time...