Monday, April 12, 2010

On Your Book as a Business

Social media is already recognized as a valuable asset by the business world. And for individuals, it can mean so many things: a leg up on the job search, a networking tool, a way to interact with friends and family, or to reconnect with long-lost acquaintances. It's a wonderful tool for our society, provided we use it wisely.

Many of the authors I've encountered--in the short time I've been coordinating them--have been reticent towards social media. When I broach the subject, they grimace, saying, "aw, it's too time-consuming, it's not private, I'd rather sell my book in person, I don't know the first thing about these new websites."

More about that later. But when I hear these disclaimers, I hear more than a shyness of Facebook or Twitter. I hear a general reluctance on the part of independent authors to think of themselves as business entrepreneurs.

This isn't just an issue unique to authors. If one considers authors to be part of the wider community of artists, of people creating forms of art and expression, then this is an artists' issue. I believe that one of the fatal qualities of the "starving artist" is a lack of business experience, or an aversion to business thinking.

Artists have grandiose visions, magnificent dreams. They labor painstakingly to bring their vision into reality. And there the flight of their creation takes a nose-dive. Many artists think, "if I can just get someone to listen to my music/see my paintings/read my poetry/watch my film, I'm sure it will be a big hit." But getting someone to interact with that art is easier dreamed than done. In a world where it's harder than ever to get a person to part with their money, and an artist is competing with large corporate entities for a consumer's attention, is it any wonder that many artists throw up their hands in defeat after the first few tries?

Many artists lack direction when it comes to vying for a consumer's attention. They assume that their art will speak for itself. So when it sits on a shelf for a month, and nobody buys it, the artist remains mystified. In the worst case, they may begin to question their talent, their ability. But a lack of interest on the part of the consumer isn't a reflection of the artist's talent, or lack thereof. It's a reflection of that artist's ability to make himself or herself into a successful business, complete with a business model.

In illustration, let's look at the successful artists of the publishing world. Dan Brown, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling. They are the Britney Spears and Beyonces of the literary world, the dazzling stars. Why? Because, like Britney Spears and Beyonce, they have someone, or a posse of someones, selling their product (which happens to be their art) for them. They have publishers, agents, patrons. The great artists throughout history have found financial success the very same way. It helps to have a business mind in your corner (or a rich person).

Not all of us writers are so lucky to have that posse or that patron. Sometimes we have to be our own agent, our own publisher. And that means, we have to do all the work an agent or publisher would do. We have to contact the media, write the press releases, launch the website, schmooze with the bigwigs.

So here's my suggestion for local authors: if you want to sell your book, you absolutely must be prepared to start your own business. My father wrote a book not too long ago, he self-published it, shelled out the money to print it, and wrestled a few copies on the Tattered Cover's shelf. And he sold a couple books. But he didn't write press releases, he didn't market it through the media outlets, he stopped short of making the book into a business. So it's not. It's a nice achievement, on our family bookshelf. But it's not a selling book.

If you, the local, self-published author, can think of your book as a business, incorporating all the hard work of marketing and finance that a successful business requires, I think you're well on your way to increasing the sales of your book. For research, I'd go straight to the business section of your local independent book store. Watch the trends. Stay on top of the latest marketing tools. If you want to be a professional writer, then your art is your profession, your business. And it's a lot of leg-work, a lot of slammed doors, rejections, and persistence.

I hope authors will be able to look beyond the shiny published first copy of their book and see into the business of their art. It's okay to use a successful star author as your model, but that means persisting through all the unseen defeats that star had to endure to reach their success. I'm still working through the defeats as a singer, spending way too much money on marketing materials only to sing to an empty audience. I'm still learning my business. But I'm confident that I'll get there. And so will you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"A Better Life," An Exemplary Book

Rebecca Burgess' debut novel wrangles you into Wyoming, and won't let you go until you've breathlessly followed Hollis Dixon along the winding trail of his life, down into Colorado.

Hollis Dixon has plenty of family secrets. He is brimming with ambition, yearning to transcend the darkness of his past and live a doctor's Cadillac lifestyle. His earnest hard work to absolve family sins is often thwarted, forcing him down unlikely paths as father and family patriarch. The narrative relays between father and children, illuminating Hollis' hopes and desires in the harsh gaze of failures and mistakes. If you're like me and watched Will Smith's performance in "The Pursuit of Happyness," egging Chris Gardner on as he valiantly fights for his own better life, this book won't leave your hands while you're still cheerleading for Hollis and his family to make it.

Burgess' careful construction of relationships and her virtuosic plot arcs are awesome to behold. This book is honest, blunt...unafraid of incest, violence, or heartbreak. But amid the tension dwells persistent hope. Hollis gets his Cadillac, but it comes at a dear price.

I'll admit, I'm a sucker for the odd recognizable geographic feature: a specific street in Denver, a particular house that I'd swear I've driven past...Denver and Colorado should be proud to call Rebecca Burgess their own. This reader is eagerly awaiting her new novel, still in progress.

"A Better Life" will strike the reader who wonders why his or her youthful dreams didn't come true--and then realizes that in the most unexpected way, those dreams are more than true. Any fan of the art of brilliant prose writing will want "A Better Life" on their shelves. Come to the Tattered Cover and grab this one fast--it's been a hot seller ever since it re-appeared in the stores last month.