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Feet on the Ground, or Butt in the Chair?

One of the crazy things about being an author is the wide disparity in what's expected of you. The writing part requires long hours of--well, writing. Composing, revising, re-writing, and editing take time and concentration. On the other side of the coin, you're expected to promote your work in order for publishers to have anything to do with you. That means public appearances where you smile a lot and try to stir up interest among readers.

I don't mind the public stuff, but it often feels like time I might have spent writing. Let's say I sign up to visit a bookstore on Friday (This Friday it's Purple Tree Books in Cheboygan, MI.) There's no way to tell if there will be people in the bookstore. If the sun is shining or if it's raining really hard, probably not. There's no way to tell if they'll be mystery readers, either. So two or three hours plus travel time gets me no guarantees that I'll even meet a prospective buyer, much less convince him or her that my book is a better choice than hundreds of other, better-known mystery authors whose books are in the store.

Or I can go to a mystery convention, where hundreds of mystery readers flock to meet their favorites. Now the audience is there and primed, but there are lots of authors, and they have to choose whose books to buy. Hmmm, Peg Herring or James Patterson? Peg or Charlaine Harris? How about Peg or Sue Grafton?

I've learned to do the promotion part with the idea that I'll enjoy the time away from my office. What I get from visiting bookstores is an acquaintance with people who love books. Even if nobody shows up at the store, the staff and I talk books: what we're reading, what we want to read, what we're waiting for. Customers are usually polite and listen to my (very short) spiel about my books. (I'm always amused by some who back away like I'm trying to hand them a rattlesnake when I offer a bookmark. I want to say, "Really. It's free, and there's no obligation to buy.") And often I have enjoyable talks with readers about books, whether they buy mine or not.

At conferences, I expect to be one of many. It's nice when someone recognizes me and compliments my work but I don't hold my breath waiting for it. My goal at cons is to meet people: authors I've met before and like as people; authors I admire as a reader; and readers of all kinds. It's like a big party for book-lovers, and like any social gathering, the best way to proceed is to relax and enjoy.

So I put my feet on the ground periodically, usually when a new book comes out, to acquaint readers with the fact that I'm a writer. The rest of the time I practice the "Butt In The Chair, Honey" principle that demands less socially but more creatively. Success as an author requires both, much as we'd like to go with just one or the other.
 Released August 9, 2014  

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