I’ve been a Creative Director in the advertising business for thirty years. I’ve had the opportunity to rub elbows with all sorts of people. Some of these people are smart, honest, kind to others, work their butts off, and never seem to get ahead. Then there are others who are not so smart, manipulative, do sketchy work, yet rise in the corporate ranks.
It’s easy to say “Life isn’t fair,” and leave it at that. But there’s more to it. Someone can do everything right and still not succeed because they’re missing necessary ingredients that are beyond their control. Think of the college student that’s worked hard, made the honor roll, read all the articles about putting together a great resume, and has fabulous references. But winds up at Burger King while their college degree collects dust
There’s a lot the student can’t control. They can’t control if there is a glut of candidates in their particular field. Or, a downturn in the economy. Or, if their resume lands in the right department on the right desk.
As a novelist, I’m sort of like that college student or hard-working corporate guy: I’ve done everything right that I can control: I’m dedicated to my craft, am a proficient novelist, my writing has won numerous awards, I’ve gotten excellent and sometimes outstanding reviews, I’ve got a wonderful publisher and editor at TouchPoint Press. Yet finding that mass audience eludes me. I have an audience. Just not a mass one.
John Lennon once said—and I’m paraphrasing—“A lot of bands could have been the Beatles. It just so happened to be us.” By that, he meant there were a lot of British bands who were working hard in the early 1960s to make it. But the Beatles found themselves in the “Perfect Storm” for success. They had talent and hunger for sure, but they also had great management in Brian Epstein, a fabulous producer in George Martin, and timing. After the death of John Kennedy, America needed a happy diversion like young lads in pointy boots and funny haircuts singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Then, there was Ed Sullivan who was smart enough to book them repeatedly. The Beatles couldn’t have planned for George Martin, Kennedy’s death, or Ed Sullivan. Those were circumstances beyond their control. Nor could they have foreseen that the haircuts Astrid Kirchherr gave them would dictate men’s hairstyling for a generation.
The Beatles, like those aforementioned less-than-competent corporate types, both had one thing in common: the breaks!
The breaks are a known thing, but something you can’t control. For a writer, it’s the great review in the New York Times or Entertainment Weekly. Or, the powerful producer who reads your book and wants to develop a screenplay. Or, ordination by Oprah. Or, winning a literary prize so noteworthy, the book industry can’t help but take notice.
If you’re a writer, there’s a lot more to do besides just write books. Especially if you’re with a small or independent publisher. (Paying attention, new members of the TPP family?) You’ve got be responsible for building your own brand. I’ve developed a website, emailed bookstores, booked my own signings, sent out press releases to newspapers, purchased ads on industry sites like Goodreads, placed ads in industry pubs, submitted books and press kits to major magazines, done readings, met with book clubs, maintained social media, traveled hundreds of miles to do a signing where I sell, like, 10 books, and then there’s prayer. But I’ve also always believed God helps those who help themselves.
In other words, I’m doing, and continue to do, everything within my power. At least, as much as time and finances can afford. Every writer needs to do the same unless they’re already a household name.
I’m absolutely cognizant of, and deeply grateful for, the progress I’ve made. This past Christmas, we got a Google Home. While we were playing with it, seeing what it knew and didn’t, I asked: “Hey, Google, what books has Timothy Best written?” And it knew! It answered with at least some of my titles. It made me feel, in a small way, like I had arrived as an author.
Seeking that elusive mass audience isn’t for money. Or the fame. It’s the idea that thousands of people I don’t know took time out of their lives to read one of my stories. They allowed characters I created to entertain them; make them laugh, cry, think, escape. That kind of communication thrills me more than anything else I can think of, except for the love of my wife and daughter. A psychologist might say that kind of communication is one-sided and narcissistic. Maybe. But then so is every writer, painter, sculptor, dancer, actor, and inventor that ever hoped to be known by a mass audience.
Paul McCartney once said—and I’m paraphrasing—“I don’t write songs because I want to. I write songs because I have to.”
Same here. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get the breaks.
What can be done?
You keep doing what you can do, what you can control. There are no guarantees, but there’s satisfaction in the trying.