If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend the New Jersey RWA Put Your Heart in a Book annual conference, you really should think about it. In fact, how about right now. I just returned from attending it this past weekend and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing. Loads of helpful workshops, agent and editor pitch sessions, and best-selling authors giving keynote talks. The editors and agents often stay on long after the official pitch sessions, and chatting them up at the bar or in the after conference party is completely doable. Plus, it’s not a giant overwhelming mega-conference like RWA National where you can easily feel as lost as a mouse in a maze.
One of the keynote speakers this year was the wonderful Susan Mallery, whose work has appeared repeatedly on the New York Times bestseller list and who has thus far in her career sold over 25 million books. That’s a shitload of books. How has she achieved thiat kind of success? Susan, in her presentation, told us eager listeners that she’d share her secret. Ooooooh, goody. We all leaned forward, like people in an E.F. Hutton commercial, eager to catch every word. Then Susan told us. The secret to becoming a bestselling author, she said, was to do one thing and one thing only. Show up.
Wait … what? Show up? That’s it? What about just writing a great book? That’s what we keep hearing over and over. Write a great book. Well, of course, this whole writing thing starts with having a great book. That’s a given. But let’s face it, there are a lot of writers who’ve written great books. There are a lot of great books out there that will never see the light of day. They’re collecting real or virtual dust on the shelves, never having earned the acceptance of an editor who says she’s buying it. The problem, according to Mallery, is that the writer hasn’t done enough showing up.
There are variations on the theme of Mallery’s statement, such as “you’ve got to be in it to win it,” but the essence of the meaning is clear. Yes, you have to have a product to sell and promote and get yourself on a best seller’s list. Without that you have nothing. But showing up in many ways is much, much harder, particularly for writers who, by nature, are often raging introverts. Show up? we might sniff. As in, like, talking to people? Eeeeewwww.
But yes, as in talking to people. As in going to conferences, signing up to do workshops, attending book signings, chatting up your readers. There’s also, Mallery pointed out, virtual showing up. We all know we need to be active on social media. We know it, but so many of us don’t do it, at least not to the extent needed. We’re busy. We have jobs We have families. We need time to write. It’s all true, but making yourself visible is nowadays not a nice-to-have luxury, it’s a make-it-or-break-it fact of the writing life.
New York Times best selling historical romance author Madeline Hunter echoed Mallery’s statement about showing up when she pointed out how important it is to put yourself out there as an author. Not only do you need to build a fan base of readers, but Hunter made a rather sobering statement about the state of the industry when she said that nowadays slow sales can tank a career, even if it’s on a first book. The expectation on us authors to promote promote promote is a given, and if a publisher sees an author less than eager to become a one-woman marketing machine, they can easily move on to someone else who is.
So there you have it – the secret to publishing success. Get your ass out of the chair and show up. Go to events. Give talks at libraries, sign books, talk to strangers in line at the grocery store. Keep your Facebook up to date, Tweet, Pin, write your blog. It’s not easy, but if it were anyone could do it, and you’re not just anyone. Right?
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