Editorial by Lisa Tucker
The publication date of my first novel, The Song Reader, was still nine months away when my agent suggested that I attend a trade show. I ended up going to two trade shows: one in Denver, which wasn’t far from my home in Santa Fe, and one in Philadelphia, where I’d lived for most of my adult life. The experience was enlightening on many levels. I learned what the sales force at my publisher, Simon & Schuster, was up against: how many books they had to deal with each season. I learned what booksellers were up against; I spoke to some who were having difficulty keeping their stores open, much less making any real money. Essentially, I learned that my novel, which had been my private joy (and frustration) for so long, was now part of a vast, fascinating, and too often embattled business. I also made the first of many friends who would sustain me throughout my career.
For all but one of the last nine years, I’ve made sure I attended BEA. I’ve moderated panels for writers, “Making the First Novel Work,” and some for booksellers, “Beyond the Traditional Author Tour.” I’ve made so many friends that coming to the Simon & Schuster booth now feels comfortable, like being back with my coworkers. In essence, that’s what we all are, I think, publishers, authors, and booksellers: partners in the quest to find and engage readers. It’s a difficult task, but as long as I keep the attitude that we’re in it together, it’s easier to deal with the vicissitudes of being an author.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a group of writers online. The subject was what an author can do for herself if her book isn’t chosen to get the “big love” from her publisher. We all knew what she meant: each season, it seems like some books are selected for star treatment — often, but not always, debut novels — and all the rest are left to take off, or more likely, fade into obscurity, without much support. My advice was to make friends with your local booksellers. Booksellers rock. If they like you, they will work so hard to sell your books. But the point is larger than that. It’s about how you keep going, despite the twists and turns of the market, which you can’t control.
The sad truth is that even if you are the big debut author, the rest of your career may not be so charmed. My first novel sold very well. My third novel sold very well. And now, my sixth novel, The Winters in Bloom, is being called my breakout. I hope it’s true (please dear God), but in any case, I’ve learned that keeping a career going as a writer requires flexibility and a willingness to keep trying whatever I can to get my book in the hands of readers. And so my advice to any new writer is simply this: get in the game. Make friends with your coworkers at the publishers’ office and out in the field. Go to your local bookstores and offer to come for a reading, or even offer to run a writing group. Buy a book or two from the stores you want to sell your books. Read as much as you write, if not more.
Recognizing that you’re part of a business doesn’t mean you’re a sell-out or anti-art. I always think of the Wordsworth quote: “What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.” I have to believe that if I write from my heart, as well as I can, someone will see what I was trying to do. So while I won’t chase trends, I will rely on my friends to help me. And the best part? My book biz friends are all readers. They love books, and sometimes, if I’m very lucky, they fall in love with mine.
Lisa Tucker will be interviewed today at BookExpo America:
Event: Insight Stages: Lisa Tucker: Lyrical, Wise, and Witty
When: Wednesday, May 25 at 11 a.m.
Location: Midtown Stage, Javits Center
DISCUSS: Should a Writer Think of their Career as a Calling or a Business?