Thursday, June 17, 2010

Putting Yourself Out There

I haven't posted in a while, because in the last month, I did three things that scared the hell out of me, and I needed time to process before I blogged about it. Because putting yourself out there, doing what is so uncomfortable and scary and important and valuable is the holy grail for writers.

It's all very well to sit at a computer and send emails out to bloggers. Or to post on your Facebook page or tweet about the latest book you're working on. Or to write blog posts.

But going to events and introducing yourself, pressing your book into people's hands, and standing up in a public place and reading excerpts from the work you slaved over, not trusting your senses to tell you how the reading is being received and not having the courage to glance up from your book to look into their faces...that's where the rubber hits the road, my friends.

First stop on the Triple Crown of Fear was Book Expo of America (BEA). I made the decision to go at the last minute. It seemed crazy to drop everything and get on a plane to New York with no real plan or reason for going there. But I just felt that I had to go and see what the vibe was like, see what publishers were out there in case one of them might seem like a good fit for my books, and maybe get ideas for having a booth next year. Besides, the first annual Book Blogger Convention was happening the day after BEA ended, and I was really excited to go there and meet bloggers. I've also hired an assistant in New York, whom I was dying to meet in person and who promised to hold my hand and take me around to meet people, so I finally decided to put my fear aside and just do it.

Photo source was insane. An entire exhibition hall absolutely packed with people and booths and banners and speakers and oh my lord I don't handle crowds all that well... I stepped outside at one point in tears, completely overwhelmed after trying to talk to a couple of people, completely sure I didn't belong there and was a total outsider, and feeling very alone and lost. But after taking some deep breaths and making a well-timed call to my mom, who gave me the brilliant advice that I wasn't there to try to sell myself but to interview others to see who might have something to offer me, I felt much better and went back inside with renewed energy. I met one of the principals at Llewelyn, who had a whole booth devoted to Flux, which I realized is the perfect imprint for The Soterians series. I introduce myself to him and got the business card of the acquisition editor, whom I immediately called (left a voice mail) and emailed. I haven't heard anything back yet, but that's okay. I think my books are perfect for Flux, and if it's right, they'll get around to contacting me. If it's not meant to be, I'm still perfectly happy being self-published.

That same night was the meet-and-greet reception for the Book Blogger Convention. This was even scarier than BEA. Because I had so little time to plan this trip, I hadn't even thought to have bookmarks printed up, but my wonderful assistant took me around and wrote my web site address on the back of her cards and gave them out to the people we talked to. And although it was very scary for me, I had a great time. I met bloggers in person whose names I'd heard a million times. I had several people say "Oh yeah, I've heard of your books!" And best of all, the next day at the end of the convention, after I'd stood up and introduced myself in front of the huge room to ask a question, one blogger came up to me and said she was reading my book and was excited to introduce herself to me when she heard who I was. I think I startled her when I threw my arms around her and told her I loved her, but good heavens, it was my first fan. That was a pretty heady experience.

The last event in the triple crown was a book signing at Barnes & Noble last Saturday. The weird thing about this one was that even though it should have been the scariest of the three, I wasn't all that nervous. Maybe it was because I knew the turnout would be low because it was the first gorgeous Saturday we'd had, and the World Cup was keeping people glued to their sets. Or maybe it was because I knew I'd have a friendly audience. Or maybe it was that I was simply getting used to putting myself out there and had learned a lot from the previous two events. Whatever the reason, it just felt so natural and wonderful to walk up and see a huge sign in front of the store announcing my arrival and to set up the table and start talking to people. I was walking on air the entire three hours I was there. Even when I read from Rising Shadow and was worried that the chapter I was reading wasn't all that interesting, I was still having a blast. I got into the characters, read each of their voices with enthusiasm and dramatic effect, and totally enjoyed myself. I handed out bookmarks to passers-by, and I even sold a copy to a completely random person. That was pretty amazing.

So what did I learn from all of this? First, you have to put yourself out there, no matter how much it scares you. There is something so beautiful about putting your actions behind your art and saying "This matters, and I'm doing everything I can to get it out into the world." Second, try to have a wingman if at all possible. Having my assistant at the reception and several members of my family at the book signing gave me way more strength than I would have had on my own. Third, even if nothing comes of an event, it's great experience, because the more you do it, the easier it will become. Talking to strangers becomes easier. Saying your elevator pitch (your fifteen-second description of your book) becomes more natural. Your smile becomes more relaxed, and you come across as one of those really cool, down-to-earth authors that everyone is excited to go home and tell their friends about. All it took was three events in just over two weeks to go from crying on the phone to my mom to feeling at ease and confident at a Barnes & Noble book signing, for heaven's sake. If I can do it, I'm fairly certain anyone can.

Just please remember to print bookmarks before you go.