Remember The Book

It has been a while since I last had a book that needed marketing, long enough that when I was complaining to a friend about not knowing how to market my last book and he suggested I start a blog, I replied, “A what?” Now I have a book that grew out of this very blog (Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion), and the marketing options for writers have proliferated far beyond the inert website and the obligatory bookstore appearance.

All for the good, I say, though I understand it can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Should I make a book trailer? Is Tumblr for writers? How many times a week should I tweet? For every question, there is a savvy writer, enthusiastic publicist, or crusty agent with an answer. We are all here to help. Myself included, but I have one suggestion that frequently gets overlooked in the torrent of book marketing strategy: Don’t forget about the book.

No matter how clever your are, no matter well Search Engine Optimized your website may be, at the end of the publicizing day your book will still be its own best ambassador. It must be. No one will remember how they learned about your book, they will only remember the book itself, and nothing sells books like the unsolicited recommendation of a friend.

I have enough tools at my disposal, and enough desire to see this book reach as many people as possible, that it is easy for me to forget about the book itself and come to believe that all my strategies are solely responsible for its success. But to do so is to lose touch with what you are sharing and become little more than a brush salesman.

There is no need for this. If you have written a book you love, a book you want to share, then most of the work has already been done. Books have a mysterious gravity to them that is beyond our control. In the meantime, if you are feeling desperate, don’t think about what to do next, remember how much you love the book. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember how much you love the book. Your love of the book will be your guide in marketing it the same as it was in writing it. Because without love, the book would never have been written, and there would be nothing to sell.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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Never Ending

I have always loved to tell stories, particularly stories from my own life. When I was a boy and a young man, however, I frequently ran into a recurring problem. I would begin my tale with great enthusiasm, launching into whatever incredible event I felt demanded both my and my listener’s attention. Everything would usually go swimmingly as I mimicked my character’s voices, paused for dramatic effect, and allowed myself to feel again the joy, shame, or frustration of that moment.

Then I came to the end. Then I arrived at that moment I had somehow never anticipated, that moment that, like it or not, asked, “And why are you telling this?” My answer usually amounted to: “Can you believe the kind of crazy shit that happens to me?” This was not a horrible ending, but it made my life feel like the tale told by Shakespeare’s idiot, just a bunch of sound and fury.

And so perhaps it was. I sulked about the world for a time, disappointed with stories and with life. It all ends with a whimper, doesn’t it? Why, it hardly even seems worth writing about. I would not be the one to disappoint others; let them figure out Santa isn’t real themselves.

But life itself does not end merely because you have become disillusioned with it. It goes on and so did I, and from time to time in my sulking I would remember those stories I used to begin with such enthusiasm. I could still feel within me that same pull to tell them. At my gloomiest, this pull felt like a relentless siren song, a stubborn betrayal, and I would see myself as a kind of tragic hero doomed with unfortunate insight.

Self-pity is a drug with a very short high, and even I grew sick of it. Meanwhile, these stories still asked me to tell them. Perhaps, I thought, the true ending was in the beginning. Perhaps I’d had it right from the start. So I began telling the stories again. This time, however, I didn’t try to end them. Instead, I merely looked for a point on the horizon that confirmed my enthusiasm, an excellent vista from whose perch the rest of life was still visible.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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What You See Is What You Get

The other afternoon my wife was giving our son Sawyer his Language Arts class when he told her he wanted to draw a portrait of a space terrorist. How this fit into Language Arts, I don’t know, but when you are homeschooling Sawyer it is best to follow whatever stream presents itself.

He hunkered over a piece of paper and produced his first effort. He had drawn only the head. It was round, like Charlie Brown’s head, there was a kind of gray mask across the too-large eyes, and then something black over the ears reminiscent of ear muffs. There was no mouth or hair or helmet. The lines were uneven.

He was dissatisfied. His drawing didn’t look like a space terrorist at all. It looked like a child’s cartoon. It was neither threatening nor militaristic. Jen suggested he Google images of soldiers. For fifteen minutes he looked at pictures of marines and paratroopers and astronauts. He decided to give it another try.

The difference was startling. He drew the second portrait beside the first. Now the space terrorist appeared in profile, and there was the chin, and the nose beneath a mask, and the helmet with a kind of brim, and goggles and headphones with antennae. The lines were crisp and straight and everywhere was detail. Instead of a child’s cartoon it looked like something a comic book artist might have drawn.

If you had not known the truth of it, you would have guessed the images were drawn by an older and younger brother. Or you might have thought Sawyer’s artist mother had given him a lesson, as I had when he first showed me the two portraits. Yet he had received no lessons at all. All that had changed was his perception. The first drawing was vague, as if he had seen the space terrorist through an unfocused telescope; the second drawing as clear as what he had Googled.

I know how important it is to learn craft, and to hone our sentences, and trim our paragraphs, but an artist’s job first and foremost is always to see clearly. No matter how good a writer you may be, if you cannot see what you wish to write, you cannot write it. Instead you will write a vague imitation of what you wish to write, and you will dress the imitation in the fine robes of craft, and wonder why no one else can perceive your genius.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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A Gifted Writer

If you asked a published writer for advice on becoming a writer yourself, she would certainly tell you to read as much as you can and write as much as you can. She might or might not tell you to join a writing group to get realistic feedback, and she might or might not advise you to study your genre. If she knew anything about other writers, she would definitely not tell you whether or not you should outline. And of course, she would tell you to write the book you most want to read.

Or maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe this piece of advice is so axiomatic she wouldn’t even think to mention it. Why would you bother to write a book you wouldn’t read? How could you write a book you wouldn’t read? Ah, but the critical missing word here is “most.” You should write not merely a book you would want to read, but the book you would most want to read.

I have known seasoned, professional, fulltime writers who forget this word. I have known writers with bills to pay and egos to fortify whose attention has wandered from the book they would most like to write to the book that they hope would sell the most copies. The thinking goes, “I like to write, and I like all kinds of books, why not write one that will sell a million copies?” This is like the mother’s advice to her daughter: “It’s nice if you love the man you marry, but it also doesn’t hurt if he’s a doctor.”

Yes, it does hurt if you don’t love him, because the difference between marrying someone you love and someone you almost love is very much like the difference between trying to write a book you wouldn’t mind reading and a book you most want to read. To write the book you wished existed but doesn’t is to touch your greatest gift. This is what it means to be gifted, to find within yourself that which expands the loveliness of the world. First you give this gift to yourself, and then to others. It is a gift, period. Yes, it is a gift for which you will be paid, but it is a gift still, for it was given to you for the price of your time and attention.

Now you give it to others. You give it happily because isn’t it wonderful that this thing exists now? And when the others say yes, yes, yes, they are agreeing that it is so lovely that this story exists. Not you, only the story. You were lovely long before the story, and it was your loveliness that summoned it, and it was your loveliness that wrote it, and now your loveliness remains with you still, your constant and wavering gift.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

How I Learned To Forget The Bomb

I cannot watch a movie like Dr. Strangelove, which I did last night, and not be reminded of this reprimand to writers from William Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech: “There is only the question: When will I be blown up?” It was a question that hung—sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, but always present—over my entire childhood and young adulthood.

Faulkner was right; it is absolutely the wrong question for a writer to ask in his or her work. For that matter, it is the wrong question for a human being to ask in his or her life. Yet we asked it and asked it. How could we not? We had followed science to annihilation, and were startled to find it one itchy trigger-finger away. The end of the world that prophets had been predicting since they knew enough language to predict was now an everyday possibility.

We had hoped, I think, that science would save us by forestalling death with antibiotics, and central heating, and lasers, and refrigeration, but forestalling death is an empty goal, a race you can only lose. Science, it turns out, cannot actually save us from the business of being human, of living every moment with freewill, which is what most people believe they must be saved from, even as they fight regularly for the right to employ it.

I think Faulkner would be heartened to see that humans, even those humans who write, seem to be asking this stupid question less and less now. We could chalk this up to the end of the Cold War, or a shift in global politics, but I suspect it has more to do with the nature of human beings themselves. We may be the only species on the planet capable of suicide, but we are also the only species with an imagination. We imagined The Bomb and made it, but that imagination is now looking elsewhere and asking what life might be if it were something more than merely not-dying.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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Living Philosophers

I had never read a word of what is called philosophy until I was a freshman in college. Prior to that I viewed a philosopher’s work much as I did a scientist’s, which was discovering the foundational underpinnings of life. A philosopher discovered philosophical truths the way a scientist discovered the atom or the chemical components of water.

Then I began to actually read the Great Dead Philosophers and I had this epiphany: These guys were just looking at life and saying, “I think this is why life is what it is.” And they’re all coming up with slightly different conclusions. Why am I reading them? I could just do that myself.

I continued to be interested in philosophy, but I found the study of it weirder and weirder. We would be sitting in a classroom and the nice and interesting professor would stand there and talk about what this philosopher or that philosopher had written, and we would all discuss it very politely and academically, as if we were considering theories about the causes of the French Revolution. I would grow restless and want to stand up and shout, “They’re talking about life! I don’t know about you, but I’m alive right now. Instead of talking about them, let’s just talk about life.”

I stopped studying philosophy. Eventually my wife would introduce me to a number of teachers. These teachers didn’t call themselves philosophers, but that’s what they were in that they looked at life and said, “I think this is what it is.” But these teacher/philosophers were not in the classroom, and they were all alive, and they talked to other living people who were suffering because life for them had become something inscrutable and unforgiving.

This seemed to me the proper and only useful application of philosophy, and I became a student again. Just in time, I suppose, as life had begun to seem a bit inscrutable and unforgiving to me. So too it must have been for all those dead philosophers I didn’t want to study. What a trap the graveyard can make of your work, turning it into something inert to be studied, as an archeologist might the bones Plato left behind.

If my own apprenticeship has taught me anything it’s that nothing ever stops moving. The moment I forget and see life as a place instead of a direction, the entire world dies, becoming something that has already happened, rather than what is happening right now.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The End of Industry

I used to think that when I wrote I was looking for the right word, or the right phrase, or the right idea. I used to think that a writer’s mastery was a mastery over language, as if all those possible words were a wave I must learn to ride with grace and hopefully without drowning. Yet the more I write, the less I find myself thinking about language, and the more I find myself seeking effortlessness.

Andre Dubus described writing as truth-telling, and I certainly feel that is so for me. The truth, however, exists independently of me, exists before me and will exist after me, regardless of whether I ever write it or not. For this reason, my first job when writing is to find the most truthful perception of whatever it is I am writing about. Since there is no formula for this kind of truth, the only means I have to recognize it is whether or not I am exerting effort.

It takes effort to try to manufacture the truth, much the same as it takes effort to manufacture interest in a story or a lover in which you are not actually interested. Since the truth already exists, once I perceive it I don’t need to manufacture anything, I only need to translate what I see. But if what I am seeing is not the truth, then I must manufacture life from the ground up, and the further I am from the truth, the more effort I must exert.

Do not think, however, that The Truth is a pill we must swallow. Do not think that The Truth is hard-boiled, is joyless, or carries even the slightest whiff of hopelessness. When I am able to perceive The Truth, I do so only when I release everything hard-boiled, joyless, and hopeless I have manufactured in my own grim industry. That is my mastery then: Learning to stand empty handed and accept what is given me.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Where You Are

One of the hardest truths to perceive is the one written into this country’s very Declaration of Independence: that all people are created equal. We hear this and we all say, “Yes, of course,” because within us in is an independent soul that knows its freedom—a freedom far beyond the right to vote or own land—is rooted in its absolute equality.

But then, say, you publish a book, and your book sold this many copies, and that other writer’s book sold that many copies, or your book was nominated for an award, but that writer’s book actually won the award. Equality is nice in theory, but is the first-time indie author really equal to J. K. Rowling or William Faulkner? And if a singer stands on stage, and 10,000 fans scream as she hits her first note, can you really say all 10,000 screaming fans are equal to the lone singer for whom they scream?

For don’t some of those screaming fans wish they were that lone singer? Doesn’t the indie author wish her publishing life could mimic that of Rowling’s or Faulkner’s? And will not some of us be remembered and the rest pass as forgettable as dust? Now it is easy to look out at the world and perceive nothing but kings and peasants, queens and serfs. If this were the case, you would be a fool not to at least seek the throne. Democracy is for chumps.

How easy we forget that if we want J. K. Rowling’s life, or Paul McCartney’s, or Queen Elizabeth’s, we would have to first forsake our own. Yes, we would be rid of our disappointments and wounds, but also every kiss we’d ever received, every dream we’d ever dreamed, every meal we’d ever eaten. All of it gone. It is an insidiously suicidal fantasy, which if put by some genie to the test would be almost universally rejected.

It would be rejected by indie authors and paupers in Bombay, by rock stars and nannies, by congressmen and presidents. We would with equal force reject our own extinction, not simply to cling greedily to life, but in surrender to our own value. You surrender the throne that never existed to be where you are, the starting point for all life.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Best Right Answer

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddI have just published a collection of some of my favorite essays and stories posted over the years in this space. It took me many tries to arrive at a title for the collection, eventually settling on Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion. When I say settle, I mean just that. In my heart I wanted to call it A Bunch of Things I Wrote, but this doesn’t have quite the marketing zing! a publisher is normally looking for.

It wasn’t until I began planning my appearances and what I would talk about once I appeared that I understood how well the book was actually titled. This space is dedicated to what it means to write, publish, and hopefully live within yourself. I don’t believe there is actually any other way we can live, but I know from experience that humans, myself most definitely included, will do all they can to find any other possible way to write, publish, or live.

There is just so much outside of us to look at and think about. There are other people’s stories, there are publishing houses and book reviewers and readers. Why the whole world is outside of us, all the money and food and sexual partners – it’s all out there. And yet not one single answer of value exists out there. Not in textbooks, or on Google, or on your granddaddy’s knee.

The book, then – like this column – is only a reminder of what knowing an answer feels like. I must remind myself daily – hourly even. No, I must remind myself with every single breath. In it goes, and with it, hopefully, my own attention. If not, I am lost in a blink, lost in a forest of things that already exist, lost in a forest of other people’s opinions and desires. But If I follow that breath I arrive where I began, within myself again, home to life’s only order and the best right answer I have ever known.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Superman’s Return

Even with e-publishing and indie publishing, a writer can spend a lot time waiting for the next thing to happen. Waiting to hear back from the editor, waiting for the reviews, waiting for the numbers. Maybe it isn’t intentional, but how easy to turn what you are waiting for into something it isn’t. How easy in the quiet continuity of expectation to turn anything or anyone into your own private Superman to save you from the villains gathering in your idleness.

You’re a smart writer and mature writer, and you don’t believe in Superman, but you’ve seen the villains and you’ve heard their plans. All the villains are plotting the end of the world. If they have their way there will come a day when all creation ends in a “No,” and all that can be said “Yes” to are the orders of these overlords whose only desire is to see you live another day of forced labor.

You’d be a fool not to believe in these villains. Why, it’s just what they want, for they need time to hatch their evil plans, time you seem to have as you wait to hear from this one or that one. You’d try to warn to world, but whenever you do you sound like a madman. These villains are fantastic at staying hidden. You see one in the mirror, turn – and he’s gone. And yet as you lay down for sleep you hear them whispering their plans for a world no one would ever choose to live in.

Who better than Superman to end this nightmare? Superman believes in these villains. Without them, he wouldn’t exist. His powers mean absolutely nothing without an enemy to use them against. Some days it even seems as if Superman is in league with these villains, sustaining them for his own usefulness.

What a terrible thought. Terrible enough that perhaps you might even stop waiting. Such a distracting way to live: life nothing but a string of glances at your watch. It’s certainly no way to write. Yet another good reason to return to your desk. Here you settle into the dream of writing, here you find your story again and remember that nothing can arrive if it has never left.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter