Promote Trust

More often than not writers—particularly writers at the beginning of their career—are largely responsible for their own promotion. Because Author is in part another platform for the great book promotion engine, I have spent a lot of time lately looking at how authors, both emerging and established, deal with this part of the business of being a writer, and have arrived at the conclusion that the rules for good relationships apply to good promotion—namely, be generous.

The number one platform for writers is the writer website. Here readers are likely to learn a bit about the author’s biography, where they will be appearing, perhaps watch or listen to a short interview, and, of course, be given an opportunity to purchase the author’s books. Nothing wrong with any of this, but in the end there is nothing on these sites for the visitor other than to learn about the writer. The best author websites are those that give something for free, with nothing expected in return. Most likely this comes in the form of advice about writing or the subject about which the author is most knowledgeable. By offering something for free, you let your prospective readers know you are as interested in their well being as you are in your own, and trust that all you give will come back to you in time.

Another common vehicle, especially lately, is the promotional video. These are short ads for the new book, often filmed similarly to movie promos. Many of these videos have very high production values, with original scores and tightly edited sequences. Still, in the end a commercial is a commercial. How do you give something to the audience when the point of your video is to induce them to buy your book?

This is the question my wife and I asked ourselves when we produced such a video for her first children’s book, Violet Bing and the Grand House. Our answer was to create a piece that would be interesting whether anyone had read the book or would ever read the book. In short, make it entertaining in and of itself.

Obviously, we wanted people to buy the book, but when making the video we tried to forget the fact that it was an ad and treat it as a short film, thus giving something to the viewer. Whether you’re writing a book or promoting it, you’ve got to trust. You’ve got to trust that what you have to say is worth reading to someone beside yourself, and you’ve got to trust that by showing the world you are first willing to give, you will in the end receive.

More Author Articles Watch Violet Bing Trailer

Say Yes

Jean Reynolds Page had a somewhat unusual career before becoming a fulltime novelist: she was a dance critic. It did not matter that she was critiquing dance and not fiction, her role remained the same -she had to publicly express an opinion about someone else’s work. Although she felt an obligation to her readers to be as honest as possible, she admitted to being a gentler critic than she might otherwise have been had she not been pursuing her own art as well at this time. Who can blame her? Every artist spends much of his or her career contending with The Critic.

The Critic, in psychological terms, is an archetype, which means we’ve all got one. The Critic can only ever say one of two things: I like this, or I don’t like this. It has been my observation that many critics are looser and even more gleeful when critiquing what they don’t like. That is because it is impossible to be wrong when you say you don’t like something.

Every word, every note, every brush stroke is a choice. And every time an artist makes one choice, he has chosen not to make a thousand other ones. When a critic finds an artist’s work unsatisfying, the criticism often boils down to: wouldn’t it have been better if the artist had done this? Possibly, but we will never know, because the artist didn’t. Much riskier for the critic is to praise a work, for now they are like artists themselves, having fixed their desire upon an actual choice as opposed to a theoretical one.

When listening to your own inner critic, heed what he or she dislikes – The Critic is helping you winnow down the myriad of choices you might make at any artistic turn. But understand that it takes infinitely more courage to say yes than it does to say no. Your job as an artist, as a writer, is to yes over and over and over again. Seek what you love without judgment. A critic may wish you had chosen differently, but in the end the world is made of Yeses, while Nos are consigned to the dust of what might have been.

More Author Articles

A Better Story

I made a little mistake recently. I was waiting to find out whether or not something I thought would be helpful to me was going to happen, and without intending to, while I waited I began slowly believing that if this thing happened my life would be substantially better. This has always been a very seductive idea to me – the arrival of The Great Event. It’s exciting, and imbues life with a heightened sense of meaning.

Of course, this thing did not happen. I was disappointed at first, but I quickly saw that I needed to make a decision. My disappointment, I decided, was not because something did not happen, but because of how I had portrayed this event in my imagination. I had allowed some idea of happiness to become fixed upon a single point, in this case an event.

As writers, we are always waiting for news about this or that event: the event of the agent, the publisher, the advance, the review, the movie deal. If we allow ourselves to becomes fixated upon any one of these, our life and all its meaning is squeezed into some spot on the horizon, as if we were all marooned on an island, scanning the empty sea for the first sight of a ship.

On the day I learned that this thing would not happen, many other things happened to me, all of which contained potential for still more things to happen. In the end I decided I was lucky that things turned out the way they did. Had I gotten what I thought I wanted, I might have traced any future happiness back to this one event. Nothing in the world is worth that narrow view of life to me. I would never write a story about a character whose happiness depends upon one love, or one job, or one decision—why then would I want this story told about me?

More Author Articles

Tortured Writer

The Tortured Writer is an archetype for a good reason. I have in my imagination a snap shot of a man (I suppose because I am man) looking up from his typewriter with an expression that says, “Why have you made me do this?” As if the world is demanding his art from him and he must wring it from his soul until he bleeds.

There is a romance to it all, of course, as perhaps writing is only this torturous because it is this important. Who doesn’t want to do something important? But you won’t get very far thinking your struggle is somehow more valuable to the world than your neighbor’s. Still, there is a reason we have come to view the writer’s struggle as unique, and it is worth considering as you do your work.

Unlike being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, or a chef, writing is an entirely inside-out job. There is no external crucible through which you can pass to arrive, officially, at Writer. Even MFA programs merely serve as a (hopefully) supportive environment for prospective writers to begin this solitary journey.

It is a journey that everyone must take eventually, but writers, and artists in general, often end up taking it earlier and unexpectedly. What began as something that was always enjoyable and for which the writer probably received praise as a young man or woman quickly turns into a journey toward the self. It doesn’t matter what you write, that is where you are headed. Because it will soon become apparent to the writer that in fact, despite all the classes and books and writing magazines in the world, in the end, no one can tell you what word to put on the page next except yourself.

Within all of us, I believe, is a tortured writer, that part of our selves that is periodically stunned at the degree to which we must go it alone. But the pleasure in writing is going it alone, that delicious discovery unique to you. We arrived at writing because we sought our most pleasurable means of this inevitable discovery. So if that tortured writer turns to you some days and asks, “Why have you made me do this?” take his or her hand and say, “Because you asked me to.”

More Author Articles

Another Boat

I notice the Daily Minutes this week dealt in one way or another with money. I have a number of artist friends for whom money is a constant worry, a perceived barrier, in fact, between themselves and a worry-free life.

Artists, of course, are not alone. I read once that money is often the number one cause of conflict in a marriage. And yet, when couples argue about money, just as when artists worry about money, it is not money we are arguing or worrying about, it is security. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, security is only one step less important than sleep, food, sex, and other bodily functions.

I am not going to pretend that it’s any fun to be wondering how you’re going to make rent this month, but I do know this: if you do not believe you can make money as a writer, you will probably not make money as a writer. Steven King sold stories to his classmates when he was in school. Yes, Steven King is a good writer and I’m sure he would have sold books eventually and so on, but at a very early age he established in his mind that people would pay money for what he wrote.

If it is your sincere desire to make money from what you have written, disavow yourself of the notion that it is difficult to make money from what you have written. It will not help. Plenty of people make money off their writing; that someone could be you.

This may seem like so much affirmative, pop-psyche pabulum to some, but there are extremely practical ramifications to shifting how you think about something like money. Opportunities present themselves to you constantly. You are standing at this moment in a never-ending stream of possibilities. One boat sails by, another is soon to follow. You cannot miss the boat, because there is not one boat, there are endless boats. However, do you recognize a boat when you see one?

If you do not believe you can make money from writing, then when an opportunity to do so presents itself, it is entirely possible you will ignore it. And then ignore the next opportunity, and the next, and the next, and then turn to your friend over coffee and say, “You see? It’s impossible to make any money at this!” You do indeed get what you ask for. Make sure you ask for what you actually want.

More Author Articles

Reaping and Sewing

Jean Reynolds Page said the greatest pleasure in writing is not the publishing but the process, that in the end getting her three good pages in a day is more satisfying than seeing her book on a shelf. I understand that for writers still waiting to see that first book in print this may seem like so much publishing political correctness, but I think it is perhaps the most important concept to hold in mind, no matter where you are in your writing career.

T. S. Eliot said, “Think not of the reaping but of the sewing.” This is what Jean Page was referring to, and what nearly every author I have spoken to reiterates in one way or another. It is about the process. First of all, the process is all you have control over. Agents, editors, readers, and critics will say and think what they will say and think, and you will suffer more sleepless nights dreaming impossible ways to control what other people think of what you have done.

But more than this, if you do not love the process for itself, in all likelihood, writing is probably not for you. It reminds me of something I heard the NFL coach Bill Belichick say about what he was looking for when drafting new team members. “I want football players,” he would say. Meaning, he wanted grown men who loved to play football. Seems obvious enough, but there is a difference between wanting to be an NFL quarter back, say, and loving playing quarterback.

I had a friend once who after seeing snapshots of coalminers standing outside their mines arm-in-arm, smiling sooty-faced at the camera, declared, “Wouldn’t it be cool to be a coalminer?” “Sure,” I said. “Except for the part where you go into the coal mine every day.” Likewise, it might seem cool to be a writer. We’ve all written something, in our lives, wouldn’t it be cool to have other people read that and love it?

Indeed it might, but that is only a fraction of being a writer. Mostly what you do when you are a writer is write, everyday, by yourself, without applause, precisely as you are probably doing now. So rejoice. You already know what it is to be a writer. And if it’s enough, you needn’t worry about it anymore.

More Author Articles

You Are Who You Are

When I waited tables, I learned that the most important request a guest could make was the first. If I met this request quickly and accurately I had established trust and the guest could begin to relax: They were in good hands, and their meal would go smoothly. If I failed in that first request, they began to view me with suspicion, and I was now in the uncomfortable position of winning that trust back.

I realize I am a bit like a finicky diner when I open a new book. Can I trust this author or not? Take descriptive writing. If in the first five pages the descriptive passages seem unnecessary or overwritten, I have a tendency, further in the book, to despair when I see a thick block of prose upcoming. On the other hand, if the descriptions are pithy and revealing, I look forward to how the author will handle their settings and characters’ ticks.

When a reader picks up your story, they are entrusting you as a guide on a journey. There is not a happier reader in the world than one who has given over completely and willingly to the author. It is like meeting a new friend with whom you can most honestly be yourself.

I think grabber openings are fine, and it’s certainly a good idea to get on with telling your story instead of proving you’re really a writer in the first few pages, but I believe trust wins the day over flash or titillation. And just as in life, trust will always be gained through honesty. Sometimes honesty isn’t flashy, and sometimes it isn’t thrilling, but it is always trustworthy. You can’t win any readers who are not interested in what you honestly believe about something, so take the risk and say what you actually mean as clearly as possible.

Don’t try and fool anyone. You are who you are, and just as in any relationship, you will eventually be revealed. So let down the defense and be clear from the start, and perhaps your new readers will be grabbed not by the fire of your high concept, but by the honesty with which you share it.

More Author Articles


I have been described from time to time as “driven.” As an artist, this is generally a positive thing. A driven artist is focused, is not easily distracted, is committed – all things necessary to do what you want to do.

But a driven person is always driving, and if you are driving you are not resting. It seems axiomatic that if you want to “get somewhere” then you must go, and all the better this constant driving if you want to get wherever you are going quickly.

Except that you can never be anywhere but where you are. I would rather be patient than driven, and I say this as someone who has in fact been quite driven all his life, often at the expense of patience. I will be patient when I get where I need to go, I believed, in the meantime, the accelerator is the one on the right.

What a misleading idea, that one is driven to get somewhere. We can call where we’re driving whatever we want, but it is always the same destination: certainty. Here in this moment, we know absolutely nothing but what is in this moment, while ahead of us lies some uncertain future. If I could only reach some penthouse of goals, where all the larders are full, all the pension plans stable, the children in college and careers, health care paid for, where I know what everyone will ever think of me . . .

Neither I nor anyone else has ever been racing to get anywhere, rather we are speeding to catch up with time, hoping that with enough hard work, by sacrificing enough vacation days, by getting up an hour earlier, we might snatch a glimpse of the always receding future and finally know enough of what’s to come to pull our foot from the gas and rest.

More Author Articles

The Evidence is Not In

I’d make a lousy attorney because I have come to distrust all evidence. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been as addicted to it as the next aspiring whatever. I read the tea leaves of the moment for a sign, some proof I should, or I could, or I was meant to . . .

What is evidence?  When I was fifteen an English teacher who considered herself a mentor of mine told me that I should maybe come up with the stories but let other people tell them. There’s evidence. Three years later a college professor told me mine was the best descriptive essay he’d ever read. More evidence, only strangely contradictory. What to believe?

But those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it, yes? No. History cannot be repeated because it has already happened and every single thing that will happen has never happened before. There is no proof in the world that you should or should not do something, that you should or should not write something. Jonathan Evison wrote six novels before publishing All About Lulu to much acclaim. Weren’t those six unpublished novels evidence?

We all want to stand upon the firm ground of certainty. But there is nothing in the world of which you can be certain until you decide you are certain of it. Your lover can say he loves you, but you are not certain he loves you until you decide he loves you. The evidence of him saying he loves you means nothing. Are you a good father? One child has straight A’s, the other just started smoking pot. Of what can you be certain but that you love them both equally and you will try to do better tomorrow than you did today?

The only thing of which you ever need to be certain is that you are here for a reason, and that you are meant to do those things you love most. This is good news indeed. You will never be able to prove that you love someone or something – that is your truth alone. If you look for a trail in the crumbs of what has happened you will become lost. Rejoice. No jury can ever convict you of heading in the wrong direction, because no one knows where you are going except you.

More Author Articles

The World is You

Michael Connelley must have told us three times during his interview that while writing he “keeps his head down.” It was his way of reminding himself that he must keep his eyes on his own page, as it were. If he worried about trends and what other writers were writing, it would only serve to distract him.  So he kept his head down.

Every writer seems to have their own metaphor for this mindset. Dennis Lehane kept a 3 by 5 card with the words “nobody cares” written on it pinned above his desk. To him “nobody cares” meant it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether he succeeded or failed, nor, for that matter, was it his business whether anyone else succeeded or failed. Keep your head down and your eyes on your paper.

In the story of the grail, the knights are said to become lost if they follow in another knight’s footsteps. This seems in direct conflict with perhaps the most common piece of advice the writers I’ve interviewed have shared, which is to read as much and as often as possible. But this reading is not for imitation, but for inspiration, and to teach you the rhythm of story telling.

You are inspired both by what you love and don’t. The goal is not to recreate the exact experience, word for word, of reading, say, The Great Gatsby—rather, reading The Great Gatsby inspires a feeling in us we would like to recreate in our way, with our own words and stories. Likewise, when we read something we don’t like, we think, It should have been this way, and off we go again.

Keep your head down. All the world, the books, the movies, your marriage, your divorce, your job, your parents—all of it is fuel for what you might write.  So you walk about, eyes and ears open for what is interesting, but when you arrive at your desk, put your head down. Now the world is you. Forget everything you’ve seen and heard and read, it’s already inside you.  Put your head down, and let it through.

More Author Articles