When I was a kid, my parents taught me manners. I was always required to say please and thank you and was never allowed to boast about myself. On the flip side, they bragged about all of their children unceasingly. You know that mom or dad at your office who has their desk covered with pictures of their kids and has to update you on their latest accomplishments before you can discuss anything work related? Yep, that’s how my parents were.
I’m not complaining, of course. I was one lucky kid to have parents who taught me how to be humble, but weren’t afraid to let the whole world know they were proud of me. Their ability to brag about me helped me to have confidence while the manners they taught kept me from turning into a conceited adult. The only problem is that somehow over the years I mistakenly believed that doing things like seeking a promotion at work or selling myself in a job interview was also a form of conceit. For years I didn’t understand why people less experienced and less skilled were given the best positions at work while I was usually considered trusty Tina who was doing a good job right where she was at. I haven’t had that kind of job in years, but that mixed up humility has shown its ugly head since I’ve become a published author.
Readers who chat with me at a book signing or read my book and visit my website or Facebook page probably don’t know how hard it is for me to sell myself as an author. Yet, that is part of my publishing career. There is no way around it in today’s book market unless you have achieved the acclaim of Amy Tan (one of my favorite authors ever).
I do not have the status of my author idol Amy Tan. The truth is, if I don’t tell readers about my book, nobody will hear about it. I don’t know how many other authors struggle with this, but I struggle with it every day. I love communicating with people. I just don’t like the part where I have to say, “Hey, would you buy my book?”
When I was first published in 2008 by Waterbrook Press, a subsidiary of Random House, I had a lot more power behind me. I still had to promote, but it was much different back then. Times have changed in the past seven years and authors now have to play a much larger part in promoting themselves and their books. On one hand, I love it because I enjoy getting to know my readers, but there’s always a worry that I’m going to sound like a pushy salesman.
“Buy this book!”
“Will you please buy my book?”
“Have you heard about my new book?”
Pondering all this reminds me of when I signed my first Random House contract and attended a publisher’s retreat with other Random House writers from Waterbrook. One of the male authors drew us all into an intriguing conversation about how men make more money at writing because they see it as a career, not a hobby. That is not true, the feminist inside of me wanted to exclaim, but I was mostly just listening in since my book had not even been released yet. The author said that unlike some female authors, male authors strongly expected to be paid for any service related to their writing. While there are several well-paid female authors in the business, I’ve realized over the years that the author who drew us into that conversation was partly right.
When I think about what that author was saying, I get it now! Just by a sheer non-scientific poll of author friends, many of the women – more than men – speak for free, give away their articles for free, look over a manuscript for free, accept smaller contracts, etc. The only woman I know who didn’t do some of this ended up retiring from the business all together, even though she was possibly the most talented among us.
So why do many of us do it? Why do we women hate asking someone to buy our stuff? Are our books somehow less important because they are by women? Of course not! My fellow male writer wasn’t suggesting we should be paid less, he was saying that we should expect to sell our books and that it’s okay to make a living from it.
I am watching many astute women authors who are business savvy. I hope I can learn from them and stop being so reticent about my books when I need to be spreading the word. So, if you see and hear me talking more about my books, you’ll know what I’m up to. I don’t want to be that little girl with good manners anymore.
When my parents taught me not to brag about myself, I don’t think they meant not to promote my stories when I become a published author. Manners and humility are pretty good attributes to have, but when it comes to selling our books, we need to talk about our books.
We need to believe it is okay, and not conceited, to let potential readers know about our stories. How else will they know to read them? And if it’s in our jobs or elsewhere, we need to believe it is okay to seek a promotion or a better-paying position.
Thoughts? Can you relate? I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments.