Alex Segura: The Challenge Of Paying It Forward
Ladies and gents: the inimitable Alex Segura. And I say he’s inimitable because I’ve tried very hard to be him, but he keeps evading capture. If you see him, bring him to me.
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The 24-hour news cycle.
The shrinking media landscape.
Those darn millennials.
Social media, amirite?
We’ve heard every reason possible for why it’s hard to get any traction for your book – people read less (not true), it’s a conspiracy (rarely, if ever, true), my publisher screwed up (sometimes, but too easy a default setting). The time right before your book launch is fraught with stress, anxiety and anticipation. You’ve put in the hard work, written a book and seen it through every iteration — from nasty first draft to pretty polished oh-my-god-I-cannot-read-this-again final manuscript. You’ve written your guest blogs (yuk yuk), done your interviews, booked events and begged and pleaded with authors you admire to read and blurb your book. It’s the calm before the storm, and damn wouldn’t you just kill for something to do to distract you from the looming launch of Your Very Important Work?
Here’s an idea: plug another writer’s work.
“Huh-what? Why would I do that? This is my time, Alex. MINE.”
I get it, I do. If you’re anything like me, the weeks before launch are loaded with lots of follow-up emails, unhealthy Google searches and nail-biting. This time is all about Your Book and How It Lands. It’s an offshoot of a bigger Please Love Me feeling all authors share to varying degrees. We work hard and want our work to be appreciated and gushed over. It’s kind of why we do it. I just went through it with my new crime novel, Blackout, which comes out…ahem…today!
But here’s the thing: you’re not alone, writer pal. Writing itself is a lonely crusade – done in solitary spaces and in the dark, winding labyrinth that is our own whacked out headspace. If you’re a novelist, you probably don’t even share what you’re working on until the first draft is done – an arduous, drawn-out process that could take months or years. And now, as you peek out from your little blanket fort, the laptop closed and file sent off to the publishing gods, you wonder – what’s out there? How can I get people to read this damned thing? Hello? Is this thing on?
The sad reality is, there’s no magic bullet. There isn’t a single, definitive thing that will ensure your work gets in front of readers beyond, well, the work itself. Make it good. Make it sing. Labor over it. Write it. Rewrite it. Read it aloud. Edit it. Cut from it. Send it to people you trust not to BS you and do it all over again. Keep doing that until the finished product is something you’d read and enjoy, then do it all over again. That’s the stuff you can control. The rest? Like “building your brand,” “marketing” or “going viral”? That’s all out of your control. Now, you can and should do the things put in front of you – interviews, blog posts, events, you get it. Do it all. But do it with the knowledge that if your book does resonate – if it does catch fire – it’s not because you did 100 blog posts or sent out 1m tweets. It’s because the book is good, people are liking it and spreading the word. What matters is the work.
Which brings me back to this moment. You’re feeling stressed. You’re wringing your hands. You’re waiting and waiting for this damn book to come out already. What are you supposed to do?
Promote another writer.
Talk about the book your reading now. Talk about an author friend who has a new book coming out. Share the cover of a book you got in the mail. Let people know about the books you love. All (good) writers are avid readers, too, and that’s a wonderful, warm and welcoming community – embrace it. It’s a surefire way to clear your head and get your mind off the stuff you have very little control over.
Case in point: every few weeks, I send out a tweet reminding people that Amazon and Goodreads reviews matter. They do. They help improve book visibility and help authors get eyeballs on their books. I don’t link to my books. I don’t demand that people say nice things about books they review. I just ask that people talk about books more. Share what you’re experiencing and reading. Spread the word. Let an author know that something they wrote resonated with you. I’m not pointing to this tweet as a great example of anything, it’s just a little something I like to do that helps remind folks that there are people behind the books they read, and those people would like to write more books for more people to read.
Kind of like you, huh?
So when the stress of working on your own stuff is eating your insides, step back and think about the stuff that made you want to write your own work in the first place. Think of the last book that made you sit up and take notice. List some of the authors you’re eager to see more from. Cruise your bookshelf and see what the DNA of your current book looks like. Then talk about it and spread the word. It’s the least you could do.
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Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. His latest installment in the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series, Blackout, is out today from Polis Books.