Last week, I had an exchange with an old acquaintance. She’s a talented and disciplined writer, a real pro. But she hasn’t been able to get her book published and was feeling discouraged. My husband had been telling her about my new book, and from her perspective, I was doing great. I ended up telling her the following story to share what things looked like from my side of the publishing fence – starting with a conversation I’d had with a different friend only one week prior. Then I thought, why don’t we talk about our realities more often? I share the following in the hope that it rings true with other writers in my position – and cheers on other discouraged writers.
“What do you mean, they won’t let you have an event?”
That was the response from a friend last month when I was telling her about trying to set up promotional events for my new Hold Me Down. “Yup,” I had to tell her. “I love XYZ Books, too. But my sales are too low for them to want to host me again.”
Hard to admit, but it’s true. As I watch my 29th – yup – mystery Hold Me Down head out in the world, I’ve had to come to terms with a couple of realities.
For starters, I am working to accept that I’m probably always going to have to do copy editing to support my “book writing habit,” as I jokingly (?) labeled it a few years ago.
The second, and harder, truth is that I’m probably never going to be widely read. Or, not as widely read as I’d like despite what feels like nearly nonstop promotion. Along this line, my husband Jon often refers to an Andre Dubus essay in which he related his friend, the author Richard Yates saying to him: “I don’t want money. I just want readers.”
But something happened a few years ago that has almost almost helped me to come to terms with the latter. Jon and I were at Jazz Fest in New Orleans a few years ago – sigh, I miss Jazz Fest. I miss all live events, don’t you? But anyway, there we were, wandering through the crowd and trying to figure out who to listen to for the last set of the day, when I realized that Katie Perry was headlining the Fest’s biggest stage.
Now, I like Katie Perry’s hits. They’re fun. I even enjoyed her Super Bowl halftime show (I mean, not just “left shark”). But I’m never going to go to a concert of hers, so we wandered over to hear a little, hoping for “Roar” or “Firework.” And it was … canned. Boring. Stale. And totally, totally packed to the point where, even pre-pandemic, it was uncomfortable.
So by mutual agreement, we left after maybe a song and a half and went to one of the smaller tents, where local singer/songwriter Aurora Nealand was playing to maybe 50 people and just killing it. She was SO GOOD. The clip below is of her doing some of the trad jazz she excels at (and throwing a mean football), but she has a ton of originals too. And you know, a lot of her songs sound as poppy to me as Katie Perry’s. But she’s never going to have that kind of an audience. Anyway, while we were sitting there, entranced, it hit me that maybe I’m more Aurora Nealand than Katie Perry. And I’m ok with that.
An earlier version of this essay ran on Kevin Tipple’s Kevin’s Corner blog last Sunday.