Real Bad Art

6146332335_b33ba2efd1_bBut will it sell?

I began working on Wasteland in 2003 as an undergrad at the University of Iowa. It wasn’t called Wasteland back then. I had a horrible title: Twelfth Avenue. At the time, the story consisted of little more than ten pages, but it was the story that allowed me to be a part of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for one semester.

Fast forward to 2011, and the story exploded into hundreds of pages. I sent the novel to publishers and agents and they all said no. Went to a writer’s conference and shopped the book there. Was told by an agent, “Well, you certainly know what you’re doing but there’s no audience. Don’t be in such a hurry to publish. Slow down the writing process. It’ll never sell.”

What? Slow down? I had been working on that thing for eight years. I sent Wasteland out a couple more times and got tired of hearing there was no audience, so in 2013 I put it on Amazon.

When I wrote Banana Sandwich, a fast write in between constructing thesis chapters for my masters, I thought, “Well, if they didn’t like Wasteland, they certainly aren’t going to like Banana Sandwich.”

Banana Sandwich was an exercise in fourth wall breaking, first person narrative from a woman’s point of view written by a guy, and now between two books and a bunch of marketing and self-promotion mistakes which equated to me shouting very loudly on Twitter, “BUY MY BOOK” –and please don’t do that; it annoys the crap out of people, trust me, I know. I now have an audience.

Albeit, a small one.

Cause I’ll tell you a secret about self-publishing. My sales are dismal. Someone buys about a book a month. When I sell two books a month, then I get excited. I go to Starbucks, buy a five dollar cup of coffee and my royalty check can’t even cover that bill.

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Image from random Google search

But I have an audience. People read my words. And that’s pretty dang cool.

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame told Mary Laura Philpott that “If I am worrying, before I begin a project, about whether my agent will like it, whether bookstores will be able to sell it, or whether it will be marketable to a wide demographic, then I have already taken the wrong exit SO HARD off the highway that I need to be on, in order to create. […] But ‘WILL THIS THING SELL?’ Immediately, with that question, my creative self dies–to be replace [sic] by a zombie called ‘anxiety.'”

That’s a tough realization.

Look, I began my blog in 2013 when I first published Wasteland because I was told by experts I needed a blog, and I had to have a niche blog, and my blog had to talk about writing, and that eradiation suffered long bouts of inactivity, saw posts I didn’t want to write, because everything around that first version of my blog dealt with the question: But will this thing sell?

I painted a picture of myself way more successful and secure than I really am. I wrote posts like “How to Put Together an Author Business Plan.” Stuff I’m no where near qualified to write. Heck, I don’t even have a business plan. And now, I can be brutally honest here. Everyday.

My wife read Blue Ink Fresh a few days ago and asked me if readers thought I was being whiny about not getting accepted into a PhD program, and I said I didn’t know. I wasn’t even sure if I should have been writing about that experience as it was happening because I was in the middle of dealing with failure and disappointment, but the story wasn’t “I’m whiny.”

I mean, I don’t think.

The story was about getting off my butt and planting sunflowers, about figuring out how to continue my creative life, about how others should continue their creative life even in the face of adversity, even in the face of having no audience. In the face of disappointment.

I want to be real here. And all art is real. Even bad art. So “do the thing you love.”

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Addendum

RiseoftheMachines_KristenLamb_FullCover_FinalLast week in a private Facebook Group for writers, someone asked for social media tips. I recommended Kristen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines, a book that delves into the history of marketing and promotion and how the old paradigms of one-way communication have changed. Lamb suggests blogging three times a week. I saw that number and thought, “My God, there’s no way I can hit that number. My blog is utter torture. I hate and resent every minute I spend working on my blog.”

Well, if you noticed, since about March I’ve been posting at least three times a week. And I’ve been posting things I care about, that I love, that I feel are important. And having come from a daily newspaper background, writing three posts a week is really a cinch compared to multiple daily deadlines hanging over your head like Damocles’ sword.

Still, I do not advocate one size fits all. I do not blog as much as I do for algorithms–that is a happy side effect.

Lamb’s Rise of the Machines is not a how-to guide for social media, but more philosophy and mind-set, a model shift, an exercise in changing personal paths. Rise of the Machines is about connecting on a more personal level than delivering a one-way street  ineffective ad.

The person in question in the private Facebook group did not just poo-poo my book recommendation, but anyone who had any advice or suggestions were also either wrong or the advice didn’t quite fit her particular needs. The person then posted a one star review of Rise of the Machines.

I do not begrudge anyone to post a one star review. Single star reviews exist for reasons, but I certainly feel Lamb’s one star review was undeserved. Especially since a day after the one star review was posted, the same said person posted on Facebook again, talking about how six times a week blog posts were crappy compared to once a week well thought-out posts.

What crystallized in my mind the most after reading Lamb’s book was that above all else, I simply need to be real. Rise of the Machines is funny, insightful, passionate. Lamb talks about what she loves and addresses the community that she loves. The book’s intentions are to build people up, not tear them down. And I hope that same mentality comes across clearly not only on my website, but in my personal life as well. But sometimes, with love, also comes admonishment.

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One thought on “Real Bad Art

  1. Thanks so much for the thoughts. I really appreciate it. I will admit the one-star hurt and confused me. I am under no illusions that everyone with LOVE my book, but I felt the one-star was not even reflective of the review. She admitted I made good points and had good information. Maybe it wasn’t for her, then okay three stars.

    I never give one-star reviews to other writers simply because we endure so much BS from friends, family and strangers I don’t think it is cool for us to start knifing one another. We need each other because this is a long and hard road. But at least the way I teach it we are not alone on that road. Thanks for being such a super fan and it has been a pleasure getting to know you!

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