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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Beware the Penguins!

Someone whose advice I respect suggested that if you want to be a writer, you should WRITE!

That seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many would-be writers ignore that bit of advice. I suppose they hope someone will bump into them at the mall and go, "Hey, can you write? I really need someone who can write the great American novel for me. I'll give you a million dollars in advance!" Of course, that's not very likely and I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. I seems that being a successful writer requires some hard work and something else that is foreign to many of us who would like to live the writer's lifestyle.

I'm speaking of self-promotion. Publicity is the lifeblood of a successful writer. Getting your name up front is the name of the game in the publishing biz, or so they tell me. Emily Dickinson called it "telling your name the live long day, to an admiring bog." Of course, Emily locked her work in a drawer and wasn't published till after she was safely dead. Someone more aggressive than poor Emily found her poems and sent them to a publisher. While a successful method of self-promotion, the die-and-be-discovered method leaves a lot to be desired and is not terribly effective anyway.
You wouldn't know it just looking at me or my work, but I am a shy person and self-promotion is always painful to me.  I'm awkward at it and when I do screw up the courage to push my own "brand", I come off like one of those pathetic geeks with delusions of grandeur they make fun of in those movies about cool teenagers in love. Heck, my own kids make fun of my pathetic efforts at self-promotion.

I am the Napoleon Dynamite of the American literary scene. I've written a book that has a huge potential audience, but I think I went with the wrong publisher (which wasn't hard since they were the only ones to offer to publish it). So, to make the book fly, guess who gets to push the marketing of it?

The shy guy!

My writing mentor suggested that if you want to be a writer, you need to discipline yourself to write a minimum of 500 words a day. I have been doing that for about 5 years now. As a result, I've got a couple of other books done (one co-authored with my Sweet Baboo). Several are almost done and others are in various stages of completion. I've got a magazine article that was accepted, but may never be published. I've written hundreds of thousands of words on my various weblogs, a poetry site, dozens of forums and a cooperative book writing site, not to mention an old journal and tons of uncatalogued bits that are sitting around in my computer of file cabinet.

What's missing for me, I suppose, is the ability to be aggressive in behalf of my own cause. Over my career in education and in the nonprofit sector, I've fought for so many causes for others, I can't begin to count them. Where I fail is in being able to fight effectively for my own cause. That I've never been very good at. I once wrote a successful federal grant for one million dollars. I think I made 4 months salary out of it (and I worked 40 additional hours a week for 4 months to get that). I got almost nothing for my 6 months of solo work on the grant. I walked away and gave the organization to people with disabilities who are still running it as a self-help independent living program.

I can't tell you how many people have asked me, "Are they paying you to do that?" and then looked at me like I'd just landed from Mars when I explained that I'd volunteered to do whatever it was I was doing for nothing. I'm always embarrassed to submit an invoice for services rendered. Lots of people (who drive nicer cars than mine) have no problem with that at all.

In the movie Madagascar, there are these insane penguins. The penguins have the kind of aggressive streak I wish I had, but probably never will. They probably don't have any trouble submitting a bill. They may roll in like gangbusters and then proceed to wreck the place, screwing up whatever it is they're doing in the process, but nobody fails to notice them and I bet they collect a paycheck. They have that whole "purpose driven life" thing going.

I don't think I'll ever have that - at least not the kind that gets you a career as a writer. I'm trying to learn the art of self-promotion, but I probably am going to look like a self-conscious penguin doing it.

Jesus says the meek shall inherit the Earth. Boy I hope so, cause I sure could use the cash!

I'm just sayin'


* Note:  Since writing this blog I've written and sold close to 1000 stories to various web-based publications. For these stories I was seriously underpaid. I put up with it because I am still a shy person and am continually surprised when someone actually proposes to give me money for what I do. Publishers love shy people when they can get their claws into them. - Tom King, 2/15/2012

*That by the way was my 500 words for today.

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