by Janis Patterson
Every year I look forward to the holiday season. I love Christmas – the decorations, the carols, the promise and reassurance of my faith, the bonhomie, the electric excitement in the air. New Year’s is the symbol of new beginnings and though I have never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a few weeks there is always a clean, untried ‘blank-slate’ feeling to a new year.
Every year I look forward to the end of the holiday season and the return of real life. While wonderful, the holidays are exhausting and pretty much take over your life. Parties to give and attend. Presents to buy. Calls to make. Lunches with friends. Wrapping presents. Visiting family for extended gatherings with out-of-town members. Taking down and putting away decorations. Getting the house back to the familiar chaos we call ‘normal.’ Thank-you notes to write. Yes, it’s tiring, to say the least.
Now we’re eleven days into the New Year, which makes it not so new any more. And, usually after all the holiday hubbub dies down, it’s not so different from the year before. I still have deadlines and stories crying to be written. The laundry pile stays pretty much the same no matter how many loads I do. Since the holiday leftovers are long gone I must contrive something for dinner every night and fix a lunch for The Husband to take to work. Not so different from last year and many years before that.
Still, there is something about the turn of the year – as artificial a delineation of time as it might be – that makes us think. Personally I want to make it a touchstone for upping my career game. A touchstone, not a resolution. Resolutions are usually regarded as hard things, immobile things, things you must do every single day for the rest of the year. I don’t respond well to hard, immobile and must do. Never have, and probably never will.
So what did I do? In between huge meals with family and much-needed naps I spent New Year’s Day thinking about what I wanted to accomplish career-wise in the new year and what it would take to get it done. Of course I thought about a few things that are definitely ‘wish list’ and probably never going to happen, but I did try to keep things ‘real.’
First of all, I know that no matter how much I hate it, I’m going to have to do a lot more publicity. I have an extensive backlist in several genres and yet my sales would have to work for a week to get up to pathetic. It’s all about discoverability, and that means getting your name and your work out there.
For a long time I followed the fairy tale that if your book is good, it will sell. (I refuse to tell you how long I believed in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny…) As nice and tidy as that would be, it doesn’t work. People don’t buy what they can’t see, and well-promoted garbage will pretty much always outsell a good book buried in the ever-increasing tsunami of available books. While a writer can live in the ivory tower and do nothing but write (my personal dream) it’s time for me to realize that if I want to be a selling writer, I need to get out there and sell. The Tooth Fairy has retired.
Neither can you live on your backlist alone. New releases feed the machine. It’s the genre writer’s version of publish or perish. Readers – especially genre readers – are exceptionally voracious, with some reading more than one book a day. Writers can no longer afford the luxury of doing just one book a year if they want to keep their name in front of the reading public.
Last year I wrote five books. This year I have to get them all out. (Last year was an ivory tower year for me for several reasons.) This year I hope to do – and release – four. Remember what I said about a touchstone? I didn’t promise myself or make a resolution to write and release four; that’s too solid, too demanding. During the year when I hit a wall, when my career seems more trap than joy, I’ll think back to that food-stuffed, family-surfeited New Year’s Day and remember what I thought about the forthcoming year. Then I can decide if it is still what I want, still feasible, still relevant to my current reality.
I hope it will be. But it doesn’t have to be. But whatever I decide, though, I have to do what needs to be done to make it come true.