By Leslie Leyland Fields
We all know writers regularly slit their wrists before getting to press. As a memoirist and essayist, blood-letting is a familiar part of my life. My newest book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt, just released a few weeks ago, is perhaps my most personal and challenging book yet. I expected the winding of tourniquets and gauzes in the writing of it; indeed, there was spillage. But I didn’t expect what would happen upon release.
All of you with recent books know the truth of this: no one really knows how to sell books anymore. For longer than a week, that is. Every expert has 37 ideas, all of them experimental, and for all of them---blood required---to start. Add to that an arm, two legs, time, sleep, hope, research, humiliation, luck, cunning, and endurance. Consider one writer’s advice, which went something like this: At book signings, inform the store manager that you’ll station yourself at the entrance to the store to be their official greeter. After greeting the customer warmly, press your book into their hands, along with a bookmark and business card. Don’t forget to smile. On the social media front, when I read each prognosticator’s version of 23 Essential Things All Writers Must Be Doing, two things are always lacking, without which none of us will survive: live well; keep writing.
We all know we need to successfully promote our own work. We’re glad to get the message out. But when we choose the writing life and sacrifice leisure, sleep, money, and most costly of all, time with our families to fulfill that call, none of us makes these sacrifices to then spend every breath after selling and promoting. Remember why we write. Because we believe in our deepest-down spirit that we are called to keep naming the world. We write to serve a meal to the famished, to dress the wounds of the betrayed and lonely. We write to offer hope and a story to the depressed. We write to offer clear thinking in a muddled marketplace. We write in humility, in insecurity, in desperate prayer. We write to offer joy and delight in a troubled world. Nothing less.
And when our book releases, shall we then don our best barracuda suit, polish our teeth, slick back our hair and begin the hard, shiny sell, suctioning ourselves to every unfortunate person who innocently wanders into a bookstore? Or shall we sidle into every blog, feigning friendship, sneaking links into every casual comment? Did any of us sign up for this?
Let’s all of us take a breath. We don’t need to sell. We don’t have to sell out or sell ourselves short, or sell our own snake oil. Instead of selling, let’s offer. We’ve just spent two to three years composing, listening for the right words. We do indeed have something to offer: our work, and, more importantly, ourselves. In all of our promotion, we need to think, How may I serve my readers? We might end up giving books away—a lot of books. We might do some speaking gratis. We’ll end up talking, maybe even praying, for perfect strangers, becoming friends. We’ll give up the accounting sheet. At the end of the day, the year, the decade, we’ll count it all differently. We’ll say,
I got to give. I got to give more than I knew I possessed. I got to be part of a global conversation. I got to know new readers, who taught me more than I knew. I got to talk with strangers who became friends. I got to lift someone’s load.
When the next list of 233 Things You Must Do To Sell Your Books comes out, give it a glance. Do what you can, but ignore everything that violates who you are and what you’re to be doing in this world. Be a real writer, which is to say, be a real human being. Bleed on the page, but let the bleeding stop there.
LESLIE LEYLAND FIELDS is a writer, editor, and national speaker who lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska in the winter and Harvester Island in the summer, where she joins her family in a commercial salmon fishing operation. She also leads the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop, a week long writing workshop held each September on her remote fish camp island. She has written/edited 8 nonfiction books of memoir and essays on a variety of subjects, including the spirituality of food, forgiveness, wilderness, commercial fishing, and parenting. She is on the Editorial Board of Christianity Today magazine and writes for Books and Culture and other journals. In 2013, she began the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop, a week long writing workshop and retreat at her remote fishcamp island. She has three graduate degrees, in Creative Nonfiction, English and Journalism. Leslie has taught for many years in both undergraduate and graduate programs in Oregon, Alaska and Washington and now continues to teach through college visits, frequent radio appearances, speaking, and her professional writing business, The Northern Pen. Leslie and her husband Duncan have 6 children, a daughter and 5 sons, most of whom work in salmon fishing every summer. She blogs at leslieleylandfields.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org