Now, when you're a brand-new author with a book just out, you tend to be pathologically focused -- on reviews, media and interviews and why you're not getting more reviews, media and interviews. I was in exactly this place when I showed up to read, alongside a Wisconsin writer I'd never heard of.
Which is exactly my point.
That writer's name was Sara Rath. And she'd heard of me, not because I was more famous but because she'd made it her business know. She'd read my bio online and knew enough about my book to ask me questions and gently steer the panel discussion my way. She was older than I and this book was her ninth. I comfort myself with the thought that maybe she, too, was a self-absorbed ass the first time around.
Sara taught me something hugely valuable. I will never again treat a colleague the way I treated her. Instead, I try to emulate her. I find out about other authors before I meet them. I read their work. I remind myself -- often -- that my almighty book is not at the center of everyone's universe.
Because that is the fundamental mistake I see authors make. Then, as a result they commit these:
SELLING - Bookstores sell books. It's their business, and aren't we writers all so lucky that it is? Writers, in my opinion, should not be selling books out of their living rooms or the trunks of their cars. Nor should we keep track of who buys books (come on, this is really tacky...) A hardcover costs about $25, which is not in everyone's budget -- especially these days. Books are made (literally) to be loaned out or passed on. Personally, I'm thrilled when someone borrows one of my books from the library or shares a copy with a friend. Because I don't write to sell, I write to be read.
COMPLAINING - Do you find yourself at parties trapped in conversations with writers who are bemoaning the sorry state of publishing, the paltry marketing budgets they were assigned, the fact that NO ONE EVEN CARES about good writing any more? God, I do. And here's how I respond: Someone was nice enough to pick up my story, edit it carefully, shoulder the printing costs and rush me one beautiful, early copy via FedEx. They set up a few well-planned events, just for me. They sent copies to newspapers and magazines. Now, total strangers show up to hear me talk about my novel. So really? I'm going to complain about this?
BEING PETTY - This is the big one: authors acting like children at a birthday party, squabbling over who got the biggest piece of cake. Shouts of: "No fair!" and "He cheated." Only with us, it's usually the backhanded dig. "Can you believe she's getting so much attention?" or "Yeah, I heard that great review was written by a friend." Writers groups joust to keep influential members while discarding the yet-unpublished and sweetly unaware. I've experienced this in a couple so-called literary communities. Today, I'm lucky to be in Minneapolis, where most writers genuinely celebrate the work of others. And I"m extremely fortunate to have the goodwill and friendship of some amazing authors out east. But here's the best part: This general decency actually raises all of us. Everyone's work benefits. Famous writers and yet-to-be published ones support each other. Turns out, there's enough cake to go around.