The Pressure! Oh, the Pressure! by Alison Solomon

Devoted_ARS-final (2) (1)I’ve been a writer for decades and have always felt good about it. My first published article was for the Israeli feminist journal, Noga in 1987. In the 1990s and 2000s I published articles and stories in a variety of journals, newspapers and anthologies. I authored a humorous lesbian-feminist column in Philadelphia and an advice column in Sacramento and loved it. None of this prepared me for what it’s like to publish a novel.

Last April my debut suspense novel, Along Came the Rain, was published by Sapphire Books. I was exhilarated. For a couple of months I rested on my laurels. And then the marketing and publicity pressure began. I was bombarded with advice:

“Real writers spend 50% of their time writing and 50% of their time marketing.”

“Hire a PR person.”

“You need to post on Facebook twice a day.”

“You must comment on everyone else’s Facebook pages as often as possible.”

“Start your own blog.”

“Hire someone to manage your social media.”

“Tweet daily.”

social media image

I wasn’t willing to hire a PR person or pay for advertising. I wanted the quality of my writing to speak for itself and to trust that satisfied readers would spread the word. But the endless articles I read and workshops I attended about social media, blogging, and marketing all told me I was wrong and that I needed to get with the program.

When my second novel, Devoted, came out, I tried to put some of what I’d learned into practice. I started a twitter account and planned a Facebook campaign of regular posts, but I kept forgetting to follow through. Days would go by when I never opened Facebook because I was focused on my writing (or my life.) Weeks passed and I realized I hadn’t tweeted. I knew I should. Every time I went on Facebook and saw how often folks were promoting their work, I castigated myself for not doing a better job. Whenever I was somewhere other than sitting in front of my laptop, I found myself thinking that I ought to be doing something, anything, to promote my novel. I joined more Facebook groups, confirmed more friends—and found I had even less time to keep up with the people and events I really cared about. I started getting bad headaches and migraines just thinking about it all but I forced myself to tweet and retweet.

And then I heard myself say, “I don’t want to be a writer anymore.”

I’ve always been someone who believes we should enjoy our work at least 70% of the time. When I write a novel, I relish the creative part where everything flows easily, and I slog through the 30% which is just bloody hard work. Putting added time into social media skews my 70-30 balance because I don’t enjoy marketing. Even though I love writing my novels I started to think that if publicity was as important as creating the product, maybe I’d just stop creating the product.

Then I read The Circle by Dave Eggers. The novel is brilliant and thought-provoking and I recommend it to everyone. At one point the protagonist, who works for a social media company, is reprimanded for not posting and participating frequently enough online. I felt for her. What she chose to do as a result of the pressure to conform isn’t what I’d choose, but it did make me realize that I have choices. I can choose to only post when and how I want to, even if it means I won’t sell as many books or be known by as many readers. I began to realize that the most important thing is to enjoy what I’m doing and hope that whoever does stumble across my work enjoys it too.

It’s not what the bloggers and experts would recommend, but I believe it’s what may work for me. It might mean I never become a bestseller. You may never see me post on Facebook, “I made the top ten on Amazon!” However, I will have more readers than I did for the first novel I wrote. That’s because my first novel was never published. It was accepted twenty years ago by Seal Press who then decided to focus solely on non-fiction and therefore returned the manuscript to my agent. Shortly thereafter my agent retired and, feeling that I had no other options, I stopped trying to publish that novel. I’m grateful that nowadays we have so many publishing choices, but it does mean that more writers are publishing and therefore the competition to find readers is fiercer than ever. This competition is what creates pressure to promote constantly. I could succumb to that pressure, but I’ve decided not to. I’m only going to do the amount of promotion that feels right for me.

In The Circle, the people who didn’t suck it up and revolve their lives around social media were doomed. I hope real life shows there’s room for my way of doing things. If there isn’t, and my ship is sunk, then all I can say is, at least I’ll go down happy.

So tell me, how do you cope with the pressure?



PortraitAlison grew up in England and lived in Israel and Mexico before settling in the USA. She is author of Along Came the Rain (Sapphire Books, 2016) and recently released Devoted (Wild Girl Press, 2017.) Alison’s most recent accomplishment was winning the adult ping-pong tournament on a Caribbean cruise.

 

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13 thoughts on “The Pressure! Oh, the Pressure! by Alison Solomon

  1. Excellent article. I’ve not long published my first novel and for the last 6 months there has been so much pressure (mostly self imposed) to market and I’m sick of it. I can’t do the marketing thing, so it’s good to hear someone else who doesn’t enjoy it either.

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  2. Wow, I’ve been grappling with this exact pressure lately. The words of all the writers, editors and other self-publishers saying: ‘you must market yourself and your book to ever get it sold,’ banging around me daily. I only just self-published my first novel and when I thought I would write a book, I wanted it to be for me and for the readers to enjoy. First and foremost, being a writer will not change my life and I don’t want it to, that’s not why I’m writing. I don’t want to become more stressed and work so hard to sell my book or books(because I will write more) just so that more readers stumble upon my work. I want to enjoy realizing my dream, not worrying about being a bestselling author or award-winning author or even being world-renown one. I’d like to create the art of words, writing down my imaginative thoughts and ramblings, into readable characters, themes, and plots.
    Thank you for putting your own trials and tribulations into words that make a new writer, such as myself, know that wanting to enjoy being a writer, is more important than everything else.

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  3. How do I cope with the pressure? I retreat and read instead of letting the pressure get all of me. Just added Along Came the Rain (and The Circle) to my reading list – and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. Reading this column pointed me to your novel a lot faster than the promotional things you don’t enjoy doing. Good luck in finding the ‘sweet spot ‘ balance that works best for your book sales, and you 🌞

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  4. I’m right there with you, Alison. I currently have three novels out and the pressure to promote them is relentless. Like you, I do what I can, what feels comfortable, and doesn’t eat up too much of my writing time. But the pressure to promote isn’t just abstract or existential. For authors who are traditionally published (as opposed to self-published), the publishers expect the author to shoulder most of the PR/marketing load. Gone are the days when a publisher would build a PR campaign around an author, set up and finance a book tour, interviews, etc. For may of us, myself included, a book tour, with its traveling/hotel/dining expenses, is utterly outside of our financial ability, as are so many of the conferences, literary festivals, etc., where authors can expand their visibility. Social media is free, so many of us depend on it. But though it doesn’t eat our meagre money, it does eat our time, and when the results are less than “best seller” spectacular, we can’t help but feel it’s been wasted time to boot. So, how do I deal with the pressure? The best I can do is try to ignore it and just write. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But what choice do I have? It’s either try to ignore it or drive myself crazy. So like you, all I can do is hope readers enjoy my work, spread the word, maybe leave a positive review on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere, leaving me to find joy in writing and a decent night’s sleep.

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    1. Ann, I agree. I was a bit nervous that my publisher would see this because of course all publishers want to know that we’re working on promotion. On the other hand, doing this blog is itself a form or publicity 🙂

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  5. I too would much rather be writing than socializing but, if I ever want to be able to write full time…and that is the goal, socializing and marketing are musts. Social media is such a huge time suck. I’ve found some tools to help me manage it better. I feed tools and the tools feed all the sites. I pay occasional visits to add the human element and respond to comments. It isn’t ideal but it’s better than doing nothing and it’s better for me than spending 50% or more of my time aside from work, home and family obligations doing things other than writing.

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  6. I thought I should let you know that some of your marketing activities must be working — I recognized your title ‘Along Came the Rain’ as one I had heard before, and mentally bookmarked as one I wanted to read. Maybe it was on this blog during the Hootenany, or at the Lesbian Review — I am not sure. Thanks for writing! I am so grateful for all the effort that you and the other authors put into creating the books I enjoy. They feel like an essential part of my life – a literary air supply, if you will,

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