Saturday, August 26, 2017

Having conversations about my own book

One of the reasons I made the financially disastrous decision to go to graduate school was just the anticipation of how enjoyable it would be to talk about books with other people who also loved them. It partially lived up to that hype, although I'd say the best conversations I've had about stories have been outside of graduate school. In any event, a deep talk about a story and how it changes the interpretation of what life means is one of life's greatest pleasures.

I've been sort of uninterested in my own book since it came out on Amazon in July. There are a couple of reasons why: I've found typos and other little errata in the book since that are embarrassing (even though I knew there would be mistakes). I decided I was going to forego paying for a review, and instead hope that I could convince a few reviewers to talk about the book for free, but I think I've failed, and I'm going to end up with not one single review from an independent book review site. Which is just part of the learning process for me, but is still kind of a disappointment.

Even though I wrote many times prior to the book coming out that I knew I'd be lucky if 200 copies were sold, it's still been disappointing to see how few copies have sold. I guess partly that's a blow to my ego. It makes me feel like my big moment of finally getting a book published is deeply invalidated by it mostly only selling to people who know me. (It hasn't helped that I've failed at doing the publicity things I needed to do, like get a review. Also, even the publisher has had issues: they can't find the guy who does the website, and so the web page hasn't been updated in ages. So what publicity I would have had from them has been null.)

Beyond ego, though, there's a personal reason I'm so disappointed by low sales. I like talking about books, and the thought of talking about the stories that meant so much to me I went to the trouble of writing them down is really why I started writing in the first place.

I have, it so happens, had a couple of conversations about the stories in the book. They were with my brother and my friend, so this wasn't that magical moment of hearing from a stranger in Duluth about how I'd touched their life and blown their mind. But both conversations still lived up to the hype I'd built up.

It helps that my brother and my friend are really good readers. My older brother is a lawyer; my friend is a recent Harvard graduate. They asked good questions, they saw things I didn't see, they got what I was going for in places.

My friend said he felt like many of the characters were resigned to their fate at the ends of the stories. I felt like if anything bound the stories together, it was that every main character found a way to snatch some kind of agency from fate, which is the opposite of being resigned. So we talked about that for a while. It didn't matter that we saw things differently; it was thrilling just to be talking about people who had only existed inside my head at one point in time. And at some point in the conversation, the feeling of how remarkable it was that these were my stories we were talking about just about knocked me over.

I'm likely to still feel a fair amount of disappointment about the book in the next few months. Again, this is going to happen no matter how much I've steeled myself for disappointment. But man, these little moments really do kind of make me think that writing isn't a total waste of time.


  1. Graduate school made you into a technician. As to book sales, it takes no more than 10 minutes a day to promote.... The idea of paying for some shill to write a review trikes me as abhorrent, but it takes literally nothing to flog it. If you can write a query letter to an agent, you sure as hell can send a promo to someone....

    1. I might be a technician. I don't think I am, because I don't write particularly writerly stories. But if I am a technician, it wasn't graduate school that made me that way. In graduate school, instructors and students tended to refer to technical ideas using shorthand. The end result was that I didn't understand the technical concepts at all when I left grad school. Everything I know or think I know about technical aspects of fiction, I've put together on my own in the last five years.

      The reason I don't send out promotions is basically shame. It feels like cold-calling someone to sell them something they don't want.

  2. i think this is part of your grad-school-did-nothing-for-me trope. all the evidence of the technician is on display in this very blogspot.

    promoting something is cold-calling. that is how it's done. if you don't do it, no one will. if you were that one promising new name that pantheon wanted to promote, that's exactly what they would be doing. it's how it's done.... and the people on the receiving end, well, they know that's how it's done and that's what they expect too. the letter or fax in the old days; the follow up call to pitch it further, etc. etc.

    1. I promise you that to the very best of my knowledge, "grad school did nothing for me" is not a trope. I really left there having no better idea how to write than I came there with. For the most part, we didn't even discuss technical issues, except indirectly. I heard people, for example, refer to film theory and its impact on how to render a scene. But we never had a class that actually explained relevant aspects of film theory and what that meant for fiction. It was just scattered references I didn't get. It wasn't until years ago that I took the time to read some books on writing fiction that I started to get what they were talking about. And even then, I'm not a real devotee of any particular school of fiction-writing theory. I'm a pretty straightforward guy with the narrative.

      I honestly, without any hyperbole, do not think I learned anything about how to write in grad school. That's probably my fault. I should have read something on my own if we weren't going to do it in class. But my fault or not, I got an M.A. with 7 A's, one B, and I really don't think I learned much along the way.

    2. I guarantee you were far less interesting before grad school. And, yes, if you truly did not get much out of it, I think you have to shoulder that one.