Too often I see people start and drop things. Start and drop. Start and drop. And then they lament as to why nothing is happening. Nobody is reading their books. Nobody is commenting on their news. Nobody is paying attention to them. So they get upset and drop another thing they just started, and start something else, and then the same story repeats. There was a time when I tried helping those people by gently coaxing them to NOT drop the current thing they were doing but to continue even when it seemed they were screaming into vacuum. I got my head bitten off a couple times, and the rest of the times I was being gently pushed away. "No, you don't understand. It won't work for me because..." You can insert any excuse here. It doesn't really matter what it is. The excuse is moot.
Now, what THINGS exactly am I talking about?
I'm talking about the things you need to do to get people to know you as a writer for them to want to buy your books. Actually, no, let's take a step back. The things you need to do for people to know you exist. (I'll be talking specifically about writing here, but you can apply it to any art, or any pursuit for that matter).
There are three ways of letting people know you exist.
1. In person.
This is about telling your family, your friends, going to bookstores, libraries, events, fairs, conventions, group meetings, what have you. We writers tend to shy away from this because we like our comfortable writing caves and given a choice wouldn't want to leave them for the rest of our lives.
There is, of course, the wild wicked internets out there, and that is a place where you can let people know about you too. The old tired (and inundated with ads) Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and the like. The new shiny revolutionary Ello (which I love). The tried and true blogging. The bookish sites like Goodreads. Patreon and Kickstarter and the others, if you use crowdfunding. YouTube if you like to do videos, Wattpad if you like to give away your books for free, and on and on and on.
3. By dying.
Curiously, as soon as you're dead, everyone wants to read your books. But because by then you're dead and don't care, I won't be expanding on this point.
Because online seems to be the rave nowadays, I'll be mostly talking about your online presence.
So this is what I see happening. A writer opens up an account on one of these online places, posts a few things, disappears, then posts some more, than wonders why the hell there's no activity, then shuts it down (because it's fucking not working), and opens up a new one somewhere else. And so this hopping continues into infinity. In person I've seen people join writing groups only to drop out after a few sessions, or people asking for advice or a meeting and then flaking out, or telling their friends about their book being close to completion and asking them to beta read it and then disappearing.
Well, the world doesn't work this way. If you have an ambition to succeed, you have to be willing to break rocks with your head. It will take many painful blows, and your skull might be in danger of splitting, but you have to keep banging and banging and banging until it cracks (the rock, that is). And it will crack, believe me. There is a Chinese saying, "dripping water penetrates the stone." It's true. Success takes years and years of hard work, and unbending perseverance in the face of adversity. So if you have started your Twitter account, or you have uploaded a video about your book, or have began blogging, or maybe you decided to visit every bookstore in your town to see if they'd be interested in letting you do a reading, DO NOT QUIT.
I assume you're reading this post because you want to get some use out of it, some mantras, pointers, something to help you when you're ready to give up (I come to this close often too, although not as often as I used to). Well, here are my mantras. These are the things I go by every bloody day, bad day, good day, doesn't matter. It's all the same to me.
- SHOW UP. SHOW UP. SHOW UP EVERY DAY.
- ALWAYS FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED.
- NEVER EVER EVER GIVE UP.
- DON'T LISTEN TO WHAT PEOPLE SAY AND DO YOUR THING.
- BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU DO. PEOPLE WILL FEEL IT.
- YES, YOUR VOICE IS WORTH BEING HEARD. NEVER DOUBT IT.
- NEVER EXPLAIN. NEVER COMPLAIN. SHUT UP AND DO YOUR WORK.
- YOU'RE NOT DOING IT FOR THEM. YOU'RE DOING IT FOR YOU.
- BE KIND. EVEN ASSHOLES DESERVE KINDNESS.
There. These are my mantras. Oh, and one more, the one your mom told you (my mom didn't tell me this one and I had to drill it into my brain many years later, still forget sometimes to thank people and have to remind myself), ALWAYS BE ON TIME, SMILE, SAY PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
My rule of thumb is, if I have started a new thing, I'll keep doing it and will only give up after I have tried everything under the sun and have decided that it's not the right thing for me. I won't stop it because people are not commenting or not noticing me at all. I will only stop if I feel I'm not getting a kick out of it anymore, it's no longer helping me being a better writer. In a way, everything I do I do because I love. For example, I hardly spend time on Facebook lately because I can't stand the ads and Facebook's general policies (can't close it because it's the only link to some of my family back in Russia), and I'm in love with Ello and am posting on Ello because the act of posting a beautiful picture there gives me a high.
This attitude of getting shit done is biting me in the ass sometimes, however. I have suddenly started getting invitations to judge writing contests and, overexcited, agreed to three of them and am now suffering because I can't do stuff half-assed and it's eating away my sleeping time which in turn is eating away at my writing. But this is a whole another post on saying no. Or knowing when to say no. It seems in the beginning we all say yes to everything, and then once we get attention, we start saying no to everything.
I hope this post will encourage you to keep showing up. Show up, show up, show up every day and do whatever it is you do. Years may go by, but if you're still doing that thing you're doing, people will be impressed. People will be like, "Wow, I thought he/she was full of shit, but he/she is actually bloody serious!" And they'll start paying attention to you—which is exactly what you want.