The question I get asked most often by emerging writers is whether it's really necessary to...X.
"X" can be any number of things. Tweet. Blog. Appear at bookstores. Maintain a website. Have a GoodReads or Facebook or Shelfari presence, and what is this Pinterest thing anyway?
Because we writers are stumbling around in search of an answer to this question: How do we become successful authors? And this one: How do we reach readers?
As the great William Goldman says, "Nobody knows."
But I don't think this wisdom means that we should just throw up our hands. And while there's not exactly a roadmap for figuring out what you should do once you've reached that land called Publication, I have accumulated a few thoughts during the long road to my own. Getting a book written well enough to be published is one of the harder things any of us will accomplish in our lives. But then what?
First I need to back up and tell you a little about myself. It took me three agents, eight novels, fifteen almost-offers, and eleven years on submission before I sold my debut novel. This finally happened through a confluence of events that still feels mystical to me. And the dream of being a published author was such a long, long, long time in coming that, once it happened, I did the only logical thing.
I hired an independent publicity firm, rented out our house, withdrew the kids from school, and asked my husband if he would accompany me on a book tour that would cover 44 states and 40,000 miles. Not exactly in that order, but you get the point. The whole family's life would be subsumed by this dream, at least for the next seven months.
Since my book came out, we have visited over 200 bookstores, as well as libraries, book clubs and almost every place where people come together over books. I've been the inaugural author at a brand new mystery bookstore in Madison, WI and the newbie who drew the smallest audience at a bookstore that holds near-daily events. I stood up in Oxford, MS with a rockabilly band behind me and spoke for precisely fourteen minutes--we were being recorded live--to a house crowd of three hundred. I've done Sit & Sign's where only one person showed up, but that one person drove three hours to see me, and thus will always have a place in the Annals of my Becoming an Author, not to mention in my heart. And there have been events that hit almost every point between these extremes.
So, is this the point of my blog post? Is there a roadmap after all, a literal one that shows our route, or a message: change your whole life in service of The Book?
I'm hoping that writers will take something else from this description of what I've done. That it's not necessary to do any one thing as an author. Neither Tweet nor Tour.
Instead, figure out ways you will find joy in your book being out there, and in your great love of books in general. Things that will help you celebrate this shining accomplishment while connecting with those who want to share it.
To my mind, it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that in today's increasingly crowded content space, you find something that allows your own voice to stand out.
Say you're an introvert and the idea of meeting crowds of people face-to-face sounds as draining as a bathtub. Online social media might be a great outlet for you. Or perhaps you have an author platform, such as being a doctor who writes medical thrillers, or a biotech expert who wrote a book about GMOs. Maybe you can find a listserv or organization that will appreciate hearing your wisdom. One good thing about having 1.4 million blogs out there is that one of them is sure to be interested in your topic. There are more reviewers today than back when a daily paper landed on the curb at every house in the United States. The net gives like-minded readers and writers ways to find each other virtually and face-to-face. There are more riches than we can ever spend, but that also means that there is more than enough to go around. It's just a matter of finding it.
Some will find Twitter the perfect medium for self-expression while for others the idea of boiling something meaningful down to 140 characters will be anathema. Some will love blogging, others will start a charitable cause connected to their book. Some might come give workshops at great writers' organizations, such as the one that's featuring this post.
Some might even take to the road for seven months.
And when you do--whatever you do--please come find me. I'll be one of the connections that you make.
Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, was released by Ballantine in January 2013, and whose follow-up, Ruin Falls, will appear in April 2014. After making her home on the road for seven months, she has come to settle in upstate New York. For now.