Susanne Dunlap

I blame it on the three-ring circus

In Random thoughts, The writing industry, The writing life on January 31, 2011 at 10:01 am

The other morning, on my way to Grand Central to catch an early train to Connecticut where I spend time each week working for an awesome startup company, I saw a poster for Barnum and bailey’s circus. As I casually glanced at it, remembering going there last year with my granddaughter, it suddenly hit me: this was the beginning of multitasking. Or if not multitasking, at least of our expectation that our lives will be filled with not one thing at a time to focus on, but three or more.

All this is an elaborate way of explaining my recent silence on this blog, as I struggle to fulfill so many obligations that I pass at least one sleepless night a week, and know that even all this feverish activity won’t actually pay the bills on time.

On Saturday I attended an inspiring day of awesome speakers at the scbwi winter conference in new York. But the comment that made the biggest impression on me was made by one of the editors at a breakout session. Lisa Sandell said that she thought writers were focusing too much on the ancillary things, the marketing we have to do because of the importance of the Internet and the extreme competition out there, but that we really need to concentrate on just writing good books. Without the books, of course, the marketing is pointless.

I’ve had many conversations with my fellow authors lately in which we tear our hair out, wondering if there’s anything we can do to get our books noticed, get someone to pay attention so that we have a ghost of a chance of maybe being able to earn a paltry living from the efforts that have sometimes torn pieces out of our souls. We all know that our books are entertainment, that we have to offer the reader something that will keep her turning the pages and coming back for more, that storytelling should be broadly appealing, not arcane or obtuse. We hope we’ve done that, or we wouldn’t have made it through the filter of agent and editor and acquisitions board.

But once we’re out there, how can we avoid the black hole of complete obscurity? We are often reduced to praying that a good pre-publication review will be noticed, that one of the popular magazines will mention the book, that librarians will be inspired to recommend it. Spine out on a bookstore shelf can be almost as invisible as not being there at all. It’s no wonder, frankly, that we spend so much mental and emotional effort on promotion.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to this, but I do think it’s yet another symptom of our generally fragmented attention, and the overwhelming options we have, and choices we must make every day.

So, when the paperback of anastasia’s secret comes out next month, do me a favor and pick up a copy. And when In the Shadow of the Lamp makes its appearance in April, if you’re feeling flush, buy it. I’ll be doing what i can to get the word out, but in the meantime I’ve another book to revise, another first draft to write, several freelance editing projects, freelance advertising copy to write, and a startup business to help launch.

It’s hard to find the time to enter that sacred place where stories are born, come to life, and thrive.

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