Way back in 2009 when I got my first book deal, I didn’t know any published authors. I mean, no one. I had not yet joined the social media world (ah, those were the days) and, as a lawyer, it wasn’t something I came into contact with. So, when I had the opportunity to sit down with bestselling author, Louise Penny (How the Light Gets In, Beautiful Mystery), I jumped at the chance. Here, finally, was someone who could answer the thousands of questions I had but was too afraid to ask my editor for fear of sounding stupid/annoying/make her change her mind about publishing me.
Louise was great. She met with me for two hours and answered every question I asked. I don’t remember all of my questions, but I do remember asking what the one thing was she wished she had known before she published her first book. Her answer? Patience. What she meant was that the first book—hopefully—is just the start of something. That publishers are trying to help you to build your brand so the second book will sell more than the first etc. So keep writing, be patient, work hard, hopefully success will come.
That advice has certainly panned out for Louise Penny. And while I’m not sure that it represents reality for a lot of authors—I know many who feel that unless their books are blockbusters they will be dropped by their publishers, or have been—it has certainly shaped my own approach to this crazy business. Do what you can when a book comes out, keep your head down, keep writing. Hopefully, they’ll keep publishing you.
My biggest take-away from the meeting? How great it was to have someone to talk to who had been there, done that. And it was this meeting, really, that led me down the path to discovering what I think one of the most important lessons in being a writer is: there is nothing to be gained from bashing other authors, and everything to be gained from supporting them.
If you’ve been published you know that the vortex of me-me-me-me that surrounds any release can be overwhelming. I’m not complaining, but man do I get sick of talking about myself when I have a book out. This was one of the reasons why I started my “I Bet We Can Make These Books Bestsellers” project several years ago (where I’d pick a book I loved that hadn’t gotten the attention I thought it deserved, and encouraged people to read it).
I got a lot of press for the idea (not my intention), but I also learned just how important supporting other authors can be, not just for those authors, but also from the reader’s perspective. I cannot count the number of times readers have told me that one of the reasons they follow me, and, I suspect, at least try one of my books, is precisely because I am not talking about my books, but others. And I think that’s because readers are often looking to know more about the authors they like, and book recommendations is a window into that.
That being said, the main reason to support other authors is not self-promotion, but because it’s promoting the industry you’re a part of. While some authors might feel like they’re in competition with one another—if Customer A reads their book, they might not read my book—I haven’t found that to be the case. Think of it like an industry association, like the one formed by the milk producers (remember all those white milk moustaches?) a couple of years ago. That was about a group of competitors coming together to encourage use of the product category. And while the evidence—last time I checked—on whether this kind of category marketing works across all products is debatable, my own anecdotal experience makes me believe it does.
For instance, many people have commented on my Facebook page that they will try the books I recommended just because I recommended them. I trust you, they write, and then they purchase. While there is a certain level of flattery that comes with this, of course, my main point in relating the story is that authors can make a difference to other author’s lives, at least in terms of book sales. And the bigger the author, the bigger the impact they can have.
Because we’re all in this together folks, and our industry will survive and thrive if we work together, and might just disappear if we simply hold fast to ourselves, and just me-me-me-me ourselves into obscurity.
A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, Spin, Arranged, and Forgotten, are all international bestsellers. Her fourth novel, Hidden, was released in June, 2013 in Canada and in spring 2014 in the US. Her novels have been translated into French, German, Czech, Slovak and Polish. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.