I just got back from a Malidoma Patrice Somé intensive workshop in North Carolina in late May. It’s a huge honour to dog-paddle in the wake of an African elder from the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso who also happens to have three master’s degrees and two PhDs. I was most assuredly and expertly taken to my edge. I feel like every single cell and molecule has been scrambled and reprogrammed. And let’s face it, the timing is right because I have been totally stumped for almost six months.
It all started the day after my book launch, on December 9, 2014. After the thought “I can die now” assailed me on my walk back home from dinner at Imonay, my favourite Korean restaurant on Bloor Street, I catapulted into a state of disorientation. After five years of rowing with only one direction in mind, finishing and publishing my book, Riding the Wave: Tales of Transformation, I was greeted, on the one hand, with the great feeling of having done something that was clearly going to be a landmark when reviewing my life on my deathbed and, on the other hand, nothing less than intense vertigo. What now? For damn sure I knew that I needed to boot out of Dodge and backpack through Guatemala for six weeks, sleep, veg and then eventually clean and clear my office of five years of accumulated book residue, de-clutter a few closets and cupboards while I’m at it, prepare the most complex year-end tax report ever, and hang out with some folks I haven’t seen in ages because the past six months of countless, anticipated steps and unexpected challenges to bring my six-hundred-page manuscript to print were totally epic and all-consuming.
Fast-forward to dinner with Katja, Aly Drummond, their delightful girls, and Uncle Katherine, Katja’s childhood friend and by now my close friend too, and co-owner of our home, nicknamed The 519 West. Katja is thinking about what it takes for an author to continue to promote a novel beyond the first months after publication. A recent conversation with her agent woke her up to the reality that sales of a book are key in determining the salability of the next manuscript. Her first novel, Little Bastards in Springtime, published by HarperCollins Canada in 2014, is selling well enough for a first book, but is it selling well enough for a big publisher to consider her a successful novelist and want to publish her second novel? The quality of the book is clearly only one consideration, and not the first. I created the publishing company Unleash to publish my book outside of the self-publishing hack job: bad paper, horrid design, weak editorial, a treadmill of mediocrity, but, unlike Katja, I’ve had no marketing/promotional help. Promotion? I hate thinking of my book as a commodity, and the reality of spending even more money is terrifying. How much will it take? Who do I hire? I get hives thinking about it, and so does Katja. What can writers do besides continually posting about their books on social media, which quickly becomes tiresome to the social media community?
Katja has been thinking about getting a booth at Pride, or something along those lines. She researched it and found that she’s too late for that, and in any case, we both agree that this is boring. Sitting in front of a pile of books, with pen in hand, at a street party, doesn’t seem a very effective or interesting solution. We discuss hiring a marketing firm, which many writers do, at great cost. But these companies do what publishers do, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll translate into sales. You may spend thousands with nothing to show for it. And then we talk about how staid the book industry is. Why not do something dramatic, something that takes books right into the street. Why not skip the middle layer, the marketers, the PR people, and go directly into the street to meet readers.
“Let’s try to do this together,” we both think at the same time. Whatever it is, we have no idea, but let’s figure something out.