Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Official Permission Slip for Your Trip to Joyful Insanity...by Kristy Kiernan

"Don't even bother looking at the Amazon rankings. It's a waste of time. They mean nothing."

"Just work on your next book."

"Stay off all those social reading sites. You can't please everyone, and you'll just get depressed."

"You can't tell anything from B&N's online numbers."

"Don't make yourself crazy. Just wait until your royalty statement comes in; it's the only thing that matters."

"Oh, yeah, nothing ever comes from the things you see on your website statistics. Don't waste your time."

"Oh my God, are you still looking at Amazon?"

"Don't even think about calling the Ingram stock line. It doesn't mean anything."

"You just can't worry about all of it."

"Don't read reviews…trust me."

"Get out of the house. Take a walk. Stop obsessing."


Oh, all such good advice, so well meaning. Sometimes it comes from a fellow debut author, but most often it comes from someone with a few books under their belt, someone who knows, someone who's been through it.

And here's what I--someone who has a few books under her belt, someone who's been through it--have to say to them: "Shut up! Seriously, just shut up."

Look, the fact is, they have already done this. They've already gone through the obsessions, the rapid fire clicking on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Google (even though you've set up Google Alerts for your name in quotes, your title in quotes, your title in quotes plus your name without quotes), Twitter search, Facebook Book Shelf.

Or, even worse, the people who are so assuredly giving this advice have ten books under their belt, and they never even had to contend with the sheer amount of information--accurate or not--out there on their first book, because their first book came out in 1989, or '92, or even '98.

But of course they know they wouldn't have wasted their time, of course they wouldn't have.

And I got all this advice. And, oh, I listened, eagerly, asking for more.
Tell me more, tell me what to do with all this anxiety, all this energy, all this jittery fear that has nowhere to go. Please, tell me what to do.

But of course nobody could babysit me, Barbara Kingsolver didn't volunteer to be my minder on this psychedelic debut trip, keeping me from hitting refresh, watching my numbers on Catching Genius go down and down, and so there's nobody there to stop me from doing any of the things everyone is telling me, sternly, to, by all means, NOT do.

And the more advice I'm getting to not do them, the more I'm doing them, and, the very worst part of it all is that I am so ashamed of myself. I'm so guilty, and I'm lying about how often I check for new reviews on reading sites, about the fact that my Amazon pages stay open constantly on my computer screen, that I'm calling the Ingram stock line a minimum of three times a day, Googling the business ISPs that show up on StatCounter, squealing when the New York Times or another known quantity pops up, keeping my new manuscript open on my computer, over top of the multiple pages all bearing the Catching Genius cover.

I feel as though I've been discovered doing something so untoward, so absurdly nasty, as if the entire publishing industry has caught me masturbating with one of my own novels. I am miserable with shame and embarrassment, sick to my stomach at the fact that I can't seem to let this all go as breezily as everyone else swears they have, and I wonder at their fortitude, wonder if I am not cut out for this business.

By the time Matters of Faith comes out, a little over a year later, I've calmed down, though I'm still keeping tabs, and I give myself the advice this time. I gear myself up for its release with stern internal lectures (keep your hands off it, that's dirty!), as well as reading over all the same old advice everyone is giving debut authors to NOT look at any of it, to not take it seriously, to not waste their time.

And when it came out, I went through it all again. Maybe without the same intensity, and perhaps I was far enough along in my career to know that I really wanted to get cracking on the next book, but…still…the siren song of the mouse called, the lure of Amazon, the speediest speed dial of Ingram.

And, again, the shame and embarrassment, and the wonder at my peers who never, gosh no, never looked at any of it, or seemed to worry about a thing, so blasé about it all, making me, by comparison, a privately quivering neurotic mess.

But about a month after Matters of Faith's release I…got tired of it. I was exhausted with the shame, and I could no longer quite figure out why everyone thought that all this concentrated energy was so wrong, why it was shameful, and why everyone seemed to take such satisfaction in telling me how little it all mattered.

Shame and excitement are pretty damn close cousins, and I realized that in buying into the idea that all of the natural enthusiasm for as much information as I could find about the books that I had slaved over for years was somehow wrong, and weak, and shameful, had robbed me of a good amount of the fun, healthy excitement of it all. I spent more time beating myself up for checking my Amazon rankings than I spent enjoying the fact that I had Amazon rankings to check to begin with!

Here's the thing: You're going to do it anyway. Yes, you are. And all those people telling you that they don't do it? They're liars. Okay, maybe not all of them. Maybe Joyce Carol Oates doesn't start her day by hitting the "Open All In Tabs" link to tile all her various Amazon, B&N, and GoodReads pages open (that would crash the hardiest computer anyway), but yes, I still do.

Granted, I don't spend much time on them. A quick check, and then I don't even look at them again until the next day, and of course the Ingram stock line doesn't even exist anymore, so there's that little obsession solved. But I still do it. And I'm not going to apologize for that, or hide it, or be embarrassed because some other author enjoys the feeling of superiority of having a much tighter rein on their neuroses than I apparently do.

How sad.

How dry.

How joyless.

I've earned the right to obsess about my books. That concentrated, jittery energy is excitement, and I'm not going to dampen that in order to impress anyone. And nobody gets to take it away from me, either.

So when I get questions from debut authors about Amazon rankings and all the various other venues in which they can fritter their time away, I tell them that there are other, more important factors, and that no, they don't really matter much, but that of course they're going to check, and to go enjoy it. Let that feeling in your belly be excitement, joy, happiness, not shame and embarrassment.

Shame and embarrassment aren't words I'm willing to associate with my life's work anymore.

So, go, obsess, and enjoy it, you earned that, you deserve it, and when someone rolls their eyes at your joy and enthusiasm for all the hundreds of inconsequential little pieces of this business, tell them that Kristy Kiernan says, "Cram it, joysucker."

Unless it's Barbara Kingsolver.

Then, you know, give her my e-mail address…I could use a blurb.

Between Friends, Kristy Kiernan's new novel, will be published on April 6th.

"Kiernan (Catching Genius) again demonstrates her ability to portray true-to-life relationships between women...With realistic dialogue and pinpointed emotions, Kiernan paints a persuasive portrait of the bonds between mothers, daughters, and friends in this inspiring, heartbreaking tale." --Publishers Weekly


JD Rhoades said...

Okay, okay, look at the Amazon rankings.

Just don't read the one-star reviews. Many of them are by fruitcakes with some axe to grind, and they'll only make you nuts.

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad that Ingram number is gone. First of all, the voice seemed so cold and mocking. Second the numbers seemed so small.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

"Cram it, joysucker!" LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!!

I do believe that is my new life motto.

Camille Kimball said...

The best part of this all the new ways to obsess she ticks off that I had never thought of before. Brava, autore!

Oh, and the other best part is "Cram it, joysucker!"

p.s. I can't seem to get my book cover in my thumbnail so I have to spell it out. A SUDDEN SHOT: THE PHOENIX SERIAL SHOOTER Berkley/Penguin

Robin Antalek said...

Ohmygod thank you for this. My debut novel came out on 1/5/10-- it's been what? Almost two months? And I haven't figured any of this out -- how to balance the excitement and the nerves -- and I just need to get back to work. Or I won't have any future Amazon rankings to check--- THIS made me laugh out loud! Thanks!

TOM said...
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Leona Wisoker said...

Oh God, THANK you!!! My first book comes out in less than a month and I have been FREAKING over early reviews and obsessing over Google Alerts and so on . . . and feeling guilty, just as you said . . . it's GREAT to have permission to just have fun with it! This is a great post. I'm Facebooking it right now for all my other frantic writer friends . . . :)