The scary bits

In just under six months, my first book will be published. It’s a strange time for me. On the one hand, six months feels like a long time to wait; on the other hand, things are really starting to get moving, in an awful lot of ways. I’ve started to hear from people who’ve already read ARCs of A Most Improper Magick. I’ve even started to work on some promotion, as much as the whole concept terrifies me.

This is where it REALLY helps to have talented family members. My husband is a professional website developer as well as a writer himself, so he designed and built my new website; my brother Dave is a filmmaker, and he made my first book trailer. Both of them took projects that could have been hideously stressful for me and made them astonishingly fun.

Because Patrick and Dave were the ones working with me, I wasn’t stressing out over the Oh-My-God Pressure of trying to market my book. Instead, I was helping to shape something creative with someone I loved. And that made all the difference.

Since this is my first book, I am laughably ignorant about the whole process of book promotion, and I wasn’t exaggerating – the concept really does terrify me. It hits all my old buttons, the ones shaped way back when I was a kid.

Back then, I used to be paralyzingly shy. And I’m not being metaphorical there – it genuinely felt physically paralyzing. On the first day of high school every year, surrounded by strangers in my new classes, I used to stare down at my book on my desk while giving myself silent pep talks.

Just say hi to someone. Just try it. They might be nice. Just say hi…

Guess how many times that worked? Only once – and it was a total disaster. I tried to say hi…but my throat had choked up so tightly with nerves, all that came out was a breathy: “H-h-h-h-h….”

My one and only consolation was the other kids didn’t even realize I’d tried to speak, so I was able to hide my humiliation as I cleared my throat and pretended with all my might to be 100% absorbed in the book I held in front of me.

Even thinking about that moment still makes me shrivel up inside.

In the years since then, I’ve learned to put on the appearance of confidence. When I’m surrounded by strangers nowadays, I smile and I do say “hi” – and 99% of the time, my voice doesn’t fail me. Afterwards, though, when I’m alone, I have to take deep, deep breaths as I decompress…because the truth is, I’m just as shy as ever – I’ve just learned techniques to deal with it.

Book promotion is taking me to a whole new level of intimidation, though. I don’t just have to say hi to a few people and hope that maybe one or two of them will click with me as a friend; I have to introduce my beloved book to a whole world of strangers, and hope they want to spend money to buy it. The whole idea makes me want to hide under the bed.

Every time I start to retreat, though, what saves me is exactly what saves me in all aspects of life: my wonderful, generous friends and family. One of my sisters-in-law, a former pro photographer, took my author photos and made me giggle helplessly as she did it, instead of freezing up with my most camera-shy grimace. My brother Dave designed me “Everything’s better with highwaymen!” promotional buttons that make me laugh and relax every time I see them. (One’s pinned onto my backpack right now.) And every time I see that one of my friends has posted my book trailer on their blog, I feel a wave of warmth and gratitude.

There are a lot of scary things about book promotion. But I’m finding so much to be grateful for, as well.

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  1. 1. Elias McClellan

    Ms Burgis, first, thank you for your inspiring words from those of us in mid-book, mid-workshop, or mid-waiting a workshop to open.

    Secondly, please, please, please, pretty please, with sugar on top, follow up on this thread/theme as you can with points that worked or didn’t, dead-end paths, or paths you wish you’d took…

    You know what? Scrap all that. ENJOY THIS. For youself. The rest of us will find our way. Everybody ever once met is gonna come out of the wood-work, looking for a touch/hookup/inside track. This is your moment, your work, and you deserve to savor it. Best wishes on your continued success.

    E.

  2. 2. Kathleen Foucart

    It’s great how you can take those scary/stressful things and make them fun. I understand that inside-shrivel (for me it was college), so it’s nice to see how others turn it around.

    Every time I see something related to Kat it makes me smile. I can’t wait for your book & to see all the fun things you have lined up to help introduce her to the world. :)

  3. 3. Stephanie Burgis

    Elias and Kathleen, thank you so much. :)

  4. 4. Randy Susan Meyers

    Thank you for your wonderful warm post. It came just at the right moment of promo-fatigue, reminding me how lucky I am to be feeling promo-anything with a dream come true.

  5. 5. Laura Reeve

    Stephanie, I’m a pathologically shy person who is going through the release of her second book. When people tell me to relax and enjoy it (are they kidding?), I know they’re from planet Gregarious. And I’m not.

    What has helped me, however, is to stop beating myself up about my level of self-promotion. Getting the signings for my first book was agony, and enduring them was stressful. Were there enough signings? Were they effective? I suspected not, because in two hours, there might not even be a fiction reader (let alone a military SF reader) coming through the doors of a strange bookstore (even with announcements/promotion). For my second book, I vowed to not push myself into a nervous breakdown. Several signings fell into my lap anyway, without me having to cold-call on Booksellers. I also re-read Donald Maass’ The Career Novelist, where he has a chapter titled “Self-Promotion or Self-Delusion” that puts it into perspective. Basically, new fiction authors with large print runs just can’t reach out to enough readers, even with the Web, so the book _always_ has to generate its own recommendations.

    So… try to stay close to your comfort zone. Try to do things you _might_ enjoy anyway, or learn from, even if you didn’t have a book to plug. Put the numbers into perspective. Finally, try not to believe all the self-promotion hype that tells you its soooooo crucial to self-promote. The crucial work occurred during the writing/editing of the book. (If this sounds like heresy, go read Donald Maass). And I wish you the best of luck!

  6. 6. Adele

    The website is gorgeous and lovely and friendly. Best of luck.

  7. 7. Stephanie Burgis

    Randy, I totally feel your pain! The dream is definitely worth it…but the promo-fatigue is very real.

    Laura, that advice is so helpful. Thank you!!!

    And Adele, thanks so much for the kind words about the website and the good luck wishes. I really appreciate them!

  8. 8. Elias McClellan

    Ms. Reeve,

    Thanks for passing on Donald Maass’s book.

    E.

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Author Information

Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is an American writer who lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, their son "Mr Darcy", and their crazy-sweet border collie mix, Maya. Her Regency fantasy trilogy for kids, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, will be published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, beginning with Book One: A Most Improper Magick. She has also published short stories in a variety of magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod. You can find out more, or read/listen to her published stories online, at her website. Visit site.

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