Lessons Learned When You Publish Your Book

Lessons, Writing, Essays

I have released a new book every year since 2007. The subjects have varied widely, from the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers to the Yaquina Bay Bridge to rain. Along the way, I have learned a few hard and soft lessons about what to expect and not to expect when a new book comes out. I offer the following lessons to any aspiring writer considering publishing a book.

  1. Never expect anyone you know will read your book.
  2. Expect those same people to expect the book for free.
  3. Never expect your family members will read your book.
  4. Occasionally expect that the person who most needs to read your book will read your book.
  5. Read the story of how John Steinbeck’s hometown felt about him writing about his hometown.
  6. Never expect anyone from your hometown will ever read a word of what you wrote about your hometown.
  7. Never expect your work colleagues will read your book, even if it’s about their world of work.
  8. If you are a teacher, never expect your students will read your book, even if you give it to them.
  9. Never expect someone you are sleeping with will read your book, even if that person is in the book.
  10. Never expect your book to seduce anyone in to sleeping with you.
  11. Never expect anyone you slept with will read your book.
  12. Never expect someone who wants to sleep with you will read your book.
  13. Never expect an audience to find your book. You must, as Henry Miller once wrote, create one yourself.
  14. Never become bitter when a recently published Oregon book you deem inferior attracts attention and wins awards and your book doesn’t.
  15. Never allow yourself to believe that Portland determines the zeitgeist of literary matters in Oregon. You can especially think this if you have done a show in Roseburg or Siletz.
  16. Occasionally receive help from other published writers you never expected to experience.
  17. Never wait around for anything to happen on behalf of your book.
  18. Always expect some people will read only the acknowledgements of your book.
  19. Always expect the person you most want to read your book will never read your book.
  20. Always expect to encounter someone who thinks you wrote the book about them, even if you wrote it about someone else.
  21. Always expect the person you least want to read your book will read your book and confront you about its contents.
  22. Always expect to meet a reader more obsessed with the subject of your latest book than you are.
  23. Never expect any reviews of your book.
  24. Expect at least one Oregon reviewer who recently moved to Oregon and knows nothing of Oregon and has never read your book will review your Oregon book. He probably works for the Portland Mercury or Willamette Week.
  25. Occasionally expect an author who has had a book published with a major publishing house to disdain you when she learns you self-published your book.
  26. Always expect someone who “Likes” your book on Facebook will never read it, much less buy it.
  27. Start writing a new book before the new one even comes out. Ass to chair.
  28. Expect for someone to refer to you as an “author” so it’s now acceptable to call yourself an “author.”
  29. Always expect someone will love your book.
  30. Always expect to dragoon people into reviewing your book for social media and web sites.
  31. Never expect to receive a boost from a major writer who somehow happens across your book, but it can happen. It has for me.
  32. Orchestrate some kind of sensual shenanigan to unfold either prior, during or after a promotional event for your book. During is best.
  33. Always expect someone to understand your book better than you, the author of it, does.
  34. Find a theme song for your book’s promotional tour. My one for the rain book is, ironically, is not a rain song. It’s “Rocks Off” by the Rolling Stones.
  35. Occasionally, expect someone to steal a book from you, and relish that thought.
  36. Expect an enthusiastic reception about your book from the owner of an Oregon independent bookstore, if you have demonstrated the ability to work hard promoting your book.
  37. Never expect anyone to throw you a party to celebrate the release of your book, so always throw one yourself. You may not even need to invite anyone, excepting of course, the dog. Be sure to get drunk at this party and never read for more than 20 minutes to humans and five for the dog.
  38. Occasionally expect a reader to complain about the size of your font.
  39. Always expect someone will hate your book.
  40. Occasionally expect your book will inspire someone to stalk you.
  41. Expect to reread your book after it comes out and cringe when you encounter terrible writing.
  42. Expect to meet a lot of readers, many of them vulnerable, if you write about your dog dying.
  43. Always expect a jealous writer enemy festering out there somewhere will try to undermine the success of your book, and perhaps try to sully or ruin your reputation. It’s happened to me several times.
  44. Always expect some tyrannical grammar king or queen will point out errors of usage in your book.
  45. Occasionally expect to meet some of the coolest people on earth at a reading for your book.
  46. Occasionally expect to meet some of the weirdest people on earth at a reading for your book.
  47. Never expect to break even.
  48. Expect yourself to feel like a drug dealer if you have a particularly lucrative non-bookstore event where you walk away with $1000 in cash stuffed into your pockets.
  49. Never expect “to be discovered” by a major or even minor league literary player.
  50. Expect to meet a lot of readers who don’t care who or what corporate entity published your book. They only care about the content of the book.
  51. Expect to meet a lot of entrepreneurs who make things like soap, beer, bread, jewelry, music, films, who will expect you to give your book to them for free but will not reciprocate.
  52. Learn to barter when trying to sell your book. I once bartered a book for magic mushrooms and a platinum rose.
  53. Never fear giving the book away to someone who wants to read it but can’t afford to buy it.
  54. Occasionally expect to catch yourself acting “writerly” or pretentiously as it’s also called, at some events. As soon as you recognize this happening, shut it down fast. Some writers never do for the rest of their lives, especially poets.
  55. Occasionally expect to feel motivated to give your book away. At sheer random moments unrelated to a literary event. I do it all the time.
  56. Always expect to have to gig the living shit out of the book or virtually no one will ever read it.
  57. Never expect anyone you know to show up at a gig, even if the venue is a block from their house.
  58. Never expect anything but an existential reward when your book comes out.
  59. Never stop writing because of what does or does not happen when your book comes out.
  60. Expect to find the tiniest little joys and epiphanies when your book is published and you’ve taken it out to the Oregon reading public in relentless fashion.
  61. Expect to have serious doubts about your talent and self directed, agentless, literary initiatives, but always remember this: Charlton Heston was taken seriously as an actor, Jonathan Franzen was on the cover of Time, a record company rejected Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and he released it himself, Charles Bukowski was rejected a million times, and George W. Bush was elected President of the United States exactly one time.