The Year of Positive Realism


In lieu of championing grand resolutions, which are nearly always breakable within the first 30 days of making them (have you caved and hit the Hershey’s yet?), I have decided to alter my outlook on the New Year in order to make it more accessible to those of us who are change-challenged.

Let us make 2013 the Year of Positive Realism.  This one goes out to all independent authors, lone-ranger agents, bank tellers, checkout clerks, and everyone else searching for some greener pastures with as little effort as possible.

Change does not come easily.  It takes work; otherwise we’d all be flexible little rubber bands, adept at giving way and bouncing back when things don’t happen like we planned them.  I know I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to smiling in the face of adversity and shining through and guess what?  That’s ok!  That’s normal.  What isn’t normal is a dopey, always-sunny outlook that leads to self-delusion about one’s value, either in the context of a company, a team, or with regards to a single artistic effort – say, a manuscript just waiting to be published.

This may be a tough pill to swallow so early in 2013 but let’s put things into perspective, my dear authors: you wrote a book.  Congratulations!  You’ve done what many of us are still attempting to finish (or even start) and that is commendable.  You have big plans for your baby, no doubt.  You will dress her up in her finest, send her out into the big, bad world, and against all odds, you will land a Big 5 Publisher, right?  Whoa there, Hoss.  Positive is good but realistic is better.  You have a precious artifact that you’ve spent many years creating, possibly as long as it takes to earn a PhD, and you’ve run out of patience.  You want your laurels NOW, damn it, and you’re not going to settle for some podunk publisher.  Nobody puts baby in a corner!  Ebook only, you say?  As if!

First things first: take a step back and consider your options before shooting your mouth off and negatively impacting future business dealings.  Don’t sell yourself short.  You may not have dreamed of being the bestselling independent author as a kid, nor, probably, did you consider that your book might not be a thing of paper and ink when it was published, but these are very legitimate, very realistic alternatives to traditional routes.  And let’s face it: those who hold out for the traditional manuscript – agent – publishing house – track sound more and more like the Sergeyevna sisters, desperately pining for Moscow.  Talk about a downer…

My advice to anyone with or without a book to sell is this: know thyself and seek appropriate outlets.  We all have strengths and weaknesses so it is important to be honest with yourself about where you fit in the spectrum of others who have done what you’re seeking to accomplish.  For first-time authors, this can be as simple as identifying 3-5 recent books that are similar to yours.  Dig into online stalking.  Where were these titles reviewed?  What do folks on Amazon have to say?  Can you hit the same markets?  More importantly, did they miss any markets you are hoping to snare?  (Quick tip: please do NOT compare your book to others in your query letter but keep this info handy for when it’s finally published.)

Once you are published (no matter how you’re published), never underestimate the power of a well-crafted, hand-written note to a select group of middle tier media who might actually be interested in your book.  Regional critics are your best bet and guess what?  Many of them are syndicated.  Don’t have your review blinders on for nothing less than glossies.  There are still some albeit dwindling Top 20 papers out there that just might review you so go for it.  That’s a realistic goal.  But do your research first!  If they’ve recently reviewed a title just like yours, forget it.  If you know the critic loves jazz and had written about Vienna and you have a travel memoir about Viennese jazz clubs then, my friend, you’ve just won the book review lottery.   Go in peace.

For those not peddling books, the mindset is very much the same.  Set attainable goals and the likelihood of disappointment dwindles tremendously.  You will feel empowered to attempt what you never have before and perhaps you’ve learned a thing or two along the way.  Change is a good thing, in moderation.  Don’t set yourself up for failure this year by making plans no mortal could ever stick to.  It’s like that lame classroom poster says – and I’m paraphrasing here – “shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  We can’t all be stars but space matter?  Sure.  There’s plenty of room for the rest of us in the galaxy.

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