Unless you're the offspring of Michael Jackson, the likelihood that you sprang from the womb with a star on the Walk of Fame is unlikely. So why do so many writers behave as though they are already part of the elite groups of authors? The elite being the ones who actually make a living writing. Only about 3% of authors actually make a living on their writing alone.
I have my own theories on why this number is so low. Many of us get into this industry without realizing how tough it is. We think that we write the book and the rest will happen. I once said in a presentation that publishing isn't the “field of dreams”; just because you wrote it doesn't mean people will beat a path to your door. You have to tell them, and tell them again, and then tell them some more. You have to love your book so much that even if no doors are opening for you, you still knock. Or, if needed, you climb through a window. You accept every opportunity that comes your way and make the most out of each interview. You say “thank you” for even the smallest opportunity because the savvy author knows that today's “nobody” could be tomorrow's “somebody.”
I got an e-mail from an author who had attended a session I taught on Social Media 101 for Authors, and she said, “I listen to you because you walk the walk, you're an author yourself, and you do what you tell us to do: grab every chance you can to get your name out there.” Sure, I'm in publicity, and yes, yes, I have the e-mails of Oprah's producers (even a cellphone number or two, ooooh), but truth is, there are a million steps between you and your proverbial pot of gold, and you have to traverse those steps every day. Success is a journey, not a final destination. I love and appreciate every chance I get to promote my work. I'll get e-mails from people who say, “I'm sure my blog is too small for you to consider appearing on, but I thought I'd ask you anyway.” You know what? Nothing is too small. And for such a humble pitch, I'll clear my schedule.
I work with a variety of author-related sites and I get interview requests for our authors; the other day I was scrolling through a list of authors who got requests from these sites. Out of 10 on the list, only one had turned in the completed interview. The others blew off the request, said they weren't interested, or just forgot. I guarantee you 10 years from now, that one author will likely have a career; the others will be wondering why the world never read their book.
I love this business and I'd never want to be anywhere else. For all of its challenges and obstacles, there's nothing like being in publishing. But being an author requires dedication and a daily dose of humility. Never believe the bio they read about you before you get on stage; never let a stunning review go to your head (though it's okay to call your mother), and never, ever assume that because you managed to put pen to paper that you deserve fame.
A few weeks ago I was at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Ariz. I had just headed into the store to do my presentation when I heard a voice call out from across the store: “It's really you!!” A man rushed up to me, holding my book in his hand. “I've been following your work for years—you are such an inspiration,” he said breathlessly. I was floored. He went on to thank me for my work, my Web site, my radio show, and our Book Marketing Expert Newsletter. Finally he asked if I would sign a copy of my book Red Hot Internet Publicity (I still find this incredibly thrilling, by the way). I just smiled and said, “Thank you, because you remind me why I do this, each and every day.”
Always be amazed and appreciative of every chance that comes your way. The industry doesn't owe you anything but a book. You got that. Now what will you do?