Now on to my latest rant, which is rather timely, considering that taxes are due tomorrow. If Three-6 Mafia thought it was hard out here for a pimp, they should’ve tried being mid-list authors. I’ve done so many talks about how, as an author, it was my dream to get a major book deal and get to The Show. Little did I realize that what I was doing as a self-published author was only the dress rehearsal for The Show. Two books in, it’s like I’m a self-published author, but with better distribution. It’s no secret that mainstream publishers spend hardly any money on publicity for a mid-list author. It’s the literary equivalent of throwing pasta up against the fridge and seeing if it’ll stick – without spending any money on a fridge. It’s up to you as the author to ensure that your baby, this tale that you’ve slaved over to make it just right, finds an actual audience.
To accomplish this, I’ve done some things that I never thought I’d do. I was watching the final season of HBO’s The Wire recently. One of the women in a Narcotics Anonymous-type support group said that a drug addict should never make a list of things she would never do to score drugs. Because, in the end, all you’re doing is making a list of the things you will actually do once you start fienin’. I likened that revelation to this quest to get my stories told. I’ve asked myself if what I’m doing is an addiction. After all, I’ve done some things that people who aren’t in this business think are just plain stupid. Cases in point. I’ve refinanced my house to pay for my marketing and publicity. I’ve driven from New York to Philly, selling only three books for all my trouble. I’ve traveled countless miles, in various and sundry weather events, in pursuit of this dream. I don’t even want to discuss the debt from that labor of love called The Book Squad. Every year, though, when I do my taxes, I look at what I’ve spent on marketing and PR, shake my head, and say, “Naw, that amount can’t be right!”
2008 promises a more hyped promotional juggernaut. Two literary tours (the Divine Literary and the Femme Fantastik), and at least three conventions to date – all with crazy registration fees and travel and accommodation expenses. Don’t get me wrong; I love writing. I love meeting people who love writing and reading as much as I do. I’ve met people who’ve told me that my books are on their Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time list, which does what’s left of my ego a world of good. That aside, am I less committed to my craft and to my fans if I ask myself when will I see some return on investment, or ROI? It’s got to happen eventually, right? I mean, wasn’t Jeff Bezos hemorrhaging money until the little company he’d started in his garage called Amazon.com turned the corner? John Grisham was selling A Time to Kill out of his trunk until he wrote The Firm and hit the mother lode. For God’s sake, Brad Pitt was the El Pollo Loco chicken before he hit it big. The point is, though, all of the aforementioned hit it big. They got ROI. When does it happen for an author in general and for me in particular?
This question especially troubles me now, as it is a certainty that we’re going to have layoffs at the Plantation. The price of gas hit an all-time high last week. Life is getting bleaker with every news cycle. There comes a time when one has to take her woman pill and become a realist.
That is until I get the next e-mail inviting me to the next conference, and I check my bank account to see if I can attend. That is when I really start to wonder if I am truly addicted, if I’m stupid enough to actually start making that list of things I won’t do to further this dream. Because, like Old Girl on The Wire, we know how that story ends, don’t we…?