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Comfort Zone

Updated: Jul 14

It's not all about me . . . right? --------------------------------------------


On a recent trip to Maui, I went ziplining for the first time. It’s not an activity I’d normally initiate, but my wife and daughter were into it (the latter having done it before), so sure. I went along. I was less nervous than I thought I’d be. Any fear was oddly (and amusingly) replaced by an inner voice that said things like: Really? This doesn’t seem like you. Everything okay? I'm happy to report I enjoyed both the experience and adding it to the list of things I’ve done.

But here’s the funny part. The course has six separate lines. In between two of the later ones stands Hawaii’s tallest and longest suspension bridge [pictured]. As part of the tour, the guides took us to walk halfway across for what I assume is a spectacular view.

See what I did there? With “assume?” After only a few steps onto the bridge, I was a hard pass. My daughter looked back, confused: “You coming?”

“I’m good.”


The last time I published a novel was in 2015. I actually had to look that date up to ensure accuracy. Back then I was all about control. The independent publishing companies at the time seemed too cookie cutter and assembly line for me. I couldn't be part of that! I was an arteest!! 

I got my own book printer and had a manageable (but still way too large) inventory of books shipped to my house. From there I did some book fairs and put titles for sale online, primarily Amazon. Everything seemed set for success until I actually started to make a few sales. Amazon sent me a purchase order for one book. When it sold, they’d ask for another. I immediately realized that the postage sending them the book was more than I made in profit when it sold.

Not a good business model.

The other rookie mistake I made with previous books was rushing them to publication. The most important thing was getting the books out mainly because the only thing I knew about selling was that a book had to actually be “for sale” in order for that to happen.

Fast forward seven (!) years. I've returned my focus to my fiction and completed another novel. I’m not here to boast about it (although it is really good) or even to promote it. (The release date is this fall some time TBD.) In addition to not rushing this time, I’m doing everything else differently, too. I'm working with a reputable company to print, publish, and distribute, plus experts who are helping me market not the book but myself in the months leading up to the launch. And yes, this blog is a cornerstone of that effort.

I spend a decent portion of my days in relative quiet solitude, but I’m not an introvert. I don’t even know that I’d call myself a “private” person. When the situation arises, I enjoy conversation and socializing as much as anyone. I'm often the one reaching out to connect with others. As the sixth of seven kids in my family, I’m pretty sure I’m known as the quiet one. At least that was true growing up. Socially, however, wallflower has never been the book on me.

At my wedding reception, I gave an impromptu thank you speech. (See? Not an introvert!) I’m paraphrasing but the intro went like this: A wedding is a quintessential gathering of friends and family. There’s a dynamic at play right now that’s noteworthy, so … I will note it. My friends are saying: “Oh God. He has a microphone.” And my family is saying: “Huh. So that’s what his voice sounds like.”

I guess the equation is that I neither seek attention nor am I mortified by it. I imagine that's not a very exclusive club of people. I'll give you an example: for five consecutive years, I had a booth at the LA Times Festival of Books, the largest such event in the country. The booth was my company, Gemiknight, and I prided myself on the fact that visually, the space [pictured] looked very professional.

There are basically two ways you can conduct yourself as a vendor in a booth. Anyone who’s ever attended a book fair, or Comicon, or any trade show, already knows what those ways are. You can call out to passersby, trying to entice them to come to you or you can relax, hang back, and let whatever you’ve set up as your presence do the interest-generating work.

Big surprise I was always firmly in the latter camp. As I mentioned, my booth didn’t look like that of some (ahem) introvert author who's dying to talk your ear off about his version of Middle Earth. Some of my good friends are former Disney artists, and my book covers (enlarged for booth display) are eye-catching, especially to an audience who came to the event to have their eyes caught. In fact, the only thing that might make stopping at the Gemiknight booth unattractive would be me yapping out loglines or discount deals like a carnival barker.

As a result, plenty of people stopped by. Most (if not all) appreciated my personable, non-selling approach to conversation. They’d ask about the books, questions I could obviously answer with a certain amount of eloquence. If someone bought one, I’d offer to sign it, which always got the same response: “Wait, you wrote these?”

My instincts to promote the work and not me always led to this point. People assumed I was just the guy who drew the short straw and had to work the company booth for the weekend. In an effort to help increase sales, my kids always teased me about that. “Dad, maybe lead with you’re the author.” I have fond memories of those weekends, partly because I didn't take their well-intentioned advice. I'm undecided about book fairs in my future, but with the new novel coming out, I will have to consider them. In order to connect with my new audience, I first needed to find them. To be honest, that task proved easier than your average two-page spread of Where’s Waldo? Having written what the marketplace calls a “psychological thriller,” I typed that phrase into the search on Goodreads and quickly found a genre fan group of almost 3,000 readers. “I found them,” I told no one. “They’re right here. I even know their names and hometowns.”

Of course an author can’t just start spamming the group members with promotional private messages. But it’s interesting to note that they are indeed listed for me. Literally just out of reach. And that group is just one of countless identical ones online.

So that’s the challenge in the months ahead as I learn all the next steps to connect with readers in meaningful ways. The most surprising revelation so far is the process is no longer the Necessary Nightmare I’ve always felt it was. And the truth is, I haven’t broadened my comfort zone or changed it in any way. I’ve taken something that I’ve never liked, self-promotion, and turned the prism to show what I'm actually engaged in is something very different. Something more social and informative. Something far less narcissistic. Whatever promotional benefits I may get down the road are an indirect byproduct.

I know that sounds like I'm just fooling myself with semantics, but I can assure you from the trenches that having a particular point of view matters. You already know that to be true whether you're creating art, compiling data for a work presentation ... or harnessing yourself to a cable and sliding above the trees.


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For those interested, you can read the opening chapters of the new novel by clicking this image. I don't have a full cover design yet (soon!) but this is the title treatment. Thanks!


THANKS FOR READING!

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