The author game ain’t for sissies

My character, Archimedes Nesselrode, fears the public and treasures his solitude, yet loves putting on a show. He enjoys the performance, acting the part expected of him as the eccentric artist. It’s all for fun, he takes none of it seriously, leaving it to his agent and his housekeeper to make all the arrangements and take care of the details because he knows he has no head for it. He has no idea how to handle serious social interactions. Without the shield of his persona, he is terrified and baffled.

One writes what one knows.

Every time I need to make conversation, I feel the stress. It doesn’t come naturally to me. At the library, I have a repertoire of small talk that gets me through. My boss amazes me the way she deals effortlessly with adults and children, remembering names, birthdays, relationships, who lives where and with whom. No surprise, she is much loved and respected in the community. I have for her the same admiration that Archimedes has for his housekeeper, who knows just how to handle things.

Conventions are social interaction on steroids.

At times I can just play my part and sail along with Winged Snake on my shoulders. I love reading my work aloud, because the script is right there and I know what to do. Or I can sit and talk geeky stuff for hours, totally at ease. I get on a panel with a topic I know, completely at home in front of an audience. It’s sweet.

But if I need to do serious stuff, no script, like talking up a real professional for promotional purposes, I break out into a sweat. Dealing with strangers, or even casual acquaintances, trying to say the right thing, not making an idiot of myself. A couple of drinks eases the tension. You see where this goes. Too often I wind up making an idiot of myself anyway (*cough* BarFleet *cough*).

Then there’s the toxic business of anxiously comparing myself, usually unfavorably, to other authors at the convention. Most of them are more successful, more connected, better at self-promotion, sporting far more impressive credentials than I. We humans do that; we can’t help it. We compare ourselves to others all the time. We sagely proclaim that it doesn’t matter, that the only person we need to compete with is ourselves, that we have nothing to prove. All the while we are sneaking glances at the person next to us, wondering if their Amazon ranking is better than ours, feeling wretched because we’re sure it is.

So there are parts of the convention I enjoy and parts that are high anxiety. Even the fun parts wear me out. Regardless, it’s necessary. It’s how small press authors get known, build up a fan base and make connections. In the past, I came home exhausted but excited, full of ideas, energized. What went wrong this time?

Go back to the paragraph about toxic comparisons. When I was new at it, I had an excuse. I just wasn’t there yet. Next year, I’d have a book out, sales rolling in, fans tracking me down for autographs. Next year the big book deal would come. Next year I’d be one of the pros. Next year.

And the years pass. Other authors race past me while I shuffle along, still tongue-tied, still baffled by the rules of the game. Still just one more indie/small press author trying to get noticed.

Add to this the social interaction bit. When you’re the new kid, you hang out with the few folks you know. The rest are strangers. You aren’t expected to make conversation with them. But I’ve been going to cons for almost ten years now. I’m starting to get to know a lot of folks. When I see someone I know, the sweat starts. Should I say hello? Then what do I say? That face looks familiar. I don’t know their name — should I? Which is worse, ignoring them or not ignoring them? I was on a panel once with that famous author. Is this an opportunity I should seize? What do I say? I don’t want to sound like an idiot. Or worse, have my brain freeze and stand there, saying nothing, grinning like a moron.

And this time there was the book table. Oy.

Alas I have no Frank Shekel (although husband Larry has be doing a pretty creditable job of Ms. Mare since the crash-and-burn). If you’re an indie/small press author, you are expected to do all your own publicity, hunt up reviewers, arrange readings, signings, interviews, personal appearances, the works. Even the Big Five are starting to require their authors to do the promotional work themselves. There’s an old saying, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

In the immortal words of Gomez Addams, as God is my witness, I am that fool.

So I’m done. Not with writing, heavens no. I’ll stop writing when they pry the laptop from my cold, dead hands. But circumstances have made it abundantly clear to me that I am not suited to the Game and I’m done playing it. Done kicking myself for not being as good at it as others. Done feeling like a failure because hard-ass competition, marketing and business savvy isn’t in my nature. Done pushing myself to do that which makes me ill. Done wasting my family’s hard-earned money on toxic pursuits because I’m told that’s what I supposed to do. If it means I stay obscure, so be it. I’d rather be alive and healthy. There’s stuff I can do, and I’ll do it. The rest, no thanks.

A huge industry has grown up around the dream of becoming a successful author. Vast sums of money are made exploiting that dream. It’s appalling, tragic, heartbreaking. Mammas, don’t your babies grow up to be writers.

It nearly killed me.

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