Balancing Shrill, Skill and Shill


“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

Selling–the worst part of writing. Writing a book takes a certain set of skills: intense concentration, imagination, the ability to read the same 400 pages time after time, and the fortitude to take criticism (excuse me, ahem, critique) without weeping.  You must learn to shut out all noise at a given moment and you must love solitude.

Getting your book in reader’s hands requires the opposite: Writing in 140 character sound bites, talking about oneself while sounding modest, balancing online ME ME ME without having REGO (readers eyes glaze over) or worse, RSOY (readers sick of you.)

Anyone who had read the hysterical, but frighteningly close to the truth, New Yorker piece on promotion knows how much falls on the writer these days. (Surprisingly few readers know this; at a recent book club, members were shocked to learn writers did their own promotion.) Even if one has great and supportive publicists (which I do) it’s usually on the writer to get that book read.

“You have to sell it one book at a time,” I was warned when my first book launched.

How in the world was I supposed to do that? In terror, I read every book I could find (thus buying their books), listened to experienced writers, attended forums on promotion, jumped from one online site to another, lurked in online forums, came out of the closet and wrote sad plaintive pleas on same forums: in short, I gave myself a cheap fast masters in SMB (selling my book.)

The problem is this: except for the most ego-driven or ego-protected among us, it’s an unnatural position for most writers. We like working in pajamas. We like watching sentences unfold as ideas unfurl. We don’t like shaking our booties.

But we must.

This is the uncomfortable truth. If you want to follow your fantasy of writing and publishing, then you gotta shake that booty. You must learn how to sell without appearing crazed—because nobody likes the snake oil man. You must swallow your pride and put it out there—Look, I wrote a book! Want to buy it? —without coming across as greedy.

None of us succeed all the time. During my promotion of The Murderer’s Daughters  I got an email from the moderator of an online alumni group to which I belong. I’d sent out a group email inviting members to a reading I’d be giving in NYC, and received this squirm-inducing scold:

Usually I try not to use the XYZ Group for personal promotion.

Please refrain in the future.

Shame overcame me as my self-image went from energetic-information-sharer to self-promoting-hussy. I imagined all the whispers in the online hallways: Who does she think she is? God, enough, already. Will she ever shut up about that damn book?

But they said I have to! I whine.

Yeah. Shaddup, I imagine the answer.

But, I remind myself: this was my dream. Suck it up, self.  So here’s my advice for writer-friends and my pleas to reader-friends:

Readers: Forgive us each day our daily shilling. It’s the only game in town these days. And if you have it in your hearts, and you like our books, please pass the word along. (I say this knowing that in April I’ll be reentering the arena of letting readers know about book 4. (The Widow of Wall Street. Available for preorder now!!!)  See how I am (not so covertly) sneaking this in?




Barnes & Noble: link soon appearing!

Writers: Find a launch buddy or two. Or three. Someone with whom you can be as whiny and self-pitying as you need, someone who won’t judge you for it. BFF launch sisters and brothers. Make sure it’s someone you can truly root for and who will totally root for you. Know that sometimes she’ll be ahead of you. That’s okay—keep rooting. That’s what sisters do for each other.

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  1. Pamela Toler
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    What are alumni groups for if not to trumpet personal/professional triumphs?

    You’re an inspiration, girl.

  2. Posted March 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    My complements on being able to do so much at one time. I have read Dave Berry’s columns on selling books and it always sounds exhausting and soul wrenching. If only authors were created with the same personality as car sales people.

    Best of luck!

  3. Posted March 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I love your comeraderly (new word?) spirit. I love that your
    advice generally leans toward community and finding people you can lean on
    and people who can lean on you. It makes the writing process as much about
    one’s unique vision as about supporting fellow artists and
    Happy to have you on my team!

  4. Posted March 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Shrill skilled shillers of this silly world, UNITE!

    So glad we have our writer’s promo sisters (and BRO) to fall back on.

    Shill on, sista.

  5. Posted March 12, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    O Wise Shiller Writer — I will always be grasshopper at your writing, shilling feet. Thank youfor wise post.

  6. Posted July 11, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I love your books, but this is my first visit to your blog. I had to come because I’m beginning the launch of a novel, too, and wondered if I’d find some new magic bullet here, and I did, too. Laughter! You have so captured the entire experience that never seems to get easier. The whole time, I just want to whine, nooooo! Thank you so much for making me laugh!

    • Posted July 12, 2016 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      I always try to rremember this: the process of launching is super tough, but not launching is much worse! (and your new book looks great!)

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