Writer as Multi-Level Marketer?

I was talking to my husband last night about book marketing and he had an insight that set me back on my heels a bit. He said that it seemed to him like a first-time author is a lot like a recent multi-level marketing convert who’s been instructed to hustle up sales from among their friends and family first.

He has a point.

The wonderful thing about having been in the publishing world for a handful of years is that I’ve had a chance to develop some perspective on the appropriate role of friends and family in growing your reader audience. When I first started out, I was rabid for readers. After all, if you get a book published and no one buys it, does it even matter? And I desperately wanted my book to matter.

It wasn’t until Wes stopped me one day and gently told me how incredible it was that any of my friends and family even bought my book in the first place that I stopped thinking of them as potential sales ranking boosters and began gaining my perspective back. It was incredible that any of them bought my book. Even more amazing was that some of them read it, and then went on to tell me they enjoyed it!

I think that was the moment I redefined what success as an author means to me. Every single person who puts a book out, whether it’s self-published or through a publisher, wants it to be a runaway success. Did you know, though, that according to Bowker more than 700,000 books were self-published last year? And well over 300,000 books were traditionally published.

That’s over one million books published. IN ONE YEAR.

I don’t care who you are, that’s depressing. It’s overwhelming! If you believe some of the contradictory figures produces by informal surveys, readership of books is declining. Whether that’s true or not is tricky to find out, but what is true is that book sales figures are down, and look to be in continuing decline.

What this means is that there’s a deluge of new material coming onto the market, and fewer people are buying it.

So what does this mean for authors? Are we peddling wares that will soon be obsolete and irrelevant?  Are we the ice deliverymen and women of our generation?

Maybe. I’m convinced the world will always need compelling and entertaining content, but the form it takes may change. That’s okay. Because I’ve recently decided what success as an author means for me:

I want to entertain people, and encourage developing writers. I’ll keep writing my books for the people who enjoy reading them, but I’m not going to pull my hair out trying to lure a wider audience who isn’t interested in being lured. I’m going to take every opportunity I can to teach, equip, and encourage developing writers, because the world needs quality prose, and because I enjoy teaching.

So that’s it. I’m officially hanging up my MLM desperate-for-sales hat, and putting on my I’m-just-here-to-tell-stories pj’s. And if you’ve bought one (or several) of my books? Thank you, sincerely and heartily, for supporting my dream. You’re a kind and wonderful person and I deeply appreciate you.

Snow Thank You

My view from the treadmill at the gym. I’m working out in a Norman Rockwell painting. #pacificnorthwest

A post shared by Erika Mitchell (@parsingnonsense) on

Pretty picture, right? I tell you, there’s very little that awes my little former-Californian heart more than a bloody great deluge of snow. There’s something magical about fluffy little pieces of frozen water that are FALLING from the SKY.

It’s even more magical when it’s sneak-attack snow, like the kind we had yesterday in western Washington. TWICE. Let me explain.

I woke up Monday morning and opened my curtains as soon as I was out of bed because 1) It makes me feel like Julie Andrews when I do that and 2) I like to know what kind of weather I’m going to be dealing with while I shepherd children out to the bus stop. I blinked a few times in surprise and looked again, then reached for my glasses and fumbled them onto my face in the hopes that they might explain what my blurry vision had been trying to tell me.

It had snowed. A lot. Enough to obscure our grass, our shrubs, and, on further inspection, the road outside our house. Now, that last one is an important distinction because in Washington, snow doesn’t really cause much trouble unless it sticks to the roads and it very rarely ever does. Here in western Washington, we’re protected from the worst of the Arctic air by a crapton of mountains, so mostly we just get rain and very occasional flurries.

The last time we got snow of any note was in 2010. And before that? 2006.

This winter, though, we’ve had two big snowstorms. Weird, right? Well, it gets weirder, because yesterday we woke up to snow, had it melt in sunshine, had crazy-intense hailstorms, and then had more snow. A lot more snow. I’m guessing two inches in two hours?

In the midwest, two inches is laughable. “Ha ha!” they say to us. “Two inches of snow is bikini weather! Even for the men!”

What they lack that we don’t, however, is hills. Hills aplenty. It does not matter how many wheel drive your car has or how good your driving is, your car will slide out of control on a snow-covered and icy hill. Where I live in particular is just chock-a-block full of hills, so there were a lot of people parking on the side of the road last night.

My poor husband tried to leave early-ish last night to beat the snow home and it ended up taking him three hours to drive ten miles. Not because of the snow, mind you. The plows and salt trucks were out and the roads were fine. It was the people driving on the snow that were the problem. Traffic for no reason! So much fun.

All that to say, I love the snow. It’s terribly pretty. I’d like it to stop now, though. Let’s keep the roads and schools open. Let’s keep commutes to reasonable lengths. And, for the love of cake, let’s get some freaking sunshine around here for awhile.

I wore shorts in California a couple weeks ago and my legs were so pale the sunlight reflecting off them nearly blinded some drivers. My paleness has become a safety issue, which is my annual indicator for when I’m ready for winter to be done. So ready? Set. SPRING.

Updates and Appearances and Anthologies, Oh My!

I just got back from a quick trip down to CA to visit family with my two children and these are the things I learned:

  • CA gets crazy flooding when there’s a monsoon-style downpour.
  • Dramamine makes my children almost catatonic.
  • In N Out is still delicious and the best thing ever.

I seem to have caught a cold while I was visiting, however, which is kind of a bummer because I’ve been invited back to do a guest lecture for the Writing for Publication class at Northwest University and I have this weird feeling like I’m going to need my voice for that. I’m getting really excited about it.

I had the chance to do this a couple years ago and it was a blast. There’s something invigorating and inspiring about discussing the craft of writing with other people who are as passionate about it as you are, and I fully expect to have a fantastic time (assuming, of course, that I have use of my voice and will not have to conduct the lecture via semaphore).

From one of my favorite Monty Python sketches, Wuthering Heights by Semaphore.

I’ve also recently applied to participate in the LitQuake Festival in San Francisco this fall, so fingers crossed for that, and I’m most likely doing a book singing on Bainbridge Island at the Eagle Harbor Book Company in late July as well. All told, 2017 is shaping up to be a very busy year, which is great because there’s almost nothing more frustrating than trying to get the promotional wheels spinning only to have nothing happen.

Oh! And I almost forgot the coolest thing that happened last week: I got invited by my writing buddy AC Fuller to participate in a thriller anthology that’s coming out in the fall! How cool is that?! Doing an anthology is on my writer bucket list, so I’m delighted the timing worked out for it.

I’m submitting a short story about what happens when Bai goes home to visit his parents after the events of Take the Bai Road. Hint: stuff happens. Lots of stuff.

I had a blast writing the story, and I think it’ll be a fun amuse bouche for those of you looking for something to read in between Take the Bai Road and book number three, which will be called Bai Treason. (Oh, man. Bai Treason is GOOD. I can’t wait to get started on revisions for that one after I finish Take the Bai Road and the anthology short story).

All in all, things are looking busy in a good way. Full steam ahead!

Toasting Marshmallows with Robert Ludlum’s Ghost

When I was a brand-new writer, the publishing world was overwhelming and intimidating. What was a query? How do you pitch? What’s a three-act structure? Why does no one use prologues anymore? And what’s the difference between awhile and a while?

I learned, as most authors do, the hard way. I self-published a book before it was ready because I didn’t know better. I wrote a book with a 20,000-word prologue. I used adverbs. I made one of my protagonists a writer. I thought people would just buy a book without any marketing effort on my part.

Over time, and through the loving tutelage of such fine organizations as the PNWA and ITW, I learned. I matured as a writer (maybe as a person?), and started learning the ropes.

Those ropes, as it turns out, are even more intimidating the more you learn them. It’s not until you’ve busted your butt trying to rustle up sales that you realize how remarkable it really is to earn that “New York Times bestselling author” distinction after your name. It’s not until you’ve done a book signing for an empty room that you understand how amazing it is when authors like Neil Gaiman pack entire theaters with eager audiences who want to hear him speak.

Over time, I’ve met some incredible authors. Generous, kind, helpful souls like Jon Land, Robert Dugoni, and Ted Kosmatka, who all blurbed my last book, Bai Tide. Or Anne Rice, who was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and answer my question at a Q&A she did in New York in 2013. Or Jeff Ayers, who’s a book reviewer, board member for the PNWA, and author in his own right.

And then there was the time RL Stine told me I grew up okay despite devouring all of his books in my youth.

I have too many writing heroes to name, and they’re all on my list for different reasons. Some of them are there because their books taught me something valuable about what writing could be. Some of them are there because they’re admirable people who help and serve and contribute. And still other are there because they’re all of those things and more.

Gayle Lynds is one of the all of the above heroines. She’s a legend in the thriller writing community, and one of the foremost espionage authors of all time. She’s also, lucky for me, a kind person who makes time to help nobodies like me.

When she agreed to read my book to possibly consider providing a blurb for it, I sent it off to her with my heart in my throat. I was so nervous, I held onto the package for so long that the mail clerk asked me if I was okay.

I told her I was and surrendered it to her, but how could I be okay? What if it wasn’t ready? What if Gayle hated it? What if she burned it and then toasted marshmallows over it while complaining to Robert Ludlum’s ghost about how schlocky these new authors are?

A month later, not only did Gayle email me back with an incredible blurb, she had the grace to thank me for sending it to her! Can you believe such a thing? I couldn’t. I read her email five times just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

So take it from me, kids. Dreams come true if you work for them and get really, really lucky. Here it is, folks. This is what Gayle had to say about Take the Bai Road, which is coming out in July 2017.

I Got (a) Shot

Me when I need another knee injection.

Any week that starts with a big effing needle getting jammed into your knee is bound to be a weird one.

On the one hand, I’m lucky because I’ve been able to get my health insurance company to pay for the medication that comes with the big effing needle. For some reason, health insurance companies have all decided that patients with osteoarthritis in their knees can just deal with it because said companies are tired of paying for SynVisc injection for all of us gimpy freeloaders.

Every time I need a shot (which is roughly every six months), I have to go through round after round of appeals until a third-party reviewer takes a look at my file, tells my health insurance company that they’re being a bunch of tools, and makes them cover my shots. We go through this twice a year, which means I’ve gotten to be really good friends with the lady who handles my appeals.

So yes, I’m fortunate that I don’t have to pay $1,500 twice a year for the privilege of getting the medication I need to make sure my knee doesn’t grind itself to dust.

On the other hand, it’s never fun to get these shots. They hurt, and the needle has to stay in my knee for a long time (probably only fifteen seconds or so, but it always feels like a full minute at least), so it’s all just terribly discomfiting. Afterward, my knee gets all puffy and sore and achy and stays that way for three to four days. Fun stuff, right?

To add to the merriment, there was a staffing change at my orthopedic surgeon’s office. You see, I’ve had the same guy doing my knee injections for years at this point. He knows my shtick and has gotten pretty good at making small talk with me during the shot to distract me from what’s happening.

I’m not normally what I would consider a chill person. I talk fast, I work fast, I rarely stop moving. When I’m nervous, though? It’s like someone’s opened the tap on my brain and I can’t stop talking. It’s like a free association word flood, and it can be a lot to handle.

This poor new guy, I don’t think he was prepared for it. He handled it okay, though, so maybe next time he’ll be prepared and bring his earplugs.

Here’s hoping the rest of this week is a little less stressful. I’m frustrated to be gimpy and sore again. It’s like after recovering from the microfractures surgery in 2015, my brain figures I’ve paid my physical disability dues so the rest of my life should be smooth sailing. Every time I’m stuck on the couch with my feet up while stuff all around me needs doing, I get antsy and vaguely irritated. Haven’t I done this enough already?

Soon, I tell myself. This is the worst you’ll feel for awhile, and you’ll be even better tomorrow. And until then? Well, there are worse things to be than stuck on the couch for a few days.