I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. We were taught early that “nothing happens until somebody sells something.” My parents churned out six reasonably successful adults with a shared passion for moving products from the shelf to someone’s shopping cart. I started my career at 24 as a sales trainer and motivational speaker in the beauty industry, teaching retail saleswomen how to take that “just need a new lipstick” customer and turn her into the giddy purchaser of a complete skin care routine that she couldn’t believe she’d lived without this long. I had a blast. Selling was easy and as natural as breathing.
Then I became a writer.
My original goal was to leave a journal for my great-grandkids as a first-person record of what life was like when Grandma witnessed the invention of the wheel. I’ve often wished I had a first-hand account of my grandmother’s life, about her marriage, her dreams, or why she named her dog “Hooters.”
Then, in 2013, I met an amazing editor who suggested I write a book about living with Parkinson’s. In 2014, we launched Shake, Rattle & Roll With It, Living & Laughing with Parkinson’s. In February 2016, Booktrope released Who Left the Cork Out of My Lunch? Both books were great fun to write, but since I didn’t want to decorate around 50 boxes of books, I needed to figure out how to sell what I’d written.
Not having a clue where to start, I read a gazillion how-to-sell-1,000-books-in-your-first-week books, sent press releases to the local newspapers, emailed proposals to dozens of agents, attended seminars for new authors, and drove around town with a box of books in my car, in case I ran into a high school classmate at Walgreen’s.
Seasoned writers all cautioned that the chances of commercial success were minimal to zero, and not even that good without a powerful online presence. “What’s your social media platform?” they’d say. “What the hell is a platform?” I asked. “Numbers,” they replied, “How many Facebook fans do you have? How many Facebook writers’ groups do you participate in? Are you on Twitter? How many followers do you have? What about Reddit? Linked In? Pinterest? Tumbler? How about Instagram? You really need to be on that. OMG, you’re not on Goodreads yet?? You’ll never succeed without Goodreads. And don’t forget Bookbub. But that one can take several weeks to get accepted, so chop chop, woman. And do you guest post? You need to get onto Huffington Post, major magazines, or other well-established blogs. You do have a blog, don’t you?? And BTW, you really should post every day. It gets those subscriber numbers up, up, up.”
It quickly became obvious that social media was the key to fame, wealth, and immortality. If I was willing to commit to scrolling through Facebook posts from 1000 or so friends and a dozen writers’ groups every morning, ‘liking’ or commenting on every thread, and if I was able to come up with $100+ every week for advertising to “expand my reach,” Facebook could be a career launcher.
I’d also started getting emails from people I didn’t know, claiming that in 15 minutes a day, Pinterest could get my book out to the world. And for $20, Bubba from Botswana would sell me 20,000 fake Twitter followers, instantly cementing my “online presence.” Apparently, everyone but me knew which venue, that with enough time and money, would make me the superstar love child of John Grisham and Erma Bombeck.
That first year, I was all in. I scrolled Facebook like a crazed Rhesus monkey every morning, terrified that I might miss an important post from a virtual friend about her birthday, anniversary, trek through Nepal, or broken heart over having to put down Hairball, the family gerbil. I accepted all Facebook and Linked In friendship requests. I resisted any urges to jump into political or religious Facebook threads for fear of getting defriended and decreasing my numbers. I regularly shared blog posts from other writers. I signed up for Goodreads and ran giveaways on Bookbub. I guest posted for several huge sites. I was going after it at full speed, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what “it” was.
By year two, I realized I had no time or energy to write. Social media numbers and book sales defined my life. My family eventually gave up, tip-toeing past my office, speaking in hushed tones, on their way out the door to live in-person lives, while I stayed sequestered, posting, commenting, liking, tweeting, pinning, and linking in, anxiously awaiting my Big Moment.
Then I began to notice that what people post on Facebook is usually their successes, rarely their struggles, so it can seem like everyone else has fame and fortune continuously and effortlessly rolling in because they’re just so awesome. You? Not so much. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed each morning and read posts about writers who were invited to be on The View or Anderson Cooper, or who met the President, or were mentioned on Oprah. Or someone wrote a blog post about teaching their cat Tai Chi that went viral in 14 countries and now they’re in demand all across the country. Social media found a way to remind me each day that I was good, but not that good. By that time, I was prepared to give up and start a llama farm.
I remembered the early months of writing and thinking it was fun. I loved it when my writing resonated with readers and I could make them laugh, and I maintained a steady increase in my readership. That used to be enough. That said, I’m not a complete idiot. If Oprah or The View called with invites, or Michelle Obama suddenly discovered she loved my books, I’d be doing the happy dance across three states. But if that determined my “success” or “failure,” statistically I had a better chance of winning the lottery. Twice. On the same day.
I had no delusions about becoming a NY Times best-selling author from my goofy collections of humorous essays, so what was I chasing? I didn’t start writing to become rich or famous, or to hang with the cool people. Writing made me happy. Like I was giving something back by sharing laughter with my readers. I was leaving a record for my future downline after my untimely and tragic demise. Somehow I’d lost that along the way.
I wanted to love writing again. I wanted social media to be social again, not a means to an end. I wanted to stop chasing a ridiculously unattainable goal that placed the bar so high, it was stealing my real life and replacing it with a frenetic virtual existence that left me constantly anxious and overwhelmed. I wanted to stop competing with online writing friends who all seemed more successful than I could ever hope to be. I wanted my life back.
So I’ve decided to reprioritize. I’m going to write first, and sell when the opportunity arises, instead of the other way around. I hope my readership continues to grow, and that my readers enjoy my writing and continue to subscribe to my blog or buy my books. I may or may not check in on Facebook every day, or pay for Facebook ads. I refuse to buy fake Twitter followers. I’m going to celebrate the achievements of other writers, and try my best not to belittle my own in comparison. If we’re friends on Facebook, know that if I miss an important event in your life, it wasn’t intentional. If I’m not online, I’m with my family, sharing a glass of wine with a friend, or maybe doing a book reading at the local library. Or I might be taking a nap. But if you’re still here when I get back, I’m calling it a win.