To survive as an author—or any type of independent creative artist—Lesson #1 is to find untapped revenue sources. For me, that source is writing for-hire books, memoirs and corporate histories. On Saturday night, February 16, one of those corporate clients rolled out the red carpet and, for a night, gave me the celebrity author treatment. The project and the big book launch imparted several other valuable lessons.
The book I wrote for Leslie’s swimming pool supplies, an 800-plus store national retail chain, began in November 2010 and was finally rolled out to 1,000 of the company’s managers and executives at a hotel on Harbor Island in San Diego. The book documents the 50-year history of the company from inception in 1963, by the namesake Phil Leslie himself, through to the modern era. If the subject matter seems obscure, these are five-figure book commissions that are also a lot of fun to research and write. It’s storytelling with a steady paycheck.
The culmination of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday night came when the CEO called me to the stage and told each of the 1,000 people they’d be receiving the hardcover book, and that I would be available to sign them. Then, without warning, the CEO turned to me and said, “Would you like to say a few words?” I was under the glare of the bright lights, with no “Oscar acceptance speech” notes, and 1,000 people quietly waiting for me to say something witty and insightful. And this was a rare opportunity: A 20-city book tour with 50 people every night would net me the same audience of 1,000 people.
Herein were the next lessons:
• Lesson #2: When you go out to promote your book, be prepared for the unexpected.
• Lesson #3: Get comfortable with public speaking.
For me, public speaking used to invoke severe nervousness to the point that my voice would shake. In terms of both lessons, over the years I started giving writing workshops. At some point in there, the nerves disappeared: I was prepared for any audience, any time. I stepped to the lectern, grabbed the book I wrote that was perched there and pretended that I was reading the opening. I said, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
That got a good laugh from the crowd, which put me further at ease, and then I just spoke from my heart. That led me to Lesson #4: Always Be Closing. It’s the old ABC sales adage as I ended with a plug for my other novels available online. I got another laugh when I told the audience of 1,000 that book royalties are how we’ll send our kids through college. When trying to move copies of your book, it never hurts to beg.
After my successful impromptu speech, I was whisked through a mob of people to my signing table where I put my name to hundreds of books. All the lessons were in play as I interacted with the multitudes and answered questions about my other books. Overall, Lesson #5 is the most important: Have fun with it all.
Authors and creative artists live the 95/5 life: Our work is 95 percent working our craft in isolation and five percent under the spotlight. So when the spotlight comes, soak it up, enjoy it and revel in it. There’s nothing to be nervous about: The creative life is both a difficult and privileged existence. When good tidings come your way, breathe in and enjoy the wonderful and brief vistas from the mountaintops.