Out of the Woods: Traveling by Instinct
No 3: March 20, 2019 ~
Painted lady butterflies passed through last week on their way from their desert hatching grounds to the Pacific Northwest. It was quite a spectacle. How do creatures so new to the world know how to reach a destination so far away? As I pondered the marvel of genetics and instinct guiding the painted ladies on their journey, I found a personal allegory. Like the butterflies, I know where I want to go. Unlike them, I worry about the difficulty of getting there. I want to be a successful novelist, but because I haven't traveled these airways before, I constantly struggle with fear of the unknown. Allowing it to take over would put an end to my ambitions in very short order, so I've decided to rely on my own genetics and instincts instead. In the elation of having finally published my first novel, The Darkest Eyes, I didn't realize how challenging it would be to find an audience. I was fortunate in attracting some strongly positive responses in the early weeks, including a 5-star review from Readers' Choice. However, my promotional efforts so far have not delivered. I ran an ad campaign offering the e-book version for free, and hundreds of people downloaded it, but there have been no indications -- yet -- that any of them actually read it. The silence is unsettling. Lack of an early takeoff has fueled serious doubts over my marketing ability. I have four college degrees, but none of them are in business. How can I hope to compete? I'm like one fragile, newly hatched butterfly among millions. All of us want the same thing. We want to share our stories. We want to have writing careers instead of hobbies. We're all sailing along on the wind, hoping to be carried to the promised land. But wait -- the butterflies are not helpless victims being tossed about on the breeze. They know where they're going, and they're putting in a great deal of effort to get there. They're operating on genetics and instinct, and I can work with that. I can use the same DNA that got me through those university programs to learn what I need to know about the business of being a writer. Certainly I'll make mistakes, but I'll gain insights along the way. I'll get better at it with every passing day, as long as I keep flapping my wings. There are many things I can do to push toward my goal, but since I have no idea which of them might work best, I'll let my instincts be my guide. In the absence of knowledge, I'll go with my gut. And then there's persistence -- the drive to carry on until I get there or die trying. That may seem melodramatic, but in this case, failure wouldn't be an inevitable outcome -- it would result only from a decision to give up. Since I have taken that option off the table, success is a matter of when, not if. In practical terms, I am now working on recategorizing the keywords associated with The Darkest Eyes to align it with terms Amazon readers actually use in their searches. I'm also planning my first e-book sale, a markdown to $0.99. My hope is to reach the people who are actively looking for something to read right now, instead of those who find the book appealing, but may have a few dozen other "want to reads" ahead of it on their lists. These are small steps, but I feel reassured by my shift in attitude. Confidence and optimism have replaced the fog and the angst. I'm working, but I'm no longer panicking. I'm embracing my state of confusion as a normal part of living the life of an undiscovered author. That realization alone is validation that I'm heading in the right direction. How far I'll go is part of the unfolding mystery. Not all the butterflies will make it. Some will be eaten by birds, and some will get splattered on windshields. There are no guarantees of success. But there is a 100 percent certainty that the ones who don't embark on the journey will die in the desert.