J.D. Palmer, our editorial assistant and the author of The Meek and The Monster, talks about publishing his books and how marketing is like throwing pebbles into a pond. "You have to keep moving."
There was no way I could publish a book. To me, authors were always a bit older. With frazzled hair and glasses and frumpy clothes, a blended-together version of a professor and a hermit. This was always the image I had, for both women and men, whenever there wasn’t an image on the book jacket to prove me right.
Don’t ask me why.
So when I sat down to start my first novel, I didn’t take myself too seriously. I only had a few gray hairs (at the time), I didn’t wear glasses (at the time), and I dressed—well, okay, I had that part down pat.
So why the sudden decision to write a book? I was angry, I guess. Heretofore, I had been slaving away as an actor and screenwriter, two professions in which you see a lot of rejection. But the rejection wasn’t always based on quality, or lack thereof. I had read far too many brilliant screenplays and had seen far too many actors and actresses get rebuffed for that. Too many stories—good stories—go wrong simply because of money or ego.
Not this time.
I was going to write a book, and it would be told the way I wanted to tell it. A vow I made to myself, for myself. And let’s be honest, I wasn’t planning on showing this to anyone. Not at first.
The Meek. The first book, if I finished it, in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. This was my turn to tell a story in the vein I grew up loving; an adventure, with heroism and darkness and unexpected twists and turns. This was also a chance to explore morality, something that was becoming a bit of an obsession for me lately, especially living in a big city. How would we react if we didn’t have phones? What was justice? If left to our own devices, would we still be decent people?
Then I got down to writing.
What did I say earlier? Something about stories being ruined by ego? Well, that includes my own, too. Stubborn as I was about telling my own tale, I couldn’t do everything on my own. I asked for help editing. Friends, family, other writers, readers, you name it. The feedback was great. Some positive, some skeptical. I listened to everything they had to say, and, man, am I thankful I did. But at the end of the day it was still my tale to tell.
Then, one day, I was done! Or so I thought.
Like a lot of independent authors, I figured that once the book was completed, once it was OUT, then it would be a snowball set loose from a mountaintop. Slowly, it would be read, and would gain momentum, until I had created an avalanche. (Self-deception is key to being an actor, and I brought it with me into the world of authorship.)
However, it’s not like that at all. Selling books is like trying to fill up a pond one pebble at a time. You get a little splash here, a little splash there, but if you stop working at it then the ripples fade and it’s as if you hadn’t been there at all. So, yes, you have to keep moving. Throwing. Stacking. All the time. Which is hard, because now that you’ve found out that you love writing, who wants to spend their time trying to promote it?
But, it gets better after you figure out what works and what OH MY GOSH IS A WASTE OF TIME. (I’ll tell about all the traps and pitfalls, but only over a drink.)
As an actor, agents are always asking what kind of actor you are. Are you stage or screen? Leading or supporting? Serious, dramatic, action, period, and so on. Even though you say, “I can play whatever I’m asked,” you know what your strong suit is.
The same exists in the world of books. While you might write one thing, and the next time write another, each book is treated like the same green-around-the-ears kid from Montana who showed up in L.A. The question is, what type of writer are you?
Literature, hand in hand with the internet, has really taken off. What used to be fiction and nonfiction now has hundreds of subcategories. And subcategories to those categories. It’s amazing. And daunting. It’s extremely hard to peg your own writing. I always told people The Meek was a dystopian adventure novel. It’s not. It took me a long time to learn that it’s a psychological thriller that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic landscape. (This niche genre in which morality is blurred and the protagonist operates in a bleak, dystopian setting is known as contemporary grimdark.)
Once I found out where my story belonged, life for my novels got easier. I lament all the time I lost trying to engage a community online that wanted nothing to do with my book. Then I found my niche. It was like I was trying to sell donuts to candy lovers, and then found out there was a donut fair just down the street. Suddenly everything fit, and marketing became so much easier.
As of today, I’ve sold over 7,000 copies of The Meek, and a fair amount of book two, The Monster. And I say “sold” with a bit of an eye-roll. Many free promotions for the ebooks have done “wonders” for my sales. But all in all, as a self-published author, I’m happy. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve screwed up a lot, and still have no idea what I’m doing. Thousands of hours of editing and formatting, good reviews and bad reviews—stones thrown in the same darn pond that still, on the weekends that I take off, looks the same. But I’m working on book three, and I’m telling everyone. I’m doing some guest writing for blogs and magazines and hammering away at a few secret projects as well. I still don’t feel like an author. But that’s art. Progress can rarely be seen, or felt, but maybe only exists when you take a moment to breathe and look back, a moment to offer advice and warnings to those who come after.
Write the story you want to write. Know what resonates with you, and don’t pay any attention to critics who say that you need to change your style.
Know when to swallow your pride. A book can be written alone, a good book can’t. Ask for help.
Find your niche. Engage people and readers, ask questions, and make sure you find the community in which your book(s) belong.
Keep working. Do something, even if it’s a little, every day. Write, edit, read, and learn.
Change your idea of what an author looks like. Step one: go look in a mirror.
About the Author
J.D. Palmer was born and raised in northwest Montana. He spent a childhood playing in lakes, traipsing up and down mountains, and reading copious amounts of books. Favorite pastimes include camping, hiking, and playing chess. Axe throwing has become his favorite way to combat writer’s block. He is currently working on the final installment of the Unbound Trilogy, as well as collaborating on two screenplays. J.D. now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and brand-new daughter, where he pursues both a writing and acting career.