We’re thrilled to have former monthly contributor Allison Winn Scotch back with us today, as her latest novel releases in the U.S.! In Twenty Years is all the buzz this season, with the book already on several ‘hot reads for summer’ lists (Glamour, Bustle, Popsugar and Bookbub). The story takes us twenty years beyond a loss that affected a group of college friends, and revisits them as they come together to grapple with their many ghosts. It is, says Library Journal in their starred review, “an absolute must-read that lovers of women’s contemporary fiction will devour in one sitting.”
Allison is back with us today to share some of the things she’s learned over the last many years — though not quite twenty! — as she’s penned six novels. Let’s bask in the wisdom.
Lessons From a Sixth-Book Place
Hi Writer Unboxed community! I haven’t been here in a long time, but I’m so glad to be invited back just in time for the launch of my sixth book, IN TWENTY YEARS, out today! Yup, I think I was a contributor here back when my second or third book released, and it really seems impossible that I’m now half a dozen deep. I thought this was an apt time to share a few things that I’ve learned between now and then, wisdom that hasn’t always come easy, and yes, came with a few scars and more than a few tears. Let my mistakes of the past clear the way for your future!
Here are a few things that I’ve taken to heart this time around:
- Sales of Your Book Do Not Define Your Success as a Writer
I’m starting with this one because I think it’s the hardest and most painful lesson for writers to learn. It certainly was for me. I have had some books do very well, and I have had some books do…not as well. In each case, the successes and failures had nearly nothing to do with me or the words that I put on the pages inside the spine. They had to do with marketing and PR and good luck and bad luck. They had to do with unexpected reviews on places like The Today Show and People, and conversely, with store closures and big reviews getting bumped for other things and never seeing the light of day. After my fourth book, I had a very firm reckoning with myself in which I realized that good sales or bad sales, I am still a writer, and I am still the same writer. It’s so easy, too easy, to blame ourselves (or the author, if you’re the publisher) for a book’s failure, but I no longer accept that because if a book is good enough to publish, it should be good enough to sell. If it doesn’t, I’m still here.
- You Can’t Control Everything
To that end, so much of your book’s release is going to be out of your hands. I think that most writers will complain about the lack of control upon publication, and I’ve come to accept that I can do everything I can to ensure that I am satisfied with my efforts and then just…let go. This release is the most relaxed I’ve ever been – I actually almost forgot that the book was out until this week! – because I really do understand that there are chess pieces I can move…and plenty that I cannot. I deliberated which publisher to go to with this book primarily because of this control or lack thereof. I wanted an imprint that had killer marketing, because at the end of the day, that is the area I always felt the most out of control in – there are very few ways that authors can move the dial themselves – so I went with Lake Union, an imprint of Amazon. Knowing that I’d done what I could in advance to quell my control anxieties, I’m much more chill this time around.
- You Don’t Have to Dance If You Don’t Want To
By this I mean on social media. Here is the dirty little secret (or at least my opinion! LOL): I am unconvinced that more social media sells more books. It may…it may not. And if you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t put yourself through it. I know this may not be a popular opinion, but I think authors can make themselves crazy feeling like they have to tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet about their book, and yes, I think it’s important to have an online presence, and I think it is of course important to share news about your book, but I don’t think you have to tap dance endlessly. As in, that tap dance is probably not going to be the difference between huge sales and weak ones. Take part in the aspects of social media that you enjoy. I was told, this time around, to join a few sites that I just KNEW I was going to hate…so I didn’t join them. (I mean, seriously, if someone can explain Snapchat to me, that would basically be a miracle.) It wasn’t worth it to me to sell a few copies at the expense of constantly, endlessly putting myself out there.
- Listen to Reviews Until You Don’t Want to Anymore
Reviews are so tricky when your book is newly released. It’s easy to feel the high of a great one (erm, speaking of which, have I mentioned that In Twenty Years got a starred Library Journal review, which said “it’s a grand slam, must-read,”), but just as easy to feel truly wretched about the bad ones (half of all reviews posted on Goodreads). I always feel super-anxious about reviews before a book launch, and I give myself permission to check in on them – kind of to ensure that everyone isn’t hating it, but also to see if there is a constant thread that maybe I can learn from – until I also give myself permission to stop. I don’t need to know what everyone is saying about the book: I can’t rewrite it; I can’t undo any of the words inside. This probably gets back to the control thing…I want to feel in control by knowing what everyone is saying about it, but…I can’t control what they’re going to say. And if it makes me feel truly terrible to read something eviscerating, well, I don’t have to read it at all. Try it. Reading them or not reading them changes very little.
- There is Always Another One In You
I used to pin all of my hopes and energy on the current new release. I agonized that this would be the last good idea I’d ever come up with. And you know what? So far, that hasn’t happened. I know myself well enough now that I just need some time and space to reboot and breathe, and then usually, a seed plants itself somewhere in my brain and takes root. Give yourself a chance to nurture your creativity and find your own breath, and from there anything – another book or another three – is possible.
All right, now it’s your turn. What have you learned, WU’ers? Or, hey, anyone have anything good to say about Snapchat? ;-)
The floor is yours.