I Do What I Can Do
Today it hit me again. It’s one of my strong operating principles about this publishing life. I try to do what I can do and leave the rest of it in God’s capable hands. I fully realize it’s impossible for me to do everything that needs to get done.
In the last few days, I’ve touched base with a number of people via email. Some of those people have been responding and one or two of them have been calling me. My phone rang this afternoon and it was a guy who had lost my business card and phone number. Thankfully I didn’t lose his information and I wrote to him.
Months ago I interviewed him for one of my books. He asked, “Did that book get finished?”
“I believe so. I haven’t seen it but I believe it’s out there,” I hedged in my response. While my part of the project is completed, I haven’t seen the finished work. This person was interested in buying a large quantity of this particular book. I sensed this large potential sale and I passed the information along to the appropriate people—but the sale never sent through and the deal was never closed. There are a million different reasons why it never happened—and all of them out of my immediate control. This sale is not a lost cause and could still happen down the line but didn’t happen at the beginning of the project. In some ways, I shook my head—then I remembered my philosophical statement—I can only do what I can do. And I felt better.
Any type of publishing is a consensus building process. In the magazine world, you have to work with your editor. That editor has to work with other editors and designers to produce the best possible magazine. In children’s books, you have to work with your acquisitions editor. This editor has to convince a number of others inside the publishing house before the book appears in print. After a book gets into print, sales and marketing have to get behind the book. The retailer has to purchase the book from sales and stock it in the bookstores. Special sales have to move the book into various markets outside the bookstore. Word of mouth has to get going and people have to be buzzing and talking about the book. The press has to be talking about the books in different media like newspapers, television, radio and print. It’s almost a domino effect. If one or several of the dominos aren’t in alignment, then the book doesn’t get into people’s hands and it doesn’t sell. Many things can derail this process along the way. It’s much more than one person.
Several years ago, I was involved with a book which I thought would naturally sell a ton of copies. The author was well-known in certain segments of the market. Publicity got behind the book and this author did almost 100 radio interviews during the time the book was released. The author even produced a short tract from his book and with a team of people handed thousands of these tracts out to people. I worked with the author and made sure the tract matched the cover of the book—and the tract included order information about the book. The impact? The sales were limited for this book. What happened?
Looking back I’m unsure. I know I did what I could do—but it takes a team. Who knows if sales were able to convince bookstores to carry this particular book. And if sales sold the book, how many copies did they sell? One or two? When they sold, did the retailer have the right inventory control to quickly restock the book? Or did that process take several weeks or months or never happen? There are many places in the selling chain of a book or a magazine or any product, where it can break down.
Part of me was bothered with my phone conversation today. It was somewhat of a missed opportunity. I tried to do what I could do—I called the publisher and reminded them of this opportunity. I followed up my phone call with an email including the information. I did what I can do.
Now the hard part, I’ve got to leave the results in God’s hands.
You may be facing all sort of challenges with your writing today. You may have articles in circulation and be getting rejected. You may have book proposals that you can’t sell. You may have fiction manuscripts where you’ve worked long hours and they are not finding a home and all you are getting is form rejection letters. Are they in circulation? Then applaud and feel good. You are doing what you can do. If the manuscripts are still tucked inside your file drawer, you’d better get moving.