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If Gatsby Can Do It

97px-Gatsby_1925_jacket

“Gatsby 1925 jacket” Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Great Gatsby via Wikipedia

In a lot of ways, writing a novel reminds me of The Little Engine That Could. The author must plug along, muddle through the tough parts, and then once it’s polished, keep propelling it forward through marketing. It takes a lot of effort. No wonder a lot of books flop.

I’m sitting on a nearly finished, highly polished “first of the trilogy.” It’s easy to worry that this sliver of my creative mind will be a flop. So many questions of doubt–if someone gives me a chance on the first book, do I have what it takes to write the second and third? Or, if I do, what if I put all that time and energy in and the first book flops, and no one ever reads the second and third? As with my last post, I know where that doubt arises, and it’s a temptation I must overcome, but nonetheless, I find myself searching for encouragement, that publishing can be a real possibility.

Yes, I know I could always self-pub, but traditional publishing is on my bucket list.

Of course, I’ve not actively queried or made a huge effort to promote at this point, so it’s really just a fear of the unknown.

Anyone relate?

I love NPR’s Fresh Air, and stumbled upon this little gem from September 8, 2014, a 38-minute interview with Maureen Corrigan regarding her book, So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures.

Here’s a quote from the NPR article describing the reception of the book in its time:

The literary readers — people like Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, Gilbert Seldes, who was a critic and reviewer of the time who really got Gatsby — they loved it. …

The popular reviewers read it as a crime novel and thought for the most part that it was maybe just OK. There’s a famous headline for a review of The Great Gatsby that came out in theNew York World, and the headline reads, “Fitzgerald’s Latest A Dud.”

Fitzgerald died having no idea of Gatsby’s future success. Another quote, from Corrigan’s book:

What happened to me, a former high-school apostate (idiot), is exactly what happened throughout America, broadly speaking, in the 1940s and ’50s; like me, those midcentury critics and readers gave Gatsby a second chance and were knocked out.

According to the article, what happened was World War II. Publishers printed thousands of copies of books and sent them to soldiers overseas, hoping to give them something to distract them from the fear of war. And as we all know, Gatsby exploded into a powerhouse story.

What’s interesting to me is how well that worked as an unintentional marketing strategy. It makes me wonder what strategies I might take with my books in the future to promote and propel them.

Since I write YA, what if I purchased several copies of  my own book to donate to school or church libraries? Maybe I could drop some copies off in the hospital waiting room or send them to local doctor’s offices?

Friends of mine have suggested promotional bookmarks, and offer tips about distributing them. It would be easy and cheap to print tons of them and send them out to high school English teachers.

I think, in these days of self-promotion, success comes down to how hard you want to work for it. Even for traditionally published authors.

This interesting article addresses self-promotion, from The New York Times Sunday Book Review, by Tony Perrottet. He goes through the history and points out that even back in the day, many of the greats had to engage in self-promotion to sell books.

So, perhaps I’ve written a flop. Maybe you have, too. But that old proverb comes to mind:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Do We Own Our Creative Genius?

For years, I’ve been teaching young children in Bible class to memorize Psalm 139:14:

I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I want them to write it on their hearts and never forget the words. There are no self-made men. There is no self-driven success. We are all made in His image, given the talents that He wishes us to have. As James 1:17 says,

Every good and perfect gift is from above.

Why, then, is it so hard to consider our creative genius as a gift from God? Why do we beat ourselves up over the lack of it, and doubt our ability to produce work of the quality it should be? A new friend challenged me on this today, on my fear that I can’t write anything “publish-worthy.” He said if it’s “God-worthy,” then it’s ready to be used. So true, and yet sometimes so hard to believe.

I know why I doubt, why we all doubt. Get behind me, Satan. I worry about the things of men instead of the things of God.

I recently watched a TED talk from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who spoke on this very thing. She talked of the tormented creative geniuses over the past five hundred years who believed their genius came from an internal source, and raised the question as to why creative greatness could not be a glimpse of God.

He is, after all, the great Creator–would it not please Him that we create our own beauty as well? He gives us the inspiration and tools, and we make beautiful music or art, though I think the Bible is clear that he wants us to use these gifts to honor Him. As it says in 1 Peter 4:7-11, we must do everything to the glory of God. If we do, then perhaps we will allow others to see Him through us.

Gilbert makes the point that perhaps our genius is something we hold onto for a short time, and then it moves on to someone else. She’s speaking metaphorically, of course, but how presumptuous of us to expect that we should be permitted to use our God-given talent to propel ourselves further and further into success over the course of our entire life.

So, my prayer today is to keep my focus on His message, that perhaps through the words on my page, someone might see Him more clearly.