Since I published my novel in 2006, I've learned a few things, and it's interesting to see how other writers are now going through the same process.
1. Book promotion is a necessary distraction. But don't let it distract you from writing.
I spent most of 2006 and even a bit of 2007 doing promotions: book signings, radio and newspaper interviews, talks, seminars, writer's conferences... the only thing I didn't do was go on Oprah's show. While all of that helped push the book and also got me publicity (and stroked my ego), in hindsight, it was just distraction from what I really should have been doing: write. I didn't write much that year. the whole book launch/promotion/publicity thing basically sidetracked me for an entire year, and by late 2007 I found myself playing catch up, trying to get back to my WIP.
And in hindsight, all the publicity didn't really do much for my sales (selling 100 more books is small potato in the grand scheme of my career). People have short attention spans, too. Once I have nothing in the pipeline and my book becomes backlisted, they'll forget me. My readers keep asking, "When can I read your next book?" and I got nothing. It's been another 2.5 years and I still got nothing, still working on the next book (it's now at 150K -- twice the length of The Pacific Between -- thank you very much). That's not something conducive to my writing career. Writers write. Authors publish. I realized all that book promotion thing has done was about my ego, and not much else. I'd rather have another book coming out now and let the readers be the judge than have had all those interviews and book signings.
I also find that it's difficult to promote myself and get publicity when I have only one book under my belt. Like it or not, one book doesn't a career make. People want to know what else we have. Can they read the next book? Where can they find it? When they realize this is your first and you have nothing else to offer, they eventually will forget about you and move on to something else. You may, of course, keep doing the promotion thing and keep getting yourself out there, but at the end of the day, it's our WORK that defines us. We are selling our work, our platforms, not ourselves. And it's the work we must focus on regardless of all the excitement and wonderfulness of being published (especially our debut).
So in short: been there, done that. I know better now.
2. Write to entertain, not to preach
Writers have things to say. Clever things. Profound things. Unique things. Great writers inspire others to think of their worlds differently, to experience things outside of their own realms. We learn from them. We are enlightened and educated.
And yet, I discovered it's just a byproduct of great writing. Great writers do not set out to preach their views and politics and philosophies. Great writers do have something to say, but they say it in an interesting, entertaining, unique way. All those great symbolisms and lessons and philosophies are embedded in a great story. That's what readers are looking for: stories. If they learn something from the stories, all the better; but readers don't seek out fiction to be preached at.
It's not to say a writer can't have opinions and shouldn't try to influence the readers with such opinions. What great writers can do is make these great lessons and opinions transparent. When you enthrall your readers with a great story and immerse them in that world, they become open to the ideas and opinions and lessons. But when you write the story for the purpose of preaching these ideas and opinions, you will fail.
When I started writing The Pacific Between, I made the mistake of wanting to opine about my views on love, relationships, and the purpose of life through a series of dramatic events. I had themes and ideas I wanted to convey, and I focused on how to mold my plot and story and prose to convey such themes and ideas. The result was a hacked plot, one that was too obviously preachy. By the second half of the book, I was more at ease with the storytelling and my focus switched. I tried to entertain; I tried to make the readers keep turning the pages because they'd want to find out what happened next. The result was a much more engaging second half. Don't get me wrong. The themes and ideas were still there, but they were much more transparent. The final product -- the entire novel -- still suffers from a bit of heavy-handedness and philosophical mumble-jumble, but it's much more pared down and transparent.
With my WIP, I'm not trying to preach at all. In fact, I am not even sure what the themes and lessons are. My focus is now entirely on telling an entertaining, intriguing story with great characters. If my readers find deeper, profound meanings in the story, good for them. But I want them to come back and read it again, then again, and again, and tell others what a great story it is, and not because it's such a "great lesson." I'm not their teacher. I'm a storyteller.
3. Write well, but write a lot
I hate to say it, and I don't want to offend anyone, but readers are loyal but fickle at the same time. They're, after all, consumers. Readers may be loyal because they love your writing, and they want to read everything you've written. That's great. But it's not so great if you don't have much published, is it? I've heard readers asking me constantly, "So, when can I read your next book?" Well, I don't have a next book for them to read, and probably not for a while. So that's the problem. Readers are also fickle. If you have nothing available for them, they move on. They go somewhere else. They read someone else. Call them when you're ready. There's nothing wrong with it; we're consumers and our lives do not revolve around our favorite authors' schedules. As readers, we'll gladly buy the author's next book and enjoy it and talk about it; until then, we have other things to do.
That's what I said before: one book does not a career make. If we want to be career writers, we need to keep writing. We need to keep the products coming. We need to make sure that our readers know we're serious about this business, and that we're productive, and that they can always look for something from us.
The fact is that even as we slave over a book for 5 or 3 years, making it perfect (and then another 2 years to get it published), it only takes a reader a day or two, or maybe a week, to read it. The time investment is disproportionally unfair. But that's the way it is. To us writers, it's our life's work. To the readers, it's just a book.
Yes, even the Harry Potter series are just books. Rowling's adoring fans are now asking, "What's next?"
While I was still working on book 2, I kept writing short stories, and I put them together into a little collection and make it available. Not that a lot of people know about it, or read it. But the fact is, I keep writing, and I keep building my repertoire of literary work.
So, don't take ourselves too seriously. Don't believe for a moment that we, as writers, are the center of our readers' universes. Our job is to tell stories, great stories. Our job is to keep entertaining our readers. So, keep those stories coming.