I’ve spent the majority of my twenties working on my upcoming book. I will be twenty-nine when it comes out in August. In a way, it grew up with me: from getting the idea for it after graduating from Hofstra University in 2013, to outlining it in my first apartment a year later, in Harlem, to writing it on breaks during my various day jobs, to deleting over thirty-thousand words and starting over after moving to Brooklyn two years later, to getting an agent, to losing said agent a year later, when they left agenting for publicity, until eventually securing a book deal on my own with a small, albeit mighty and rapidly growing, independent press. Round after round of edits.
At long last: a publication date! A cover I never get tired of looking at! An ISBN number! A hardcover release! A blurb from one of my comedy writer heroes! I have created something tangible that I can leave behind, long after I pass away from probably choking on a garlic knot.
Of course, anyone who’s written a book or is in any way familiar with the world of publishing knows that a book’s success relies heavily on the months prior to its official release. Whether you’re being published by one of the traditional publishing houses—The Big Five, as they say—or a small, independent press based out of a storage unit in Tuscaloosa, pre-orders are critical to the life and sales of a book: they count towards first-week sales, which determine a slew of best-seller lists; they gauge interest, ergo incentivizing bookstores and libraries to stock copies; and, most importantly, they buoy media visibility, increasing the chances of future book deals and other career opportunities, like speaking engagements or gigs in TV and film, and offer stability for writers used to living paycheck-to-paycheck.
If you’re lucky, your publisher already has an in-house marketing team, alleviating you of the burden of trying to contact editors, producers, and other folks in media, trying to get on those coveted lists and round-ups. Or maybe you’ve hired a freelance publicist. Or you’re Stephen King and have both. Or, you’re someone like me who’s taken on extra jobs, just to save up for a publicist when the time comes because you know much rides on a debut.
AND WHAT A YEAR TO DEBUT IN.
In case you need a recap, which you might, because remember Parasite? It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this October. Up until now, we’ve spent the majority of 2020 in our respective homes—unless, of course, you’re on the frontlines battling COVID-19, which, by the way, is very much still happening. Authors who have ostensibly spent years of their life working up to this moment, a venture that, more times than not, began long before signing the yearned-for contract, find themselves scrambling. Tours and readings have been canceled, literary festivals and conferences have been postponed, if not canceled completely, and any other in-person literary events that offer authors access to a new pool of readers have been suspended for the foreseeable future.
Publishers are now forced to pivot to all-digital promotion, but what happens to the authors published by indie presses, who don’t have the resources to organize a four-hundred-person live stream or have sway over Reese Witherspoon’s next book club selection?
As someone publishing their first book with a small press, my fear is this: I won’t find the readership that in-person events, readings, and tours grant. New readers, and word of mouth as a result of these appearances and events, could make or break not just my book’s success, but my chances of selling another book.
What’s going to happen when the time comes to find an agent again, and if I’m lucky enough to sign with one, what will happen when editors eventually ask about my previous book sales? Or, more likely, they’ll skip asking altogether and just use Nielson BookScan to access my sale data, and instead of numbers, they just find the shrug emoji. I worry that my chances of making this a career will be thwarted, that the gate keepers of publishing, and all who stand between me and a more financially sustainable life, will doubt my potential and ability to generate sales, making any upward mobility almost impossible.
I’m not looking for disposable income or the opportunity to start using “summer” as a verb here, but I am looking for a life where I can check my bank account balance without immediately getting a stomach ulcer. That’s all the luxury I need. But I can’t get there if I don’t do everything I can in order to get the word out of my book now, the book I devoted eight years of my life to.
Promoting anything right now feels weird, especially while we hit the streets to protest the state-sanctioned murder of Black people and commit to being actively anti-racist, even when the media cycle inevitably moves on. This is the work we have to do every day, because anti-Blackness permeates every facet of society: education, housing, public health equity, hiring discrimination—and dismantling the ideologies of white supremacy we’ve been indoctrinated with is going to take time. These are actions that must continue regardless of external factors like news headlines.
But when it comes to the ongoing pandemic, I won’t not honor the years of my life spent on this project. It might be a comedic memoir—I would argue that laughter is more important than ever right now—but, more importantly, it is a culmination of years of labor that has survived ups and downs, break-ups, breakdowns, bad jobs, good jobs, layoffs, debt, loss, grief, trauma, and everything in between, and I don’t feel guilty or gauche for shamelessly promoting the proof of my survival—and the laughter I’m still able to muster after it all—in the middle of a shitshow. But guess what, the world has always been a shitshow.
There’s not much I can do besides work with the people I’m grateful to have on my team to get the word out through digital promotion like giveaways, readings on Instagram, and other social media content, but that’s how it’s going to look for the foreseeable future, for me and every other author out there with a book coming out. I don’t know what August will look like. All I can do is assure myself that I wrote a good book and, after years of taking care it—making sure it’s grown into the best version of itself it can be—trust that it will now take care of me.
Greg Mania is the author of the upcoming memoir, Born to Be Public.