March 7, 2019
The Book Graveyard and what you can do about it.
Everyone's happy about their book until no one reads it.
I call this The Book Graveyard—a cycle of the publishing process that few talk about but is a very real thing for many books or most books that get published especially by small presses.
What is The Book Graveyard?
Well, after its first year (when the launches are over, the readings dry up, and the reviewers and review outlets are focused on the next season of books)—if a book hasn't been lauded or won awards, it will die a quick and painless death—although not painless for its author.
The Book Graveyard can be a disorienting and disappointing experience—especially if you are a new author or have very high expectations of what your book can do for you. You will blame yourself and others. You will wonder what happened and why.
Social media will make the experience much worse.
Most authors feel like they are the only ones whose books are in The Book Graveyard.
But the good news is there are few authors who are not in The Book Graveyard—you’ll find even the most celebrated authors there.
It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's part of the industry.
In fact, it’s part of most artistic industries. Out with the old in with the new—except when it’s your book, it can feel tragic.
Before landing in The Book Graveyard, I was in The Film Graveyard where I had my first experiences of having to cope with my expectations and the feelings of loss once a film is done its festival run. Because a couple of my films didn’t get into an important festival, I thought they hadn’t done that well—even though they had played at over 20 festivals and had won some awards and honourable mentions.
A few years later, I spoke with a granting officer who was checking on my eligibility for a grant I was applying for when he made a side comment about how well my short films had done on the festival circuit. I thought that was a strange comment.
Later I was on a granting jury for mid-career media artists, and I discovered when looking at the applicants’ CVs that my films were either on par or surpassed (in terms of number of festivals and/or awards) the applicants I was reviewing.
So for about five years, I had lived with this feeling that the scripts I had written had failed the production and the directors because they didn’t get into a coveted festival. I didn’t enjoy the other festival achievements or awards that the films received because of that one festival. What a mistake and waste of time and energy.
My first book of poetry was published when I was 40. I’m so glad I had that film experience behind me because by the time the book came out, I knew to keep my expectations in check and to get over it and myself.
I knew to enjoy the process, to not focus on the rewards because likely they wouldn’t come or wouldn’t come in ways that I wanted or expected. I knew to enjoy the launches, the readings, and I knew to delight in every achievement or success.
I had poisoned my film experience, and I was not going to do the same with my poetry.
Because I survived The Film Graveyard and The Poetry Graveyard (with four books six feet under), I’m offering some tips for coping with The Book Graveyard should your book find itself among the dead ones.
We don't have to only fixate on the new.
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