Tending to all your art

18 ATM - plantWhen Erin Chack, senior writer at BuzzFeed, wanted to share what it felt like to produce her YA novel, This Is Really Happening, she simulated the experience of giving birth. In fact, that’s often what it does feel like for authors when each book is published – and tending to one’s books can feel a lot like parenting with each having it’s own needs and challenges.

The success or difficulty each book has in terms of reviews, book sales and its status at the publishing house also can either bolster or take its toll on the author’s confidence when it comes to marketing and writing subsequent books. It poses questions of how much attention each new book should get and presents a risk of prematurely orphaning a book or project before finding out how the market will actually respond over time.

As publishers and book marketers who handle many books can tell you, individual books can surprise you, and it’s not always apparent what a book’s potential is before giving it a concerted effort with marketing and promotion. In the context of good vs. bad reviews, one of the most striking conversations I had with a client was about one book that had been the author’s second publication many years before and then was reissued after that author had won a number of prestigious awards for other books. One key review journal had originally given the book a lukewarm review, and then when the book was reissued, the same publication came out with a review by a different person that gave substantial praise for the same book. Whether that was just a difference in reviewer opinion or influenced by the author’s subsequent career was unclear, but the fact is that had the book received the very favorable review on its first go-round, it would have had an impact on both the author’s confidence and the market’s perception of the author.

In a recent conversation with an artist who was struggling with a similar question – whether she should include work she had done previously in an upcoming show or try to make new, better work, I asked whether she was sure the earlier work wasn’t as worthy of being shown. In the case of an author, a question might be: how can you tell what role each book may play in your overall body of work? So, in the case of Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird made her a huge success with the very first book she published, but what if that had been her fifteenth or her fiftieth book? How would the market have perceived her then? What if another of her books had been less of a critical success, but had made a significant impact on some number of its readers? And what if the sequence of the books in an author’s body of work is a roll of the dice – that you don’t know whether your Newbery winning or top-selling book will come out at the beginning, middle or later part of your career? The fact is, your career will benefit from trying to give each book its due – in the writing and in the marketing because each new one can build on the ones before whether by proving more successful than the last, or providing a chance to make mistakes and then improve in the next round.