My latest novel, The Next Thing is Joy: The Gospel According to Vivian Grace, has NOT been doing well.
Wait…that’s definitely an understatement.
Despite a promising release week, the sales suck. Big time.
If it was a record in the music industry, it would have easily gone “toothpick” or “cotton” (as opposed to gold or platinum).
And I suppose there are those of you reading right now who are cringing and thinking that I shouldn’t reveal this information to the public. That I should continue acting as if the book is rocking out–you know, fake it until you make it.
BUT IT ISN’T! Rocking out, that is. And to borrow from that deeply spiritual and prophetic voice, MC Breed, “Ain’t no future in me frontin’!”
So what happened?
Well the first thing that comes to mind is: Is the book any good?
The reviews have been good. Slow-coming but anywhere from decent to outstanding. The primary constructive criticism I receive is that the book starts slow. Which I’ll concede. That was intentional. Necessary even, in my mind, for the proper unfolding of the story. But even then, I suppose the book could still suck. *shiver*
But maybe it’s the subject matter? Domestic violence, particularly written with the kind of vivid detail I do, can be off-putting to some.
Or maybe it’s the historical back-drop of the Black Panther Movement? Do people even know who they are nowadays? I mean, the ORIGINAL Black Panther Party (no shade). Huey and ’em.
Well, is it being marketed well? Hmm. Another excellent question. One I don’t know how to answer fully. I do know that for a while, the book was being marketed (admittedly by myself and the publisher) to an audience that prefers more plot-driven, fully commercial kinds of books–which Vivian Grace is not.
I also have been wondering if it’s because the first two books in this read-in-any-order trilogy was written ten and five years ago. Quite frankly, I’m not the same writer I was ten and five years ago. Not by a long shot. And I hope that’s a good thing. I hope that means I’ve grown. Found my voice and all that jazz. But those who may be expecting the same style of writing from the first two books, might be confused by my shift. Scratch that. They ARE confused by the shift. How do I know? Those books sold very well. This one hasn’t.
Question, questions, questions. I have plenty of them. None of which have led me to any clear answers. Answers that I’m not even sure would matter if I got them. Because whatever the reason for the faltering, it’s Tracey Michae’l Lewis written on the cover of that book. It’s my heart, my late night word-wrestling, my tears on those 200+ pages. And every paltry royalty check FEELS LIKE a bull-horn of judgement; evidence of my “falling short”; an indictment of my talent.
Certainly no one SHOULD attach their worth to their work–no matter how identified with it one is.. I know I shouldn’t do it. I mean, I am a child of God. I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” There’s no clause that says, “Only if you write wonderful, well-received books” or “Only if your books always sell well.” But can I tell you the truth? Sometimes I do attach my worth to my work. Hey, I’m just being honest. Validation means something in this business whether I like or not. Whether it’s authentic or not.
But here’s the good news: What’s going on with my book has been a catalyst for deeper reflections for me. Most significantly about this writing journey. I know that this is my gift. God gave me words and the ability to manipulate them to create meaning. To ultimately use said words to teach, to encourage, to speak life and truth to power. “Word is bond” is WAY more to me than a cute little throwback, slang phrase. My words are my bonds. They are what connects me to you.
So, in that sense, what I do is a lovely privilege. It’s beautiful. I’m grateful.
But this business? Yo, whether its readers, editors, publishers, other authors, marketers, publicists, distributors, retailers, or Amazonian monsters that come out of nowhere just to gobble up everything in sight—the business of writing will drive you crazy if you let it. You can get so caught up in all the noise that you will find yourself missing the point. Missing what truly matters.
I’m determined to not miss what matters most.
And yet, the tension is still there. There’s a thin line between the beautiful place and the crazy. And I’m way to close to it.
Hi, breaking point. Nice to meet you.
(more real talk ahead, proceed with caution)
At one point I really had to ask myself, am I going to continue lose my ever-loving mind chasing some notion of literary stardom? Because that’s what it feels like. It feels like you’re going crazy, like you are not just wading but diving head first into the deep end of everyone’s validation of you and your work. Maannn, listen. I have a kid, a husband and work to do. Stories to tell. Stories that don’t give a flip whether or not I crack a bestseller’s list or sell millions of copies. The stories just want to breathe and they can’t if I’m so consumed by the minutia that comes with brand-building that I pimp my pen to the highest bidder or worse, simply stop writing altogether.
The latter being something that, only recently, I’ve dared to contemplate.
But who am I fooling? The stories will strangle me if I ever really gave them up. The messages, prophetic and otherwise, I’ve been given would singe my soul if I tried to quench them.
And therein lies the rub.
Because some days, I just freakin’ don’t want to do it anymore. At least not in the professional, hope-this-pitch-is-accepted, hope-somebody-buys-my-book kind of way. I long for the days when I was so full with passion that the words just spilled out of the overflow of my heart. Yeah, I was still hustling and grinding and learning but there was a kind of purity in my pursuit. I was naive to the business of writing. I wrote out of compulsion. Because words were like a valve that released the pressures of life. Because I had to. In the spiritual sense. Not the financial one.
And you know, I think that’s what has pushed me to start my own publishing venture, NewSeason Books. Not because I’m so great at this stuff. But because I want to create a space for authors to be able to press up against the lines drawn for them by the industry or better yet, erase them altogether.
But the truth is, I often wonder if I can keep that vibe going even in my own endeavor. Transformational Literature (our tagline) sounds good. But will I be able to sustain the vision? Or will I simply succumb to watering said vision down so I can acquire some kind of pseudo-favor from the alleged powers that be? Will I be able to truly manage my own work, maybe even pressing pause on some of it, in order to invest in the authors I sign–you know, truly make room for them and their stories? Or is NewSeason Books simply a vanity project, a way for me to be validated in a finicky business that shifts their opinion on me and my work on an hourly basis anyway?
Gosh I hope and pray not.
My faith tells me that I should not be “weary in well-doing” (Gal 6:9). Well, this work ain’t doing well, so I’m going to take my pass. But know this: I’m hanging on. I’m hanging on to the hope of another scripture: “…a broken and contrite spirit, God will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)
Because, when it comes to the more savage aspects of this industry, your girl done broke.