I Ain’t Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm No More

A non-combatant’s view of the book selling wars

I’m tickled to announce that my new book, Practicing the Presence of Peace, has just been released by Pathbinder Books. It’s currently available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and from fine bookstores near you, if you actually go to the desk and ask them to order a copy!) What a treat. What a moment! I’m tempted to sit back and smoke big cigars.
But no. According to publishing traditions and business expectations, the publication of one’s book is just the first step. An author then signs up or gets drafted into the book marketing wars! According to tradition, I’m supposed to start battling— elbowing, nudging, cutting in line trying to get ahead of the other 180,000 book authors who will publish a new book this year. We’re all supposed to fight each other for a spot in The New York Times Review of Books, or for an invite to Oprah, for strong approval by Library Journal, Book List and Publishers Weekly, or, lacking these, maybe just a quick mention in the Wheatland County Haybale Times.
But, as you can tell by title of my book, (Practicing the Presence of Peace) I’m a grizzled non-combatant. I’m really, really tired of the wars— all the wars, whether it be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on obesity, the war on tobacco— ad infinitum with this war biz. I’m tired of them. Wars don’t lead to peace. Only peace leads to peace. So I’m not fighting any more wars. And I encourage others to likewise drop out, refuse to join. “The only way the wars will end,” Napoleon observed, “is when the soldiers refuse to fight.”
So what to do?
Simple: Be at peace, both personally and professionally.
I can decide (and it is a decision) to be at peace with the 180,000 other book authors. Not only at peace. I can rejoice. What a wonderful time and place we have all come to— we brothers and sisters in the book publishing biz. What a rich, fruitful, dazzlingly colorful era for writers and readers. Why fight this? No need.
All publishers quickly (and secretly) acknowledge they have no idea how to make a best-seller. A rave review in the New York Times or a strong review in the Library Journal may indeed help sales, in the short run. The one and only sure-fire sentence that an author can utter that always results in a best-selling book is this sentence: “It’s nice to be back again, Oprah.” Without the opportunity to utter such a sentence, successfully selling a book is dicey. There are no guarantees.
So we might as well enjoy ourselves in the process. Let’s not beat ourselves up, or others up, about what we or they could be, should be, might be doing to promote our books more vigorously, more widely, more expertly, elegantly, professionally, perfectly. Of course there’s more we could be doing. This is my fourth book. I’ve learned that there are always more things to do than I or my publisher can do, or did do; always things we should have done, might have done that we didn’t. Welcome to earth.
This time I’m going to trust that each of the 180,000 new books has its own sweet and perfect destiny, and will find its own natural audience. I’m learning to trust that each book does have its own energy, its own place in the sun, whether that’s in a hidden valley in Idaho or on the main streets of London and New York.
As far as promoting our books, it’s the new millennium. Let’s just do what we enjoy to do, what’s fun to do, what seems right and natural and easy. Sure. There are those who want to make this book promotion business into a war. They’ll argue for pre-emptive bombing and sudden invasions and massive funds employed to support our cause. To paraphrase the scriptures, “The poor (the war-makers) will always be with us.”
I’m not going to listen to them this time around. Or as Bobby sings it, I ain’t going to work on Maggie’s farm no more. This time, I’m going to make the promotion of the book as much fun as was the writing of the book. This way, my real peace and prosperity are already immediately in hand.

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