Have you ever tried to take a subject or thought as absolutely far as your mind can take it? I’m talking getting-a headache-but-can’t-stop far? I’m talking if-you-can-bend-the-light-there-is-no-spoon far? I’m talking down-the-rabbit-hole far?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this may be a good time to tune out. This isn’t stuff for the faint of heart. In my humble opinion, this is the stuff of true creative minds and like a gorgeous hard body with a perfect six pack and glistening muscles, it takes a mess of focus, commitment and hard work to get there. In this case, imagination work. NOTE: I didn’t say physical work or brain work. I said IMAGINATION WORK.
About twenty years ago I taught a “Thinking” class at a kids club. My students were inner-city children between 12 and 15 years old. An unruly gathering of young people so settled into their reality, anyone could see that without an imagination shake-up they were going nowhere. Their lives, values, expectations and emotions were limited to what they saw and heard everyday. My idea was to make them see past it, beneath it, around it and beyond it. High hopes, right? But I’m no expert at any of those things so I dug into my own reality to envision the turning points in my life that could have changed everything. I got a headache, couldn’t find the spoon and dropped like a rock into the rabbit abyss. Determining how to teach the class took longer than actually doing it.
There are benefits to every endeavor and I often wonder about those kids, where they are, if they ever thought twice about the classes after I left and if they learned anything. Here’s the kicker, I did. I discovered a whole world of metaphysical awareness I only imagined existed for other, more blessed and gifted people. And … I use that world in my practical life all the time.
Many of my classes had a basic structure, a direction or goal in mind but I determined early that how we’d get there was going to be revealed as we explored. Sounds like mayhem and it could have been but I didn’t introduce this concept until we’d gotten a few interesting classes under our belts and noticed that the faces walking into my classroom were bright and focused and ready for more. Then I just let the energy take over. For example, at the time, I had very long hair and a favorite fuchsia scrunchie I used to pull it up into a ponytail.
They sat, quiet and waiting (a rarity for 12 to 15 years olds), watching me with open interest. I simply tugged the scrunchie out and dropped it onto the table. “Teach is missing. She’s not here. The only clue you have is this. What happened to Teach?”
What followed was the most intriguing mystery I ever heard; Sherlock Holmes meets the Hardy Boys in the back streets of any dingy town. It encompassed their truths and realities with the spice of unexpected creativity. From there it flowed into the next class where the students arrived with a concept for a board game based on the mystery. Art supplies were provided and my class grew in number and inspired ideas. That concept expanded from board games to hand-drawn comic books to a novella plotted, written, typed and bound by the students. The power is inside the freedom and those students had a blast. For twelve weeks while they conceptualized and created their products, they explored various ideas and venues to sell them. And every phase of this process was NOT guided by me; it grew organically from expanding young imagination. I’m not sure, but I think I unleashed the next generation of marketing experts.
The end profits were born in the original passion. Their class experience wasn’t an instruction of techniques and skills to perfect, it was the growth of unique ideas and elements to support something they were proud of and loved.
Aren’t we all like that?
In this time of shifting economy and the added marketing workloads falling on an author’s shoulders, I think sometimes we miss the point. With my students, I never once said “create a product and I’ll teach you how to sell it”. I never told them that once their product was developed they’d be responsible for making it successful. Hell, I never even told them to create anything. The natural progression of logic, excitement and imagination made wonderful things happen.
We’re all kids. Writers dabble around the rabbit hole, explore characters and concepts and boldly, courageously, write them, pitch them and hopefully publish them. Then what do we do? We freeze. Our reality limits us, tells us we’re writers and that’s all we can or should do. It tells us that publishers do the marketing, someone else does the legwork and all we need to do is write.
When a concept germinates and develops we’re so excited! We know this is it, the one that’ll sell a million books. We feel the passions and even get glimpses of where the book should be, who will own it, love it and cherish it on their personal shelves. Then we nip that in the bud and move on. After all … someone else is supposed to do that stuff, right? Get the book into that reader’s hands? So, all our fleeting brilliance that should be part and parcel of the creation of the book and extend to how and where to make it visible, gets locked away.
With or without a big publishing house behind your book, you instinctively know things about publicity and marketing. It ain’t brain surgery. It’s only a meatball. The process is woven into the chapters, laced through the characters’ dialog and painted into the book cover image you have in mind. Why do authors abandon this essential extention of creation?
You know I’m a writer, but I’m also a publicist. When I write, I let the concepts for the book’s future flow through me and onto a cool little note pad I keep to the side. Those thoughts are vital, they will plot the road to success. I’m receiving those thoughts because they are elemental to the creative project at hand.
When I am functioning as a publicist, the process is surprisingly the same … but I have rules.
For example, I will not take on a client (especially of the author persuasion) unless they already understand their role in making a book successful. I’m not talking about authors who say “tell me where and when and I’ll be there with book sighing pen in hand”. Not interested in that author at all.
Here’s a truth all authors must swallow. Publicity and marketing are already structured into your project and you already know it. An author who calls me, tells me their story with passion and direction then blurts out strange ideas for marketing the book … now that’s my perfect client. I have practical and professional tools to implement a great idea. I do not work for a client … I work with them. Don’t give me your book, ask me to read it then tell you how I’ll publicize or market it. That’s when I use my favorite four letter word … N E X T. Do convey your passions about the story, the characters and the reader you want to speak to. Any good publicist can help you take your voice and put in traditional venues as well as off-the-wall places you instinctively knew to reach.
A good publicist/author relationship is about synergy. And a good author/imagination relationship should never be stifled just because it seems like someone else’s job. If it came to you, it’s yours. Own the idea, set it aside while you write, then bring it to the light to start the marketing and publicity ball rolling. Respect the ideas. If you don’t, who knows, someday they may just stop coming.
Just as you enjoyed the rabbit hole to create your wonderful book, take some time to look through those fleeting marketing ideas that you randomly jotted down. Go back to the rabbit hole again, go ahead, leap. Take the freefall and discover all the bizarre and unique solutions that drift past. When you land you’ll be right back where you started, only a whole lot more clear on your personal journey toward publishing and marketing success.
Now, while you do that … somewhere I have a spoon to bend. Oh, right, there is no spoon.