Here’s an ad. Do you see it? Scroll up. Three books. Each not remotely like the other.

Watchers of this space know I write in several genres. Those who know me personally realize I find everything interesting. Those who know self-publishing on a shoestring budget understand we who do it create everything. Writing (of course), book design, websites, and, in this case, home-spun social media ads. Or, if we’ve a few extra dollars, we hire people to do the things we are worst at.

There’s pride in that, even with the odd (occasionally very odd) typo, design error, and strategic blunder. The pride is not unlike that of completing something in childhood. For me, it is like the snow forts I built when I was a boy, just south of Chicago, looking at a beastly creation made with dirty snow and misshapen walls. Those forts could barely stop a snowflake let alone a swiftly thrown snowball. Still, I did it.

We fend off those who kibitz how they would do it. Sometimes with a kind word and sometimes with a stick.

We watch those who are actually doing it. I’ve watched countless videos, read several books, and spoken with numerous people successful at whatever aspect I’m not. Then we go on and do the complete opposite having misunderstood the concept. Or we apply good wisdom.

We spend hours refining our craft while also wearing the many hats required.

We are risk-takers, letting the world judge our work, good and bad. We read reviews that cause us to cringe, “How could they miss the main point?” Then we wonder if it was our writing and not their blindness, that led them in a direction we never intended.

We are entrepreneurs. We hope others will love our work, but we also have to pay for the tools of the trade, as well as the coffee we so copiously drink.

In the meanwhile, publishing these three books, each drawing from passions of mine, felt anti-climatic. My preference would’ve been to see them picked up by a traditional author, but, after years of submitting my work to magazines without any bites, I took things into my own hands. I’m still open to such an arrangement.

We must think in ways not dissimilar from the local restaurateur.

An Italian Restaurant

An Italian restaurant owner might have learned to make braciole from his mom, before trying his hand at Stracotto di Fassona Piemontese, then teaching himself sauces and creams from an old cookbook his great-aunt Giuseppa found in the attack. He promised his Aunt Gus-Gus (she liked to call herself that) to someday learn every dish, which he did, eventually serving his version of saltimbocca at her funeral.

After losing his job as an accountant at a commercial real estate company, he gathered up his savings and rented the space previously used by Melina’s Taverna. It was a Greek restaurant, but when Melina moved back to Athens, it closed.

So now he (he needs a name, so I’ll call him Francesco) opens Franco’s, an mid-level Italian restaurant. No saltimbocca. Too complicated when there’s a rush. Good help is hard to keep. A waiter stole a case of Sangiovese wine and the petty cash ($400). A dead mouse was found in the vegetables. The menu is outdated and has typos, but his graphic designer isn’t returning calls. The contractor who he paid 50% to hasn’t shown up to fix the loose boards on the deck.

How many tomatoes should Francesco buy? What quality of beef can he afford? How does he respond to a three out of five starred review he knows happened on a day he was short staffed? Should he add more gluten free options? Is it still worth buying ads in the community magazine?

Francesco is stressed out. Friday and Saturday are fully booked, but there is nothing on Sunday.

Friday arrives, and everything goes as expected, but he didn’t get home until 2:00 AM.

Saturday naturally follows. He arrives at the restaurant at 8:00 AM, expecting a delivery of seafood. It doesn’t arrive until 10 AM, and they open at 11:00. People start streaming in, and Francesco is barely holding things together. The dinner crowd arrives, and it’s a packed house. Success is good, but he’s overwhelmed. Suddenly, the restaurant goes quiet. At three different tables, men are down on their knees holding up a ring to women whose smiles brighten the room. One of the men can’t be more than 21 years old. Another man looks to be around 30. And finally, the third man, dressed in a tuxedo, starts singing a song in Italian, one Francesco remembered his dad singing to his mom. Several other patrons sing along.

The couples each recognizing the coincidence of the occasion, congregate at the older couple’s table to congratulate each other to a standing ovation from everyone, including the wait staff.

Francesco’s heart fills with joy, pride, and a twinge of melancholy. He sends two glasses of wine, on the house, to each couple. Not the Sangiovese. That’s all gone. Prosecco to each.

He’s not overwhelmed. He’s overjoyed. This is why he opened Franco’s with little more than a cookbook and a dream.

That’s what it’s all about. There has to be some native skill, as well as some trained skill, in the craft in question. To get it to final finished form, in the sort of way that appeals to others, that reaches others, there’s a lot of work. A lot of mistakes, errors, disappointments, and flat-out blunders. Not every element of it can be controlled, and in the end, it’s not unlike the wisping seed of a dandelion. It goes where it goes.

Authors as Entrepreneurs

This brings us around to the three books you see in the image. Francesco, Gus-Gus, Melina, and Franco’s Restaurant aren’t real, but I am. I published three books.

Those are three very different books, with, as you can see camera a large spider, a collection of literary short stories in the vein of Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allan Poe, and a collection of modern folk tales that are merge (in my mind) the best of Garrison Keillor, James Thurber, Richard Chase, and American folk tales.

I showed them this weekend at an art fair. This was seven minutes from my home and a million miles from my comfort zone.

I sold a few, but not nearly as many as I hoped. I did two short performances that led to absolutely no sales whatsoever. I met a lot of wonderful people (including some cool neighbors), but I didn’t have time to have good conversations with as many as I would have liked. My lips got sunburned. My back aches. And I still have a case of books that I’m hoping to find a home. I still have to figure out how to sell them from my website.

Planet Earth

Meanwhile, getting my name out on Amazon isn’t easy. Publishing is easy enough. Selling is an entirely different thing. Customers can buy them without any hitches come up but they’ve got to find them first. To find them, they either need to look for them, or have them presented to them one way or another. Some of that requires advertising and marketing. Since I didn’t make enough money at the fair, I don’t have advertising money to roll back into it. The algorithms, which are partly based on book rank, don’t favor authors whose books don’t rank in the top 500,000.

I would like to tell you a story that led to everyone singing, falling in love, and singing my praises. That’s just my ego speaking. I don’t have that story yet. Maybe it won’t happen that way.

In the meanwhile, I have to sort out my website sales question, drop off some books at an art gallery, and make some phone calls to find out if local nature centers are interested in my spider book. Then I’ve got to work on an in-school program, where I perform and talk about things I’ve written.

Maybe I’ll actually get to write too.