Planes, Readings, and Mayhem: My Year on the Road
While 2019 was a shitshow in many aspects, it was a fantastic year for me as a writer. I sold two novels in France and one in Turkey, received nominations for the Stoker and Locus awards, and won the Wonderland Book Award. I was invited to places like the Texas Book Festival, which I'd been going to for a decade as a fan, and the Oxford Conference for the Book in Mississippi. However, my favorite thing was that I spent a lot of time on the road doing book stuff. I read in Austin, Houston, Baltimore, Denver, Grand Rapids, and Chicago. I gave keynote speeches in Marquette, Chicago, and Houston. I spent three days in New York working on a secret project. I love reading in public and any time I have a chance to sit on a panel, I jump on it. The only reason I don't do it more often is that I'm too broke, but in 2019 I was lucky enough to reach a point where some of what I was doing gave me money to pay for other things. I learned a lot, and I want to share some of the most important lessons with you.
So, how did my year start? Well, I decided to do everything in my power to get Coyote Songs in front of more readers, so I promised myself I would say yes to everything I could. Besides being poor I have a full-time job as a teacher, so saying yes isn't always easy...or possible. However, that's not rare because most of the writers I know also have a job (or, like me, three). Yeah, the first lesson is easy: fuck fear and always say yes.
The second lesson was a bit more complicated, but I've been a small press writer for a while and that prepared me well. So here it is: you have to be prepared to do everything. I'll give you an example. I was going to get paid to go talk/sign at the Oxford Conference for the Book. However, I didn't have the money for a plane ticket and my car, which had no AC, was too old and busted to make the 700-mile trip there and then back. Long story short: I rented a car and drove myself there. About thirty minutes into my drive, which I started at 3:30am, I realized I'd left my books back home, so I had to turn around and go get them. That's the level of hustle it takes. No money for plane fare? Drive. No distribution? Bring your own books. "No problem" should be your perennial state of mind.
By now you're probably saying, "I'm willing to do that, but no one is inviting me anywhere." Well, here's your third lesson: you have to put yourself out there all the damn time. And that one goes hand-in-hand with the next lesson: establishing yourself as an authority is crucial to your career, so hurry up and destroy your imposter syndrome. Some of what I've done and the invitations I've received come from years of work. Some, however, have been the direct result of me screaming online "Hey, I'm here and I'm ready, willing, and able. Invite me to things!" You know what you do, you know what your areas of expertise are, and you know your education. I've been researching diversity in publishing for years, so now I'm ready to talk about it and other related issues to anyone who will pay me to do so.
Here's something else I learned: things will pile up and then there will be nothing for a while. I did a bit of nothing for a while because there were no events to go to. In November, for example, I I flew up to Marquette for three days to give a keynote, flew home, worked for three days, flew up to Chicago, delivered another keynote and a reading, flew from Chicago to New York, spent three days working in New York, and flew back home. I got in at 2:30am and was at work by 7:00am. That's how it goes. If you want to rest or watch your favorite Netflix series, then stay home.
I've always loved readings and panels, but that's because my personality is a good fit for them. That said, I know for other people those situation can be uncomfortable. For me, the thought of going somewhere where I don't know anyone sometimes makes me question if I should. The answer is always a resounding yes. Here's another lesson I relearned this year: fear is one of your worst enemies. Get out there and do the thing that makes you happy.
Is travelling a lot of mayhem? It sure is, when events pile up on top of each other. Will you feel great after spending a week on airplanes, not sleeping well, and eating shitty food? No, but enjoying every second of it because you're doing what you love will make you feel great. Are airplanes cool? No, airplanes are horrible, the air inside them is horrible, and TSA/carrying bags is horrible. However, going places beats the shit outta staying home, and getting out there in front of people does more for your career than you think, so go ahead and do it.
On top of all the traveling mentioned above, I spent a week in Denver (my second visit this year) and a week is Georgia for work. I also visited Puerto Rico to see my family and then drove out of Texas and through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle to say goodbye to the year in Orlando. I carried my laptop with me everywhere and made time to write, read, review, grade, teach, and turn in stories and essays. That's what life on the road demands, but what you get back makes it all worth it. I'm already planning trips to San Antonio, two different trips to Virginia, and France. What's that? You would like me to come to your event? Hell yeah! I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you?
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