Looking back on the first year of New Bayou Books
What Does 52 Weeks Get You?
It’s been about a year since I started this blog. And on one hand, a lot has happened. On the other, not much.
I’ve been making notes on the lessons I’ve learned over the past 52ish weeks. They fall into categories with an advisory flavor like “prioritize creativity and independence”, “be selective about online inputs,” and “beware the woke”. I have little essays drafted for each category.
But I’m going to save all that for another time. For today I’m just gonna do like Guy Clark said in that song about the guitar . . . just rare back and burn it. Here goes.
Ambition, Delusion, or Something Else?
Last year at this time, when I wrote my first blogs for NewBayouBooks.com, I had seriously ambitious plans to be making a pretty big splash in the publishing world by now. They involved multi-pronged marketing and outreach strategies, efforts to recruit emerging writers, and I had even assembled a team of people to help. Optimism and ambition were high.
And in retrospect, that’s probably the right word because I must’ve been high to have had such grandiose delusions about what was possible . . . or at least likely. So far, the book sales have not materialized. I did actually get one unsolicited submission from a fellow writer, which was actually very cool (it didn’t click, but it was still awesome). And the team I had pieced together fell apart even before the money ran out. The rose colored glasses I was wearing in the early part of 2021 turned out to be the wrong prescription.
Believe in the Journey, In Yourself
It’s a little embarrassing to think about how delusional I was, to be honest. The only vision of New Bayou Books I could see in my head was the best case scenario, thanks largely to the content on entrepreneurship I was feeding on at the time. A key theme of these books, articles, and videos is belief. Just that one word. Believe you will be successful and improve your chances of success with the force of that will. That’s the idea.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to argue against it. In fact, I’d say my sense of belief has gotten stronger . . . though the logic has changed a little bit. My thinking now is–I hope you’ll forgive me for being less than modest here–given the quality of some of the popular shit that’s out there, I’m sure I will eventually find a passionate audience of readers for the unique brand of South Louisiana literature I’m publishing. But I don’t know how long or what form it will take.
One of my favorite entrepreneurs, a dude named Tom Bilyeu, puts it this way: do and believe that which empowers you. I find this practice to be very powerful. It suggests the programming power of the mind, how you can tell yourself a positive story and, with the right actions and habits to support that story, radically improve the chances of self-fulfilling prophecy. Check out his 25 point Belief System here.
But in those early, zealous days last year I failed to see a couple of important aspects of this journey. Let me give you the big two and get out of here for the day.
Lesson One: No Matter How Strong or Fast You Are, It Still Takes Time to Climb the Mountain
Hey, I never said any of this stuff was gonna be subtle! But seriously, this was my first big . . . I won’t call it a mistake, because that’s not actually correct, so let’s go with oversight . . . my first big oversight. I failed to fully appreciate that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Maybe it’s theoretically possible–though if you dig into most purported cases, it usually turns out that the person in question spent years toiling in obscurity, eventually breaking into public consciousness and creating the impression of a meteoric rise–but it damn sure was never going to happen to me.
So even though I knew the odds were heavily, heavily stacked against such a probability, I secretly held out hope that maybe I would be the exception. My sense of belief conspired against me to create a distorted view of reality. I somehow transposed belief into a false sense of urgency, of immediacy.
And obviously it doesn’t work that way. It’s important to believe. Critical, actually. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen quickly. You don’t publish an independent novel in one month and sell thousands of copies the next. It just don’t work that way.
This cloudy thinking actually cost me. Not financially, but creatively–which is far worse. Before I tell you how, let me stipulate that if you’re an aspiring writer reading this, don’t do what I’m about to do. I’m reserving the right to potentially shoot myself in the foot because there’s nothing commercial success can offer me that I don’t already have. Anyway, as a result of this false sense of urgency I created for myself, I published my second book way too quickly. Of course this is not to say I don’t stand behind All Saints’ Day of the Dead, as published . . . but really, the simply truth is I could have made it a lot better if I had just slowed the fuck down. There, I said it.
Lesson Two: Let People Come to You
Which leads to mistake number two. Oh, wait . . . sorry. “Mistake” is too harsh a word . . . all the kind and gentle advisors out there will be quick to remind me that, no, it’s not a mistake . . . it’s a lesson learned. Big difference. Well, okay, if it makes you feel better. But I’m not really into mincing words.
And in this case, actively recruiting people I knew–people with any kind of relevant experience–and trying to force them into my vision was a mistake. Cost me money, too. And I’m not just talking about a couple hundred bucks. I’m talking real money.
I’m not gonna get too deep into this because I don’t believe there are bad people, just chemistry and goals that sometimes don’t align. That immature, woke “editor” I worked with early on may one day have the tools to help another writer. It just didn’t work for me.
There are a couple lessons in this. One is, never pay professional money to an amatuer. It’s fine to be an amatuer–you might even argue that I’m one of them–but in that case, the experience is the compensation. The second is, be very, very cautious about working with friends. Or to say it a different way, at least ask yourself at the outset if you’re willing to risk losing the friendship. If the answer is no, I suggest finding someone else.
My problem was I had developed this false sense of urgency, but I knew I couldn’t get there in time by myself, so I recruited the only people I could to help accelerate the meteoric rise I was sure was cosmically due New Bayou Books. In the end it cost me time, money, and it strained the shit out of some of my pre-existing relationships. Not good. Not good at all.
It’s About Your Relationship with Your Art
At the end of the day, for me at least, the thing that matters is the novels I’m writing. Commercial success isn’t the thing I’m chasing (though I was confused on that point early on). The thing I’m chasing is simple: to write the books I imagine. That’s it. I’m trying to get as good as I possibly can at envisioning a set of characters and a story and then rendering that story as vividly as I can. That’s not something that has much to do with entrepreneurship, and it’s not something you can hurry. Rather, it’s a creative, almost spiritual pursuit. And you just can’t rush that shit.