(David Yoo is the author of The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever, among other books.)
I've always struggled with the notion that authors today have to have some sort of platform. Aren't writers by nature socially unsavvy mole people who write in large part because they suck at talking? Out loud? To people? Apparently not. In that regard, publishing a book is an utterly painful experience for me, as it serves to only amplify my feelings of what Dr. Ruth would probably refer to as "platform inadequacy."
I shy away from reaching out to potential readers through the usual channels to tell them about my books. For instance, I stopped the practice of dutifully signing copies at bookstores, because there's nothing more depressing than signing stock and then returning to said bookstore two months later to see that all five copies you'd signed are still there. My autographs are like the sticks of gum parents leave under their car's tires before they leave their teenage son home for the evening. Heck, even talking about my books is near impossible. I'm handicapped by a self-consciousness that fosters an admittedly (but still paralyzing) unwarranted feeling that even mentioning to someone that I'm a writer smacks of snake oil salesman-speak; God forbid I come off like I'm trying to sell something to you.
Due to these hang-ups, my options when a book comes out are limited, and as a result my earnestly piddling attempts to cultivate an audience with my three prior books (teen novels) failed miserably. As publication week would approach I'd brainstorm doable outside-the-box ideas in order to accommodate my inherent shyness around other humans (is that what you carbon-based life forms prefer to go by?). An abridged list of failed platform-building ideas:
- I launched a short-lived mass email newsletter, and naively tried to bully people into turning the first one into a chain letter of sorts, promising recipients that if they didn't pass it along to at least 10 other people, something really terrible was going to happen to them. I didn't get many responses to that email.
- To compensate for not putting myself out there as much as other authors, I made a concerted effort to scribble the title of my first novel on every piece of paper currency I came into contact with. Alas, my dismal earning potential limited the amount of paper currency I came into contact with during that period.
- At one point I tried to form my first fan club, Davey's Palz (remember, previously I wrote exclusively for kids). Maybe it was the misguided $99 yearly membership fee that deterred potential subscribers, or the fact that the lone selling point was that I promised to occasionally raffle off assorted random crap on my desk from time to time, but currently I'm still the sole member.
These half-baked efforts to promote my books only left me feeling defeated, and for The Choke Artist I decided to give myself a break. For once, I was going to try to enjoy publication day by ignoring the black beast of promotion on my shoulders. The collection of essays chronicles my years of underachieving, and to focus on book promotion would only make me feel like I hadn't graduated from this stage of my life.
Which seemed unfair, because I have. Childhood neuroses lingered throughout my teens and well into adulthood and at this point have taken up permanent residence in my mind. You get used to the idea that, despite signs pointing to the contrary, you'll always, in some way, be exactly the same person you reviled being when you were a teenager. The only mental handicap I've finally overcome in adulthood is my penchant for being an underachieving choke artist. But it occurred to me on pub day that by refusing to promote my book I was just sabotaging myself all over again. The Choke Artist is about how growing up I'd lived by a deluded code, where I protected a ridiculously high self-esteem by never trying my hardest at anything, the rationale being I could never truly fail or be defeated if I defeated myself first. But I'd aged out of that by not quitting writing, hadn't I? By taking the plunge and getting married, by no longer showing up at pool parties in a roll-neck sweater in order to hide the concave meniscus of my biceps? To not tell people about my book would be just me once again underachieving simply by refusing to try.
Re-inspired, I decided to craft a mass email announcing the publication of the book to everyone I knew. Hitting send to my entire Yahoomail address book felt like physical closure to me, that I'd truly graduated from my choke artist days. Within minutes, I received failure notices from approximately 90% of my contacts list, informing me that the email addresses were long dead. I sat back in my seat and sighed.
Thank fricking God.