Reclaiming my writing time.
“Are you doing another Noir at the Bar?”
I’ve been asked that question A LOT this year, given how many virtual Noirs at the Bar I did in 2020 — about 14. And they were fun! I had the chance to showcase close to a hundred talented writers, and the events included atmospheric songs from super-talented singer Sara Jones and custom cocktail demonstrations from celebrated mixologist Chantal Tseng.
People enjoyed the events, and I don’t recall a reading where we had fewer than 100 people viewing.
And now it’s halfway through 2021, and I haven’t done a single Noir at the Bar this year, and I don’t have any planned for the fall.
I’m tired. (More on that later.)
It wasn’t just those events. I had a new book out in 2020 and did a lot to promote it. I had the opportunity to participate in wonderful conferences and festivals. I helped friends promote their new books. I worked with writing organizations.
Most of that — the vast majority — was volunteerism. Which is nice, because it genuinely feels good to help people and, ideally, introduce new work to readers. And, truthfully, I’ve never been presented with an opportunity I didn’t want to take. I love this stuff.
But there’s an uncomfortable truth here, and it’s uncomfortable because it’s one of those things every writer knows but no one says out loud. Writers do much (but not all) of this because we believe, in the end, it helps us. That working for others will promote our own work, push our books.
This is not true, and we should dispel ourselves of the notion.
I don’t consider myself altruistic, but I’ve been fortunate to have a mindset that, with any volunteerism I do, I don’t expect anything in return. And that’s served me well because, truthfully, with all the efforts I’ve made (and I’ve made more than most), the return on investment has been exceedingly low.
Most of those events were only seen by other writers, not readers, and most writers — selfishly, but perhaps rightfully — only care about promoting their own work.
This is famously a business made up of introverts; we write alone, for the most part. I always imagine myself in a cave, writing away, eventually emerging with a manuscript and blinking into the sunlight.
For me, and I suspect for quite a few of us, this is not a displeasing fantasy. But the business tells us it’s not enough. We need a platform and a brand, and this brand must extend beyond the page. It’s not enough to write well; you must do something else well enough to bring people to your books.
For an extrovert like me, who enjoys public speaking, I found a natural tie to events and organizational work. Did it help me meet other writers? Yes! Was it rewarding? Absolutely!
Did it sell books?
You know the answer, but also, I never expected it to.
The greater, crueler, selfish point is this: I didn’t start writing to help other writers. I started writing because I wanted to write books.
However, once I got to the point of publishing, I realized there was more to it than that. I made friends with other authors and liked their writing. They offered advice to me, and I did the same with others who were making the same mistakes I had. Organizations and events offered a more visible path to get that word out.
Crime fiction is a wonderfully supportive community, one where paying it backward and forward is more than a gesture or expression. But there comes a point where that work demands more of your time than you realized. When your writing is set aside.
And your writing should never be set aside.
Earlier in this column, I said I was tired. But really, I’m tired of being asked, “Are you doing another Noir at the Bar?” and not “When’s your next book coming out?”
There will be more Noirs at the Bar in the future. And I’m working with Crime Writers of Color as their bookstore liaison; promoting other writers of color is work I deeply, devotedly love. I’ve been fortunate in 2021 to participate in some wonderful conferences and festivals — just a lot fewer than I’ve done in the past.
I want to help and will. But I can’t do it at the expense of what matters most, and I suspect this message will resonate with other writers: Always extend a hand to help someone else, but make sure your other hand is furiously scribbling away.
You are, first, foremost, a writer.
E.A. Aymar’s latest novel, written as E.A. Barres, is They’re Gone.