Friday, August 21, 2009


You can tell when people have passion. The glint in their eyes, the bubbling enthusiasm in their voices, the frantic energy in their hand movements when they talk about what excites them. It's the fire inside that drives people toward a goal, often against long odds.

Passion and creativity seem to feed off each other. Go to any art, craft, or hobby show, and you'll see "creators" of all stripes, using a variety of media to produce works that are elegant or complex or just plain awesome.

Almost without exception, they're passionate about what they're doing, about what they've created with their minds and hands and hearts. They have to be, to endure uncomfortable metal folding chairs for hours, often getting weird looks and weirder comments about their objets d'art. And the pay? For most, I'd wager the money they receive doesn't begin to cover the costs of the materials, let alone compensate them for the hours and hours spent on their craft and the basement full of "not-quite-perfects."

Writers are a passionate bunch, too. Passion wordle

I can tell passionate authors from the first page, through their voice. Their passion is what gives the story that extra oomph, that unique sparkle. I know if authors have passion, I'm going to get a good story.

These days, writers also need passion to get their book into the hands of readers. I don't see how writers could spend months--or years--working on a single project, without any assurances that it will get published and read, unless something spurred them on.

This passion was on display at the Virginia Festival of the Book I attended back in March. Held in Charlottesville, the Festival is a great event, bringing scores of authors together with their readers to talk books. There are panels, lectures, how-to sessions, displays, and, of course, book signings.

After lunch, the keynote speaker, Brad Meltzer, set up shop in the lobby to sign books. The line snaked all the way through the lobby and down an adjacent hallway. Close to a hundred eager fans waited patiently for a chance to get their book signed by a famous author.

But it was the action in the back of the lobby that grabbed my attention. This area was reserved for authors to market their own books. I'd wager that no one--outside of a small circle of friends and family--had ever heard of these authors. Many were self-published, some were with small presses, some were with microscopic presses. Their genres ranged from local history to memoir to military strategy to "making better times happen" through chrono-cognitive therapies (technically, probably not a "genre").

There were no lines stretching out the door for these folks.

Instead, these passionate authors-turned-salespeople hustled. They had a product to sell--one they fervently believed in--and they stood beside their little tables, doing whatever they could to attract the browsers. Some shook hands of everyone who passed, some resorted to calling out like carnival barkers, others gave away candy or bookmarks or postcards or Xeroxed pamphlets containing excerpts. All sported broad smiles.

It wouldn't surprise me if Brad Meltzer sold more books during his single signing than any of the other self-pubbed authors sold throughout their book's lifetime.

But I do know this--they share one thing.



Lisa Bork said...

You are so right, Alan. Passion is the key. It's apparent in everyone who loves what they do, and, for writers, probably what keeps them writing even when no one is in their signing line.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

"Without passion, life is just a fucking coma."

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is hard for me. I think my passion comes out in my writing, but I am bad, bad, bad at sales. I sometimes make appearances with other authors and watch them call out to readers ("Do you like reading mysteries?",etc.) but I freeze up. I'm too introverted to be passionate in public.

Mystery Writing is Murder