Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Do You …Or Will You…Do?

How many social or business events have you attended where someone asked, “So what do you do?” Most people respond by talking about their job and maybe segue into their hobbies. Years ago, my answer would have been, “I’m the Human Resources Director at… or I work in Marketing at …” For seven years, I said, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” During those years, depending on how exciting my day was, I might also have answered, “I’m the laundry frau.” I doubt many children aspire to be that. I know I didn’t.

But now I’ve published my first novel, and I can say, “I’m a writer.” I never said that until I signed my publishing contract. I feared if I did people would ask if my book was finished yet or when it was going to be published and I would feel pressure. Since I wrote for my own entertainment, I didn’t want any pressure. I didn’t want to feel like I was failing in some way when I was so excited about all the words I put on paper. I didn’t want to feel like the woman who says, “We’re trying to have a baby” because, let’s face it, it’s the kind of goal either ultimately achieved—or not.

Last month, I left my family (something I hate to do) to attend Bouchercon for four days and promote For Better, For Murder. Socializing was different there. Most people could tell from the bookmarks sticking out of my name badge that I was a writer—okay, author. No one started a conversation by asking what I do or about my interests. Readers, librarians, writers, and authors abounded. Popular authors drew crowds.

During my last hour of the conference, I realized one of my preferred authors, Harlan Coben, was standing behind me, talking with some readers. When I got home, I checked out his web site and his list of appearances. He spent March in Begium, France, and New York. April in California, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, D.C., West Virginia, Florida, and Scotland. May in England. My first thought was the man’s an international sensation and a real star. Then I wondered, did he have to be away from his wife and kids for all that time? Then I read the statement at the top of his appearance list: “Any requests should be directed to Harlan's publicity people—Harlan does not choose where he goes.” And I thought, are you saying Harlan’s given up control of his life?

Days later I read an online story about Kenny Rogers. A man paid him $4 million dollars to sing “The Gambler” at his birthday party. Who wouldn’t accept that gig? According to the story, Kenny sang it twelve times. When the man asked a thirteenth time, Kenny drew the line. Me, I would have folded after three to four requests.

So what would you give up to be an international sensation and a real star? And where would you draw the line?


Alan Orloff said...

Great post, Lisa! I also ducked the "what do you do" question for the longest time.

I think I'd sing The Gambler for twelve straight hours if someone paid me $4 million bucks. I'd even learn the words.

G.M. Malliet said...

Since I love to travel, I wouldn't mind being sent to Belgium, France, etc. And once there, I would willingly sing, although no one would pay to hear that. Trust me on this.

Kerrie said...

That's an interesting question. Except in those rare cases, I would think this kind of stardom would happen gradually. Therefore, I think you would find yourself giving up things a little bit at a time, allowing yourself to adjust. But if I had a big breakout novel, an overnight success, I don't know what I would give up. Hmmm

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Wow - this hits home. I get asked a lot why I push myself so hard, juggling a demanding day job with writing two series and developing other ideas. About 6-7 years ago I made the commitment that it would be "all or nothing." I would hit the top or die trying. And I have sacrificed a lot to embark on this journey: financial security, social life, romantic life, even a clean home and peace of mind. I don't have a husband and children, so that was easier. But I've lost 2 relationships because of my single-mindedness towards my writing, and I can't remember the last time I sat in a movie theatre with friends or took a trip just for pleasure. Even trips to see my family are dovetailed with book signings. I'm always broke because of the money I plow into my publicity and marketing. Ah, yes, I remember fondly the days when I would go to the mall and drop cash on a few new outfits without blinking. Or go out to dinner with friends several times a week. No more.

But I don't see this as never-ending, just what's necessary to stay to my commitment and keep my eye on the prize. There are some things I would have done differently, but not many. Whether I reach my goal of being an internationally best-selling author or not, no one will ever hear me say "woulda, coulda, shoulda."

Lisa Bork said...

Sue Ann, you do and will do a lot!!Why is it so important to you to hit the top and be an internationally bestselling author?

jbstanley said...

I like "LAundry Frau!" I'm going to borrow that line if I may!

I've begun to say, "I'm an author" in lieu of 'writer,' because right away people assume I pen books and I can launch into some shameless BSP.

Of course, if I had four hundred bucks for every time someone then asked me if my books were like Patricia Cornwell's, then I'd already have made 4 mil!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Lisa, you could ask Michael Phelps why was it so important for him to win so many gold medals. It's not about the fame or (hopefully) fortune, it's about proving something to yourself. It's about setting the biggest goal you can imagine and taking aim.

BTW, I'd sing the Gambler 12 times for $10,000. Any takers?

Jen said...

Hmmm, that is an interesting question. Honestly, I would love to travel the world, promoting my books and doing research. My husband is a photographer so he would travel with me. Stock photo opportunities :) Double the tax write off :D


Lisa Bork said...

JB, feel free to proclaim your status as a "laundry frau" any time you wish! I promise you will get some funny looks.