By Barbara Falconer Newhall
“Barbara, you’ve got to write another book,” a southern California friend said — quite emphatically — after finishing “Wrestling with God.”
And the other night, at a meeting of the Left Coast Writers salon at Book Passage in Marin, a fellow writer asked, “What’s your next book going to be?”
Another book? I dunno . . .
I don’t mind the effortful process of writing a book. Writing is what I do. It’s me. What’s giving me pause is the inevitable, grueling, often humiliating work of promoting the darned thing once I’ve written it.
The promotion chores never end. So many bloggers to contact. So many churches and temples and book clubs to call up and persuade to invite me to read and talk. So many “influencers” to send a copy of my book. So many brassy tweets and catchy FB updates to pitch — often fruitlessly — into the black hole that is cyberspace. So many manys.
My question right now is — where do I stop? How many books do I have to sell to feel I’ve given “Wrestling with God” the launch it deserves? 500? 5,000? 50,000?
The subject came up last weekend as I was chatting with author Rob Bell at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. I wanted to say hello and give him a copy of “Wrestling with God” because it includes a quote from him and because he’s from Michigan.
Bell was at the festival promoting his latest book, “How to Be Here,” (HarperOne). He’d talked for an hour-plus to a crowd of hundreds. He’d entertained them mightily, and afterwards he could be found outdoors, cheerfully signing books.
Rob Bell on Shall I Write Another Book?
Don’t worry about the sales numbers, he told me. “If you sell 1,000 books, you want to sell 10,000. If you sell 10,000, you think you have to sell 100,000.”
“Yeah. How many copies would be enough for you?”
I decided to be honest. Couldn’t hurt. “A million,” I said.
Bell is a good guy. He didn’t laugh. He said, “There are people who have sold a million and still say, ‘But, oh. I haven’t broken into the UK market.'”
That made me laugh. Bell is good at making people laugh.
“What brings you joy?” he asked.
That’s what Bell had been asking his festival audience all day — what lights you up? It’s the question, the message, that’s causing his “How to Be Here” book to fly off the shelves.
Easy for him to say. His “joy” has brought him big success. He’s the founder of the famous Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. He’s the pastor-turned-author that Time magazine listed in 2011 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Bell’s idea of joy actually seems to include promoting his books.
Do what brings you joy. It’s kind of a one-size-fits-all message. But it suits me. It fits me fine, and I’m going to grab it. Thanks, Rob.
Next question: what brings me joy? Writing another book? Or something else? Watch this space.
If I remember correctly, finishing a book that took a dozen years to write is definitely a high and joyful moment: “Yipee! I Did It. I Finished My Book.” And so is finishing a quilt that took even longer — decades: “A Crazy-Making Crazy Quilt — Finished at Last.”