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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reality vs. Wishful Thinking

So I'm doing one of my day jobs, those things necessary for paying bills and buying groceries - customer support for an iphone app company. I'm reading through emails complaining about our product. It happens. It's my job to try to fix problems and satisfy the customer. It's a frustrating racket most of the time for two reasons.

One, troubleshooting someone's internet connections on their iPhone when I have no idea what settings they use, who their provider is, or any of a million other variables, is a total crapshoot. Besides, I'm only supposed to troubleshoot our app, not their whole phone. That's what Apple support is for. But in the interest of keeping my boss and the customers happy, I do my best.

Two, customer assumptions about customer support are miles from reality. I've had customers complain that we are just too big and corporate, that we only care about raking in their hard-earned money. I fell off the couch laughing over that one. They assumed our customer support department was a large cubicle farm just full of eager customer support people, salivating over the chance to read their email the instant they sent it off.

Reality? It's me, on my couch, usually in my pj's, answering emails for about an hour a day. No, I don't answer them as they are sent. I have a life. I have three other jobs. I do my best to be polite, professional and helpful, but sometimes I just can't do what you want me to do. I can't send you a refund. I can't give you services that don't exist. I can't make an iPhone do something physically impossible.

So what does this have to do with my publishing career? Many new writers and most readers have misconceptions about the publishing world. I thought when I signed my first contract and did the final edit, my book would sell itself and I would be free to work on more writing. The truth? I spend two or three hours a day working on marketing, getting my book noticed, getting my name out there. Since I'm with a small press, I also deal with the automatic assumption that I'm self-published (a completely different topic and a very touchy one) or that I'm not really a professional because small presses don't offer large advances so therefore I must not be worth much as an author.

Truth is, I'm an author, as professional as any other. I write stories because I enjoy them. I publish them because I want to share them and make a living doing something I enjoy that doesn't involve customer support emails. I'm new, yes, to publishing and marketing. I'll make mistakes because I'm human. But if I want to be successful, it's up to me to sell my novel. And write the next one. And market that one. And so on.

So next time you make an assumption about an industry, it might not hurt to take a step back and look for the reality. And for pity's sake, give the poor person doing customer support a break. Courtesy is much appreciated in a usually thankless job.