Category Archives: Essays/Articles

Cultivating Discomfort

From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor:

“…I stopped the poetry reading earlier than I had planned, but at the break I had them all go outside and read at least one poem to a tree. I could not have asked someone to do something like that when I was thirty years old, but at fifty-six, I am willing to take more risks. Some of the students looked at me as if they were deciding whether it was too late to transfer to another class, but…after the break I had some converts.

“‘I read those poems before I got here,’ one of them said, ‘and they were okay. Poetry’s just not my thing. But when I read one of them to the tree like you said, it sounded different to me. It was like the words had an inside and an outside and I had only read the outside. Reading them to the tree, I heard the inside. The words were so beautiful I almost cried.’

“‘I felt completely stupid,’ another one said, ‘standing there in the quadrangle reading to a tree, but after a couple of lines I realized that the tree was really liking it. I am going to try reading to a bird next.’

“After the testimonials were over we all agreed that we would not speak to the other graduate students about this experience, at least not until happy hour. My point is how often we are embarrassed to do and say the things that really affect us. Perhaps this is because we cannot defend ourselves while they are happening. Or perhaps we have a corporate agreement that we will not embarrass one another, even if it means never going very deeply into the things that matter the most to us.”

How To Plan a Book Launch

This week’s THIS LITERARY LIFE essay, author Dawn Downey offers a funny–and angst-filled–look at how even the most carefully planned book launch can go wrong.


“How To Plan a Book Launch”

by Dawn Downey

Relax. You’ve written a book. You’ve ordered your first shipment.

Give in to spontaneity. Schedule three launch parties in three different cities. Bask in the good vibrations of your wonderful friends who volunteered event space, email lists, and creative prowess. They enjoy promotion. With friends like this, allow yourself to feel enthusiastic about marketing.

At 3:00 a.m. two weeks before Party #1, awake in a panic. Ask yourself if you actually ordered books from the printer. Stub your toe on the nightstand while feeling around for your glasses, trying not to disturb your husband. Suppress your desire to wake him up, even though you should not have to suffer alone. Click around the printer’s website. Locate the order. Find no definitive proof the order went through, but no indication there’s a problem. Go back to bed.

Postpone Party #1, because you have no books.

Having relieved the pressure of a potential disaster at Party #1, feel a renewed enthusiasm for marketing. Create a Facebook event for Party #2. What fun! Post, share, like, comment, message, invite.

Examine the printer’s website again. The eight-point font hieroglyphics reveal 1) they’ve charged your credit card for 100 books, and 2) the order reads “pending” instead of “shipped.” Decide that “pending” means the books are on a UPS truck heading toward your house.

Friday, write a blog post extolling the joyous time to be experienced by all who are lucky enough to attend Parties #2 and #3.

Saturday, postpone Party #2, because you have no books.

Sunday, decide it’s time to call the printer’s customer service line. Do you remember how telephones always remind you of your mother calling to tell you that your sister’s acting out again, and it’s your fault? Well, don’t think about that. Convince yourself you’re a businesswoman.

Monday, phone customer service. Offer up a prayer of gratitude when your call goes immediately to a recording, because you know they’re going to call you stupid. After a man says, “Good morning. Can I help you?” talk slowly so he cannot hear your voice shaking. Hold your breath while he researches your order. When he says, “I’ll put a rush on this, it was not your fault,” stifle the urge to respond no, really, it was my fault. Thank the nice man. Resolve to stop picking on yourself.

Arrange a book order from an alternate printer. Express delivery in plenty of time for Party #3. Right? Right?

Having relieved the pressure of potential disasters at Parties #1 and #2, feel a renewed enthusiasm for marketing. Take a nap.

Author Dawn Downey

Author (and expert book launch planner) Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey is the author of From Dawn to Daylight: Essays.

Read the latest news about the book launch that can’t get off the ground at

Finding Your Natural Audience

A review of Intentional Practice & the Art of Finding Natural Audience ( a framework for artists and professionals) by Marc Zegans.

Intentional Practice & The Art of Finding Natural Audience: A Framework for Artists and Professionals (Intentional Practice in the Arts and the Professions)

Buy this book on Amazon

Artists and professionals don’t have to choose between their integrity and making a living.

In this article, Marc Zegans offers a thoughtful approach to facing market realities while maintaining artistic/professional ideals. Since it is relatively short, I can’t go into as much depth as I normally might or readers could be tempted to take the summary in place of the article. That would be a shame. Zegans sets out a clever program for using one’s core beliefs to both create their best work and reach those who will be most receptive to that work.

Zegans process of intense practice manages to meld intuition with practical method. The bridge between art and audience is a series of diagnostic questions that keep the artist in tune with the message/intention his art conveys and aware of those who share the intention and are therefore the “natural” audience for that message in the form of a book, painting, or music CD. Further, readers learn how even their natural audience is made up of distinct types of individuals. Zegans calls them champions, collectors, and visitors. Understanding the differences between these “fans” helps the artist further hone and direct her message.

I will say that the language Zegans employs is a bit more formal and academic than some artists might be used to. Artists and professionals are so used to getting marketing tips in bite-sized, bullet-pointed blog posts and newsletter features where they can scan the sentences in bold type and glean the major points in a minute or two. This article requires close reading and focused attention. Further, putting the advice it offers into practice is an ongoing process. So, it’s good that the article is short–since you’ll likely have to come back to it multiple times as you fine tune your audience-finding efforts.

A somewhat demanding but valuable primer for artists and professionals preparing to face the marketplace.