When Opportunity Beats a Different Drum

Joanna Penn of http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

I got the message yesterday at 10:00 am.

“Marie at work thought you might be interested in this.”

In the e-mail from my husband, I found a link to an announcement on LinkedIn about a Pop-up Bookstore. Authors were encouraged to come listen to three key-note speakers share their insights and experience on building an author brand, while mingling and potentially selling copies of their books.

I don’t know who Marie is, but I owe her lunch, a drink and a hug. Her email was the voice of Opportunity, and for a moment I listened, instead of drowning it out with all the reasons why I couldn’t, or shouldn’t.

I get the feeling the majority of us go through each day marching to someone else’s drum. For many of us, at least for me, the sad reality is I can’t even blame anyone else. It’s my own drum. Don’t tell anyone, but there are days I even worship it. I wonder if we all do. We dress it up with cute little routines. We drape patterns and feathers around the base of it so it looks trendy. Or maybe leather and chains (hey, whatever works). We paint our loved ones’ names on it. In rare cases, we set the drums up on the shelf and don’t let anyone else touch them, then go through life moving to the beat of a shadow, a remembered echo that keeps thumping over and over in our minds. We’re slaves to the drum. We plan our days around it, we listen to it, and we complain to it, often while embracing it.

Maybe you know the drum by another name. Maybe you call your drum ‘my job’ or ‘parenthood’. For many, it’s ‘school’ or even worse, something elusive and intangible but very real called ‘responsibility’. Maybe you call it ‘My Parents’ with capital letters. I tend to wrap everything together–job, family, dreams, mistakes, expectations–and call my drum ‘Me’.

Day by day, we parade around to the beats we’ve tapped out for our lives. We follow the plan, we walk the walk, and under no circumstances are other drums allowed. If bongos pop up, or tupans, we smile and nod at the possibilities surrounding us, but DO NOT dance to their tunes. We have things to do, after all.

Yesterday, my drum was beating rhythmically all morning with my own plans and life was good. Then another drum showed up; different, tapping an unfamiliar beat.

Most of the success happiness stories I’ve ever heard all involved people doing what they loved and being open to opportunities. For you, me and the rest of the world, this is fantastic news! There are only two steps:

1. Do what you love.

2. Be open to opportunity.

How easy is that? I have things I enjoy doing. I love to write. I love being a mom. I love history and fantasy. I love the future and exploring impossible situations. I love people–analyzing them and watching them grow. I love knowledge and learning new things. Please. I’ve got the first step covered.

The second one, not so much. I get caught up in my own plans. I shush the other drum when it shows up, or worse, beat my drum harder and louder, convinced the other drum isn’t there for me, it’s there for Ingrid, or Rebecca, or someone, anyone else and if I ignore it long enough, it will go away.

Yesterday, I didn’t do that. After I got the email, I spent a brief period of time talking myself out of going. When I finally listened to both drums, mine and opportunity’s, I knew what I had to do. I shoved mine in the desk drawer and after my amazing husband re-arranged his schedule, I followed the rat-a-tat-tat of the unknown to Kungsträdgården in the heart of the city to listen to three amazing speakers talk about a revolution.

An eBook revolution.

EBooks haven’t really taken over here in Scandinavia. As I told Joanna, most of my market (fantasy and sci-fi) still buy books in the bookstores. Especially the Science Fiction Bookstore in Gamla Stan. Which has led me to question if I made the right choice in choosing indie publishing over traditional publishing. I’ve also been questioning the choice for other reasons. The top eBook sellers write romance or YA, fantastic news if you write Romance or YA. You’ve got a built-in market. Not only are your readers already on board and ready to go, they’ve built up the social infrastructure, which makes it easier to find blog tours, reviewers, and make social connections. If, however, you write in another genre, building a social media platform in a world dominated by two other genres feels like bringing a spoon to a knife fight.

As an author, I know I need a platform. I’m fairly smart and I’ve read all the articles. I kind of disagree with the idea that all authors have to become mega-extroverted salespeople. I’ve read Susan Cain’s work and other studies. I know, and have always known, there’s room for both gregarious and silent people in the world. Both skill sets should be celebrated and if we only leave room at the top for the most outgoing authors, we’re missing out on bucketloads of creativity.

Back to the platform. Knowing something and achieving it are two different things. I know I need a platform, I don’t know how to get it. Building something unique in a saturated world feels like . . . it’s like dropping one tiny grain of sand into the Sahara desert and waiting for someone else to find it. Even if someone grabbed a handful of sand, how many grains fall through the cracks between the fingers? How can you find one tiny grain among millions of others that look exactly the same. So when people talk about building brands and platforms, what I want to know more than anything is how my grain can stand apart, without shouting and tweeting and becoming obnoxious.

Needless to say, I was curious to hear what the experts had to say.

Lava (a hybrid publisher in Stockholm who hosted the Pop-up bookstore) invited the following three women to speak:

Alexandra Torstendahl, who previously worked for Bonnier, discussed the traditional publishing market and a hybrid model (still a bit confused on that, so I’m really hoping no one asks questions about hybrids).

Jackie Kothbauer, an expert on branding, talked about the challenges of building a brand in today’s fast-paced and saturated internet.

Joanna Penn, a NYT and USA today bestselling author and speakertalked about the eBook platform.

There were golden tips thrown out all night long. Jackie encouraged people to build a world on their site that led to the world in their books. Good advice. Alexandra talked about quality and developing a plan months in advance. At the end of the night, though, these three women, from three different backgrounds, more or less, all had the same message:

Do what you love. Have patience. Change is coming.

Simplicity says so much, doesn’t it? I want to believe them, I really do, but it’s hard sometimes when Discouragement starts banging on the drum (I’ve sworn to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with whoever gave him a freakin’ drum in the first place, only to realize it was me that gave him the drumsticks).  I can’t help but listen to the hypnotic rhythms of doubt and discouragement. They’re so loud, and annoying. Always hanging around. Whispering. Chanting. After a while, I give in.

Then someone like Marie comes along and for a brief moment, the sound of a different drum breaks through. These moments of what if?, they’re sparks of possibility and they’re given to us free of charge. It’s up to us to listen to them.

I have no idea how my life will change because I went to one Pop-up Bookstore with three inspiring speakers encouraging a group of people to follow a dream. I know that it has changed, in some small way, or perhaps a big one. All possibilities come with baggage. We might not see the change today, tomorrow, or ever. It’s not important to see the changes, or measure them, or compare them. What’s important is that we listened to opportunity.

I pray I’m never so hypnotized by the drums of discouragement that I can’t hear the beat of opportunity. 

Published by casblomberg

Cas Blomberg is a native-English speaking writer who lives in Stockholm, Sweden.