Dog Eared, Part IV, Chapter 5

Get Over It… Some days it’s inescapable. Some days the weight of my publishing “to do” list bears upon me so heavily that I have to devote an entire day to it (which means, no writing). And that’s exactly how today is going. I thought I’d spend an hour or two at the most on it this morning, but it’s already mid-afternoon and I’m just leaving the house. So, what did I have to do? Here’s a taste:

  1. Update “rates and availability” page on nikolabooks website.
  2. Revise author profile on Amazon’s “author central page.”
  3. Email book order form to schools in Normal, IL, and Crown Point, IN.
  4. Order books from university library on self-publishing and marketing.
  5. Add Children’s Book Fair to website “calendar of events.”
  6. Wrap and label Shark Man to send to Florida distributor.
  7. Wrap and label books for granddaughter in Silver Spring, MD.
  8. Take books culled from bookshelves to used bookstore.
  9. Stop at post office next door to put Shark Man in the mail.
  10. Head to office supply store to buy more mailers and packaging tape.

It’s almost three o’clock in the afternoon when I finally make it to a coffee house to have my “morning coffee.” I open my computer ready to write and realize that I have to create a contract for the school in Normal, IL that I’ll be speaking at in October.

I think this is why many successful authors—and other creative types—have office managers, booking agents, publicists, and any other odd number of assistants (virtual or otherwise)—to help them manage their affairs so they can concentrate on their “art.” My wife talks abut this all the time. After reading Sculpture Magazine, she often points out the big players in the field, noting the half dozen or more assistants standing around in the background when the artist and her work is photographed for the magazine. How on earth can one person do it all? Especially in today’s multimedia, social networking, digital world? It certainly puts the DIY—do-it-yourself—world on shaky ground.

My wife does. I do. So do many of our artist friends. We take it all on—idea development, production, marketing and sales, you name it. It comes down to one thing—fire-in-the-belly. If you don’t have a fire-in-the-belly about your work you might as well hang it up and move to Florida. The other day I heard my wife talking to someone on the phone from her office, replying to the question of how I was doing. “Oh, Nikola, he’s busy. He’s always got a project he’s working on.” That’s fire-in-the-belly. Staying focused; moving forward; working steadily. The trick is to sustain momentum during facets of the work process that don’t exactly inspire you—managing your website, ordering new inventory, creating an ad campaign, packaging books to go out in the mail. If you can do that, fly from one high to the next, ignoring the troughs in between, then you have a chance to succeed, or at least sustain that fire-in-the-belly about your work.

Tommy Hilfiger’s got it. Yep, he’s got fire-in-the-belly. I know he does because he was just on the radio talking about American Dreamer, a memoir of his life as a fashion designer and businessman. When asked, “Were there times when you wanted to give up and walk away from it all?” Hilfiger replied that there were several times he felt like this, when things just weren’t going exactly the way he thought they should, but he didn’t give up, he persisted. That’s fire-in-the-belly. And, I guess, as long as I have it, that fire-in-the-belly, I’ll keep writing and publishing books (that is, if I don’t chuck it all in, buy a motorcycle, and head out to see the world).

Remember the story I told you about Nick Cooper, the alias that I used with contractors after my wife and I bought our house. Remember that my name—W. Nikola-Lisa—is not so easy to figure out. Remember that my wife said that I should have changed my name to Nick Cooper when we married, that it would be easier all around (not to mention that Nikola Cooper would make a great writer’s name). Remember? Well, forget it! No way, Jose! Not now. Not ever…

Unfortunately, it turns out that she was right. I should have ditched W. Nikola-Lisa and changed my name to Nick Cooper. It would have avoided a lot of hassle. In the age of heightened national security, when old people can’t get on an airline without being strip-searched, and toddlers are fondled just in case they have a bomb tucked away in their diapers, using an official, government-approved name is a must. Unfortunately, neither Nick Cooper nor W. Nikola-Lisa is such a name. Only my birth name will do: William John Nikola. Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to increased government scrutiny. Welcome to TSA and the pre-approval process.

Since William John Nikola is on my birth certificate and on my passport, that’s the only name that TSA will accept in order to get my KTN, my Known Traveler Number. And getting your TSA KTN means that you can whisk through security without taking off your belt, your shoes, your watch, your pants, and anything else that’s not riveted to your body. It also means that you can sleep in a bit more the day your plan to travel. But try getting your TSA KNT when your name doesn’t match your paperwork.

TSA Agent: “So, you want to do what?”

Me: “I’d like to apply for TSA Pre Approval, only the name I use for most things is not my given birth name.”

TSA Agent [leaning forward]: “The name you use for most things? And what is that name?

Me [shoving my drivers license toward the official]: “W. Nikola-Lisa.”

TSA Agent: You can show me anything you’d like, but what I need to see is your birth certificate and your passport if you have one. And if you’ve changed your name, I’ll need to see an official, court-approved ‘Change of Name’ form.”

Me: “But I never officially changed my name. But I do have a valid driver’s license, an insurance card, and my latest gas bill all with the name W. Nikola-Lisa printed on them. Even my social security card lists my name as W. Nikola-Lisa. Can’t I use W. Nikola-Lisa for my TSA Pre Approval name?”

TSA Agent: “Not unless you’ve officially changed your name. For TSA purposes, you are William John Nikola, until otherwise informed. And, by the way, why do you attach ‘Lisa’ to your last name?”

Me [squirming in my chair]: “Well, it’s my former wife’s last name. We put our names together when we married. ‘Nikola-Lisa’ sounded so, so musical.”

TSA Agent: “Musical? That’s why you took your former wife’s last name. It sounded musical.”

ME: “Yes, and I’d like to keep using it, you see…”

TSA Agent: “Look buddy, you’ve been divorced for thirty years. Get over it. Drop ‘Lisa’ and go by your given birth name, unless of course you’d like to spend the next few months changing your name through the courts.”

Me: “No, sir, William John Nikola will be just fine. Thank you.”

TSA Agent [smiling]: “Next in line.”

If there’s a silver lining in the process, it’s that I’m a writer. Yes, and it’s a good thing that I am, because it looks like I might have a ton of paperwork to complete in the coming months because once I change the name on my drivers license, which needs to conform to my TSA Pre Approval name (or I’ll have to carry my passport around with me every time I fly somewhere), I’ll need to change the name listed on my car title, and on my car insurance policy, and on my voter registration card, and on the water bill, and on the electric and gas bills, and on my home insurance policy, not to mention the cards I get from Social Security and Medicare, and…and…and…

What was I thinking—W. Nikola-Lisa? It doesn’t even make any sense. Agh!


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