On the Business of Books and Bruce Campbell
Welcome to week 2 of the Red'>http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964167433?ie=UTF8&tag=dbgr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0964167433">Red Planet Noir blog book tour. Mindy was very kind to offer this space today, and suggested I write about the business of writing.
On most days it feels like what I know about the business of writing, "you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches first." (To borrow a line from Douglas Adams, who no longer needs it.) I went into the business blind and naive. I did my homework. I read all the right blogs and websites and books, but everything I really learned has been through one mistake or another.
So I wouldn't presume to give advice, and anyway, the publishing business is in turmoil and nobody's really sure what's up and where's down. But here's a good social suggestion: until you're published -- until the contract is signed, anyway -- don't tell anyone you're a writer. Yes, you've written millions of words. Your mom loves them. In your mind, you're having dinner parties with Richard Russo and Philip Roth. But unless somebody's written a check for your words, just say you're a prostitute or drug dealer. It's a lot easier for everyone involved.
There is a perception out there that once you've completed a manuscript, the book is magically published, and Barnes and Noble has immediate plans to erect a turret display. Non-writers don't know about arduous months of queries and rejections. The contracts and copyediting and delays. The sweating over the cover and everything else that comes with typing THE END.
Before Red'>http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964167433?ie=UTF8&tag=dbgr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0964167433">Red Planet Noir was released -- before I'd even been accepted by a publisher -- the most common questions I heard was:
Who do you want to be in the movie?
After the book came out, the most common question I heard was:
Are they talking about a movie yet?
(Runner-up question: Do you think you'll get on Oprah?)
These are innocent questions, and completely understandable. (God I wish they -- whoever they are -- were talking about making a movie. And Oprah, I've got rollover minutes. Let's chat.) I have no idea how contractors build houses or how cash registers work. Why should readers know how books are made?
Numbers vary depending on the source, but two frequently cited statistics say that forty percent of people read one book a year, and twenty-five percent of people read no books at all. That means if someone's read a book, it was probably written by J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, or John Grisham. In other words, in the universe of the average reader, every book written really does get made into a movie.
Once you've said, "I'm a writer," but no book suddenly appears, people look on you with pity. "He's a writer," they say, but the same way they might say, "He's homeless."
So start with drug dealer. Beat them to the punch.
Here are a few things I've learned though error and inexperience. Your mileage may vary:
1. Get an agent. I don't have one, and a great many of my headaches could have been avoided with someone savvy on my behalf. Stephen King advises not to bother with an agent until you've made enough money worth stealing. He's probably right, but at the same time, agents open doors to publishing houses that my query letter alone never will. If I don't snag an agent with my next manuscript, I'm shelving the project and starting another. It's that important.
2. Set in for the long haul. You might get an immediate yes. My editor at http://www.theatlantic.com">The Atlantic has never had a piece of writing rejected. (And I believe it -- he's a genius.) I've not been so lucky, and I think my experience is in line with most writers. There's no shame in it. His Holiness Philip K. Dick wallpapered his study with rejection slips so that he'd never forget how lucky he was.
Even once you get that wondrous yes, don't expect things to steamroll along. Red'>http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964167433?ie=UTF8&tag=dbgr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0964167433">Red Planet Noir was supposed to be released in August 2009. Then November. Then the first week of December. It didn't appear on Amazon until midway through December, and because of a database mistake in Ingram's [the distributor] database, wasn't available for order by bookstores and didn't proliferate across the web until January 2010.
Frustrating? Only until the first glass of Scotch in the morning, and that last drop by mid-afternoon. (Then it became frustrating again.)
Every delay was a comedy of errors -- nobody's fault, really -- just a lot of one-of-those-things. In the end, my publisher produced a fine book that my mom really likes. (My mom is reading this, and I promised I'd tell her hello. So: "Hi Mom! Stay out of the comments!")
3. Build a platform. This is the one thing I largely did right. By the book's release, I had a relatively strong web presence and an active Twitter army eager to help get the word out. I suspect that well over half of my sales are due to the kindness of strangers.
4. Join a local writers group. Through my group, I've met authors, editors, journalists and readers who've supported me in ways I never expected. And this isn't even to mention the tremendous collected wisdom and infectious enthusiasm for the written word they've shared. They're my home field, and I love them for it.
5. Attend conferences. Don't bust the budget on this, though. (Warning: that might be bad advice. Maybe it would be worth the plane ticket and hotel room to fly to San Francisco or wherever.) Don't overlook the locals:
Louisiana has three major writing conferences that I'm aware of. I'm pretty sure every state does. You never know who you're going to meet. And I've never failed to learn something, get inspired, or make a new friend or great connection.
6. Have your book contract reviewed by publishing contract lawyers. Obviously, a good agent can handle this, but it's also a free service for members of the Authors Guild. I wasn't a member when I signed a contract for Red Planet Noir, but I am now. (Check out their site for membership eligibility. These men and women are fighting the good fight on our behalf.)
7. Don't expect to get rich. If you want to make more money than a writer, get a job at Burger King.
8. Don't settle.
These are just a few things I've learned the hard way. I've stepped on quite a few other land mines (so far), but I've got to save something for cocktail parties when I'm fabulously successful. Or something for the bartender when I'm an abysmal failure.
And just for the record, Mike Sheppard, the protagonist of Red'>http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964167433?ie=UTF8&tag=dbgr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0964167433">Red Planet Noir, can only be played by Bruce Campbell.
If only they'd call.
Tomorrow I'll be at http://odyg.wordpress.com/">Ody Granados's blog explaining, "how an I.T. guy ends up in Afghanistan and how a soldier writes this awesome book, now available at Amazon.com." (His words, not mine, though he's clearly a man of good taste in literature.)
Thanks, Mindy, for inviting me to write today! I hope to see everyone tomorrow.
D.B. Grady is the author of Red'>http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964167433?ie=UTF8&tag=dbgr-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0964167433">Red Planet Noir. He can be found on the web at http://www.dbgrady.com.
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