Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All in

by Rick Blechta

I know my share of very successful authors, you know, the A-list types who actually have the stature that their publishers will pay the freight and do the grunt work for publicity. Make no mistake about it, though, these authors still work very hard when they’re on the I’ve-got-a-new-book-out road, but I will also add that having someone paying the bills, arranging for local publicists, handling the bookings, etc. does make it a hell of a lot easier to bear.

The question everyone else has is this: How do I get to that stage in author-dom?

Well, generally one of three things has to be at work:
  • You’re very well-known for something else. Dick Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey before he began writing thrillers.
  • You’re incredibly lucky. Before The Firm, John Grisham was not all that successful. The novel was the beneficiary of an extraordinary promotional push by its publisher.
  • You’ve written an extraordinary book that everyone connected with it will move heaven and earth to get the word out and make it a success.
But there is a fourth way, and that’s a really tough road. It involves the author believing so much in themselves, justifiably I might add (the ditch by the side of the road to publishing success is littered with authors who believed in themselves but couldn’t deliver the prose goods) and devote all their waking hours, all their finances to achieving one goal: becoming a publishing success.

One of my ultra-successful author-friends literally hand sold books one at a time. I shudder to think of the number of signings, literary events, conventions this man attended (and still continues to attend). After a lot of miles and burning through a big chunk of change I’m sure, things started happening for him. He began to win awards. Novels got optioned — and produced! Now, this author did indeed have the ability to deliver the goods. Anything he writes goes to the top of my to-be-read stack. He’s seldom let me down.

But here’s the thing. If he hadn’t taken that leap of faith and gone all in, he might well not have risen to the top of the heap. It was his personal spade work in the book promotion trenches, that critical networking, those miles of being on the road which made his route to the top a success in the end.

Can we all do it? Well, no. Personally, I have too many responsibilities to family to be able to take the risk. It’s something I’m not prepared to do to them, because ultimately it is a rather selfish, or should I say self-centred thing to do.

I did, however, do it in my youth with a band I started. We had that belief in ourselves and the ability to be really extraordinary. It was a very heady ride while it lasted, but ultimately, we were too young and emotionally immature, had really inadequate management, but also couldn’t manage to get that one little sliver of luck to make stardom happen. Eventually I had to give up and get a “real” job.

So success is possible, but it is a very hard slog. One has to deal with so many things that are beyond your control. You can be the hardest worker of all time, but if someone wants to, they can easily stick a knife in your laboriously inflated balloon. You know what happens to them, and that’s exactly what it’s like watching your hard-won career running out of luck.

Still, it’s one of the biggest reasons we all keep on. We might actually manage to snag that brass ring on the very next trip ’round the publishing merry-go-round.


Eileen Goudge said...

Rick, you nailed it. Great post. Having done the dog-and-pony tour early in my career, I would not wish to make a habit of it. I found it more demoralizing than anything. For every book signing or event with a great turnout, I had to wade through 5 more with poor turnouts. My time was better spent writing. That said, a big push from the publisher is a must. And yes, you have to have the talent to make it to the top. Even then, it's not a given. But at least you have a shot.

Danny Goren said...

I think that this is pretty accurate, for the most part, but I have to point out that, as an article I read recently (here:http://www.vladimirmortsgna.com/apps/blog/show/44029614-19-vladimir-s-top-20-mysteries, not that anyone cares, I just don't want to risk plagiarism) pointed out, The Firm was an incredible tour de force by Grisham, so luck may not have been the sole benefactor here, though it certainly played a role. Other than that, again, very accurate and a bit inspiring to boot. Thanks!