25th October 2013
One thing I am learning about posting blogs is that you should be very careful with titles. A blog I posted a few weeks ago entitled, "Literary Bleeding Hearts," apparently created a big stir within the vampire community and I was getting all kinds of hits from their websites. They must have been very disappointed to find out I was simply waxing lyrical about metaphorical blood from the existential wounds of writers. A more recent post called "Pretty Faces," was inundated by porn sites, and in that case I was actually happy to have wasted their time, because all I was going on about was how little writers make in general and even in Hollywood, because nothing says blockbuster to the moguls in Tinsel Town like a pretty face. From now on I will try to have blog titles with less flair, and then maybe I will go back to the small but steady stream of readers who are actually in tune with the theme of this blog, which is how, from the author's point of view, a book gets from here to over there in the publishing houses and onto the shelves. It is not intended to be a how-to, because I have been pretty unadventurous in the whole scheme, but it is a record of how it happened to me, for what that is worth.
Oh, it's a long and drawn out business.
John Steinbeck (who in case someone hasn't gathered yet, I have a particular fondness for) says it's "a real horse's ass business." It is, and just as when you stand at the back of a horse, you are sometimes marvelling at the grandeur of the beast, sometimes standing down-wind of a lot of hot air and sometimes being outright kicked.
Stephen King in his fantastic little book "On Writing," says, "Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own as well. It's about getting up, getting well and getting over."
To paraphrase him a little further, it's about getting over yourself. Steinbeck says about writing, "The mountain labors and groans and strains and the tiniest rodent comes out. And the greatest foolishness of all lies in the fact that to do it at all, the writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion, even when he knows it is not true."
Not only that, but the pay is lousy.
People tell me from time to time that they have pre-ordered my book, but there seems no way of telling how sales are doing generally. I have a special "author's portal" into the Simon and Schuster website, but, as my agent tells me, you don't know anything about sales until you get your first paycheck, and that presumably won't be until I have paid off my advance. Wouldn't it be nice to pay off your advance just in pre-sales? The way it goes, I will only make about a dollar per book (more on e-book sales - more, but not a whole lot more, as it should be), so I would have to sell something close to ten thousand books ahead of time to pay off my advance before March of next year.
But, as King says, writing books is not about making money (how can he say that - he's sold so many books he has lost count?) He can say that because there was a time when Stephen King's telephone was cut off because he didn't have enough money to pay the bill, and yet he kept on writing. As in all other areas of achievement, it seems that perseverance is the key factor. To quote Rockefeller, the richest man in history, "I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."
That means that talent isn't even key. There is no simple equation between talent and success. Stephen King's first book Carrie was rejected thirty times. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times and then she was told by her publisher to get a day job because there is no money in children's books! Einstein, who didn't speak until he was four and didn't read until he was eleven, was thought by his parents and teachers to be mentally handicapped. Vincent Van Gogh painted eight hundred pieces in his lifetime and sold one - to a friend.
Old Japanese proverb say: Fall down seven times. Get up eight.
That's the story of writing and publishing in a nutshell: Keep getting back up!