So, is writing that book you always wanted to write on your list of New Year’s resolutions? I say, go for it!
My book tour made 2011 the best year of my life!
I shook a lot of hands and kissed a lot of babies campaigning for the first installment of 'This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks,' and I ran across a lot of people with unfulfilled writing dreams.
“I always wanted to write a book,” they would sigh. “But I could never get that done.”
I remember the last time I said that. I was a cub reporter for the Irish Voice a number of years ago and I found myself on the breezy porch of Mary Higgins Clark’s beach house.
She had just written 'Kitchen Privileges,' a short autobiographical story that she penned for her grandchildren until her publisher snatched it away for public domain.
I had just gone through a litany of reasons and considerations on why I couldn’t write -- the toddlers always in diapers, the freakish travel, hectic meeting schedules, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Higgins Clark sipped demurely from her dainty Belleek tea cup, nodding occasionally. When I asked how she pulled a book each year out of thin air, she leaned in and gazed intently with those milky blue eyes.
“Y’know, there’s a difference between me and you. I wanted it worse than you did. The best place to start a writing career is to shut up and start writing. There’s no magic here.”
When one of the top selling authors on the planet tells you to shut up and write, well, you shut up and write!
It was the best advice I had ever gotten before or since because I had a book outline within nine months of our interview and had a published novel within 18 months.
So, dear reader, my first advice to you is to shut up and write. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s good enough such that someone might buy it. That stops most people from even picking up a pen, and that’s just a copout.
There are plenty of self-publishers out there that will happily load the book into B&N and Amazon for you, which means your book will be on an e-reader without any need for an agent or big book company marketing arm, thank you very much. Who the hell are they to judge and assess your words?
And speaking of big book companies, if there’s anything I heard on the book tour more often than, “Gee, I always wanted to write a book,” it was, “I never saw a dime after that crappy little advance check, and I am convinced that my book company is screwing me over.”
So, as the Irish say, all mountains look green from far away.
I’ve run into dozens of famous writers out there crying in their beer and complaining about their book contracts. Think about that next time you waste a decade of the rosary moaning to the Lord about the rejection letters from would-be agents and publishers that make their way into your mailbox on a daily basis.
I always cite Prince as a model of how to market your own art. He got so fed up by his restrictive record contract that he wrote the word “slave” on his face and submitted one crappy album after another to spite Warner Brothers.
Once he was released from his contract he began marketing directly to his fan base, making up to $5 more per unit sold when he rang the register, and created art on his terms.
Not many people looked down their nose at him for being “self-published” when he took to the Super Bowl halftime show stage in high heels a decade later. I rest my case.
The creative process doesn’t just include writing the book, which is another common myth. You have to be a Mick Jagger type of artist -- make a product that rocks, make a spectacle out of yourself as you promote it, and always have an eye on the bottom line. All at once.
Many of the snobby writers in the social circle I run in (this includes most of them) think the selling of art is beneath them.
But I am of the belief that the marketing process is an extension of my self-expression. Using a combination of print media, websites, Facebook, Twitter, e-book signings posted on YouTube, and free excerpts placed on appropriate newsletters are the tools to build a buzz about the book.
For my book, as an example, I enlisted the help of some musician friends, and we staged “rock and read” events that enabled us to draw new sales from fans of one another’s works.
A well-executed launch strategy doesn’t have to be a chore, nor does it have to be a commercial concern and sellout that is beneath your creativity. Let it be an extension of your creativity!
We would like to think that the whole world is waiting for your first book and that once you write it, you will be set for life.
I’m sorry to tell you that neither one of these statements are true. People are so fixated on their smart phones that many folks are contracting a “text message attention span” when it comes to reading.
You literally have to compete with an iPad and a Facebook post for the entertainment mindshare of a consumer nowadays, something that never concerned Hemmingway or Twain.
Short blogs and essays increase the chances of the actual book being read. At least that’s my experience -- more people read my last book of essays than my 382 page suspense novel.
Murder mysteries are among my favorite things to read, but they are tricky for a new novelist. They look at the idea of writing volumes of fact or fiction, and then get completely stopped and overwhelmed in their creative pursuits.
Try writing little essays first and see what happens! You can either stitch the essays together into a larger plot line, see where the mind takes you in the writing process to un-conceal a plot line that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, or perhaps end up publishing a book of essays.
I began writing essays about three years ago as an exercise in breaking a long streak of writing block. They amused me, people liked reading them in the Irish press, and now we have one volume of 'This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks' in the can and a sequel halfway written out of this little exercise!
One more sore point before I get to the good stuff -- less than 100 writers are walking around America slinging ink as their primary source of income. Many self-published books sell about the same amount of books as there are family members, and Facebook friends, so you can do your own personal math.
Some folks like me are lucky enough to get some national and international press, but even that only brings in a couple of thousand more than the average bear. If your book turns $5,000 in profit, consider yourself in the 1% of an “Occupy Bookshelves” movement.
So, don’t quit yer day job, laddies and lassies!
Are you discouraged yet? That wasn’t my intent -- quite the opposite. My writing life has made my life rich and delicious beyond my dreams and beyond any measure.
While there are very few zeroes in my royalty checks, I have almost tripled my income in my chosen profession of medical device sales during a decade that has seen that industry shed jobs by the thousands in the last decade.
The funny thing about being fully self-expressed 24/7 is that your creativity is off the charts and your poor boss has trouble finding things to keep you challenged. They throw anything and everything at your insatiable creative engine just to feed it.
You find yourself getting immersed in fun projects that give you a corner office perspective and in a blink of an eye, you begin to think and act like someone who has a corner office, and then voila! You find yourself with a vice president’s title and are bestowed your very own corner office.
I remember moaning to Higgins Clark about how little time I had to write. Now, I never complain about how busy I am because writing fulfills me, and most of what life throws me doesn’t seem so burdensome.
Now that I just shut up and write, I find I have more time on my hands. That has allowed me to go back for my master’s degree, learn bass guitar, start a web business venture, write a weekly column for the Irish Voice, consult for businesses on sales force effectiveness, coach people on their effectiveness and power through Landmark Education, and write at a quicker pace since I began working on my first book.
So, let’s review, shall we? If 2012 is your year to write it all down, you need to be prepared for some things.
Be prepared for lonely nights at a monitor, getting more frustrated each time the cursor blinks.
Be prepared to laugh and cry at the monitor so much that you fear the day will come when the monitor writes a tell-all book of its own.
Be prepared to not have a lot to show in the bank account.
Be prepared to have other riches show up in your life.
Be prepared to play big or go home.
Be prepared to shut up and write.