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Friday, March 20, 2009

Publishing. Doing it Our Way

I had a fascinating call this morning from an author (not one of ours) who explained how frustrating it was to be an author.

We discussed how hard he had worked researching and writing his book, the difficulties he met along the way when nearly everyone told him to abandon his project because he (fill in the blank), the four years it took to find a publisher, and how quickly the book died and was in the remainder bin at WalMart. "I received a modest advance I will never earn out, and won't see another dime," he grumbled. "Once the contract was signed I rarely heard from the editor or marketing department again. They didn't want my ideas, did not want to support my efforts, and that was that. What an eye-opening experience."

What memories this call brought to mind. When I began publishing with David Woodbury in the very early 1990s, we heard the same thing from other publishers, some authors, and others more "in the know" than us. I won't name names because many who read these blogs will know them.

"You don't know the industry. Stick to your day jobs."

"This business will chew you up, and you can't make it a go."

"You want to include how many original maps in your books? [laughter]. You can't do that."

"You don't need to include all those maps and quality binding and paper. By the time people realize you used cheaper materials, the book will have sold through the first printing, and you will have already made your money."

All my life I listened (but almost never heeded) warnings, cautions, and "advice" from people who tried to steer me . . . AWAY . . . from potential success. When I was about to begin law school, a disgruntled 40-something told me to not waste my time and provided a host of excuses.

And I have learned the lesson: The sad truth is that most people do not want you to be successful, or at least more successful than they are.

I knew what I wanted, the kinds of books I wanted to publish, the types of authors I wanted to attract. I have never worked fewer than 55 hours a week in the last ten years, and have tirelessly driven around, under, and over obstacles others put in my path to prevent me from reaching my goals. As I tell my kids (and my students, and my authors), there is only one thing standing between you and your goal: YOU.

If you are an author (or whatever you do in your life), my advice is that you do not heed the doomsayers. Smile politely, push aside the roadblock, and move toward your goal. Surround yourself with people who are MORE successful than you are. Surround yourself with people who are successfully doing what you want to do.

I fondly recall the help I got from Bob Younger at Morningside and Tom Broadfoot of Broadfoot Publishing. I joined them at book shows, listened to their conversations, absorbed how they did business, and learned to avoid potential mistakes.

And the author I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Guess what he is doing?

That's right. He is finishing his next book and pressing forward.

That news plastered a giant smile on my formerly young and handsome face.



Anonymous said...

Mr. Savas

I love your blog. Nothing you write is predictable, and everything is thoughtful and helpful in so many ways. I aspire to publish a book one day, and would love to leave my day job and write full time. That at least is my goal.

I have written a few articles, so have a start, and am following your advice and now researching for a novel. And you are really more right than you know, because once I thought about writing, a few people I know began telling me not to waste my time because they could not get published. But I stuck with it and landed a few magazine articles. Now they are no longer as friendly or encouraging as they once were.

Keep up the good work, sir. People like you who move against the stream are my heroes.

K. O'Connell

Anonymous said...

One Christmas years ago, I found myself watching STAR WARS on network television with Toni Morrison. So during commercials I was going to talk to the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature about my writing, about my novel?

Yeah, right. But I was teaching English as a Second Language and GED to mostly minority women.

“What should I tell them?” I asked.

In her overstuffed armchair, Toni Morrison took on a Rushmorian-like presence. As she readied to reply, the tape recorder in my head clicked on, poised to memorize her every word forever.

“Tell them to work hard,” was all she said.

I drove home pissed. ‘Keep those bulletins coming.’ But when I woke up the next day, I realized. What else could she have said?

TMW Writer

Anonymous said...

Real authors know they write for the love of the word, the story, and the research. It is the journey. Any author who writes history and actually is fortunate enough to get published, especially one inking niche history for crying out loud, and then carps about the size of his royalty check is a fool. Plain and simple. I was at a round table meeting a few months ago and an author was complaining about his check. Honestly, I wanted to stand up and tell him to shut up. You didn't know your small battle history or regimental history or micro-study of Company X wasn't going to make it onto the NYT bestseller list?

If you want real greenbacks write a screenplay or thriller fiction.



Anonymous said...

The frustrations suffered by this author are yet another argument for going the self-published route. This is a lot easier than it used to be and can produce a quality product that competes with the mainstream. There is a community beginning to emerge. Take a look at the Self Publishing Review (selfpublishingreview.com) and examine the possibilites.

Francis Hamit
Brass Cannon Books

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, Mr. Hamit, maybe one author in 50 should be publishing his or her own book.

While quality is better, and there are good designers and editors available, it is expensive to get good design work and good editing, and many authors don't have a clue what is good or not. Printing and shipping is not inexpensive, either.

It is nearly impossible to get self-published books into the trade, which puts the burden of selling directly and solely on the shoulders of the author. If you want to be a warehouser, shipper, marketer, publicity agent, author, administrative assistant, accountant, etc. by all means self-publish.

For some it works, and works well. But for the vast majority of people who go this route it is a way to make others money, leaving a wall of books unsold in your garage or basement. Having worked for a publisher for many years (we had a department for design/editing/printing for self-published authors), I have seen this firsthand. Most have no idea what they are really getting into.

Beware taking this route.

Robert T.