What I’ve Learned From Fifteen Years as a Writer (Alternate title: Pre-Order My Damn Book)

I’ve been trying to get stuff published for fifteen years now. Recently, I’ve been thinking back over that time, taking stock of my successes and failures, etc., and I started thinking about things I’d learned over that time about publishing. I only managed to come up with five. Either I’m a slow learner or the publishing industry is hard to figure out. I’m going to say it’s a combination of the two. But, maybe five isn’t so bad. At least I’ve learned something, and maybe these lessons can help somebody out. Or maybe they’ll just encourage someone to quit, and hey, that works too because honestly if a blog post makes you quit, you need to quit.

LESSON NUMBER 1: 

Nobody cares. I mean it. Nobody. When I first started out, I believed that being a writer might impress people. Not that this was my main motivation for writing. It wasn’t, but at the same time, I thought it might be a fringe benefit to be seen by people as a “published writer,” or even, dare I say it, “a novelist.” It wasn’t. I can’t even begin to explain to you how little people care about this. Mostly when people find out I’m a novelist, they look mildly confused and then mildly annoyed, as if the very thought of a person wasting all that time to write a book is asinine. Seriously, nobody cares except my wife (and these days she’s pretty much over it too). It’s cute to me now that once upon a time, I thought publishing my first short story would somehow impress people. Uh, no. Okay, I thought, maybe once I make a pro sale, then they’ll be awed by my brilliance? Hint: most people don’t know what a pro sale is, and even if they did, they would not be impressed by it. So, then a novel, surely, that will impress them, and from a major publisher, no less?  Blank stares, polite nods, nothing resembling respect, though sometimes I see a glimmer of pity in their eyes. But it’s a major publisher, I’ve wanted to say so many times, but then I remembered the lesson. Nobody cares. Which brings me to my next lesson…

LESSON NUMBER 2:

Unless your book happens to be the next BIG THING, like say (insert best selling debut title here) or (Insert overhyped MFA grad’s first collection of short stories here) publishing your debut with one of the big six is generally a mistake, and will only serve to set you up for disappointment. If you’d have told me this when I learned that Penguin was buying THE YEAR OF THE STORM way back in 2012, I wouldn’t have believed you, so I guess I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me. But it’s true. Here’s why: signing with a big publisher is deceiving. Sure, maybe it means you can write (or hell, maybe not), and it definitely means you’ll get an advance (don’t get too excited about that because it’s probably less than you think) but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a career better than anyone else’s or a career at all. The big six will throw what amounts to pocket change (for them) at a book and hope that it catches on. If it does, then they’ve turned a profit and maybe found an author that can continue making them some money down the road. If it doesn’t (and mine didn’t), then so what? It was a small risk anyway, one that is mitigated by the big names in the industry that sell books as easily as you or me breathe. Now before you inundate me with exceptions in the comments, let me just say this: Shut up. I know there are exceptions. A lot of them, but trust me there are a lot more major publisher debuts that drift into obscurity. Which brings me to the third thing I’ve learned over my fifteen years…

LESSON NUMBER 3:

Publishing your second book can be MUCH harder than publishing your first. This is especially true if you went the route I did, which can be summed up as follows: debut with a major publisher that four years after publication still hasn’t earned out its advance. Yeah, that’s a route you do not want to take. Trust me on this. Nobody will want your second book. My agent and I tried to get my follow-up novel published for all of 2015. We failed. Did it suck? Maybe. But a better question might be, did it matter? I’m not sure if it did because at this point, the publishing world had already swung and missed on John Mantooth once. Which, of course, takes me to number four. The pseudonym.

LESSON NUMBER 4:

Being asked to take a pseudonym sucks, but it isn’t the worst thing that can happen to an author. I don’t really need to tell you what the worst thing is, do I? No, I didn’t think so.

LESSON NUMBER 5:

Persistence does actually pay off.  That’s one thing I believed when I started, and despite all the negative stuff I said up there, it’s one thing I still believe. Does that mean it will pay off for everyone? No, of course not. Some people cancel any progress made by persistence with any number of other problems: lack of talent, inability to stop whining, fear, and good old fashioned stupidity. Does it mean all those people who didn’t care before will eventually start caring? Nah. But who really needed them anyway? But, I do believe persistence pays off. At least I’m hoping it does. And speaking of that, here’s an opportunity for me to be persistent and for you to help me prove that persistence does pay off):

    Pre-order my book.   (Amazon)

    Pre-order my book  (Barnes and Noble)

    Pre-order my book  (Indiebound) 

    (one more time with feeling)

    PRE-ORDER MY DAMN BOOK.  (Amazon Kindle Version)