Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Stuff They Don't Teach You

Over the weekend, I had a chance to attend a signing with Rob Kantner. I'm a big fan of Rob's, and have been for years, and was fortunate to write the foreword to his collection of mystery short stories TROUBLE IS WHAT I DO. Buy it. It's awesome.

I was short on pens, but Bill Castanier and Don Austreng both stepped up and gave me theirs. Thanks, guys! Afterward, Robin Agnew and Jamie, who run Aunt Agatha's Books, took us out for a beer.

While in Michigan, I also did a talk for the Deadwood Writer's Group at a Barnes and Noble. Met some cool folks, went out for a beer afterward.

Upon my return, I did a signing with some of my peers in Skokie, and afterward went out for a bite. Courtenay, the manager at the restuarant, overheard us talking shop and gave me a bundt cake because she loves to read. I gave her a copy of the December Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which features my Jack Daniels story WITH A TWIST.

I just learned that for RUSTY NAIL, I'll be visiting 500 bookstores on my tour. A letter from me explaining the tour will be printed in the ARCs, coming out next month. This in contrast to a friend of mine, who called this morning to tell me his second book of a two book contract was in danger of being dropped, because the numbers for his first book weren't as high as expected. His book has been out for less than two months. Is that scary, or what?

With all of this fresh in my head, I made a list of some things about the writing business that you won't find in any How-To book:
  1. Talent has very little to do with success in this business.
  2. No one knows what will sell.
  3. Just because something is publishable, does not mean it will be published.
  4. Sometimes the unpublishable gets published.
  5. The writing business has more than its share of pettiness. But it also has more than its share of well-wishers.
  6. We tend to think of our successes as things that were earned, rather than the result of luck---but it actually is luck.
  7. Overestimating your own importance, or underestimating the importance of others, doesn't do anybody any good.
  8. Getting free stuff is really cool.
  9. It's necessary to work hard, but that doesn't guarantee anything.
  10. Few things compare to the joy of seeing your name in print.
  11. Helping others is almost as cool as getting free stuff.

I also got a call today from an MWA member, asking if I wanted to renew my membership. It's $100 for a year. I've been a memeber for three years, but can't come up with any good reasons to renew, other than 'everyone else is doing it.' Your comments?


Toni McGee Causey said...

Joe, first, congratulations -- that sounds like one helluva great book tour. Nice to see all your hard work pay off.

If you had to assess the reason the tour is so big, what weight would you give your own promotions you've done (all of the drop ins, for example) vs. the sellthrough rate for the last book? Or is there something else which you think was a greater influence on them stepping up with such a large tour?

I really hope you head this way (Baton Rouge)

-Toni McGee Causey
Bobbie Faye's Very (very very very very very) Bad Day
St. Martin's Press, Sprin '07

Jim Winter said...

I did renew my MWA dues, but I've mulled this one over as well.

I think it depends on your level of involvement. It's certainly a great networking environment, as is SinC, the PWA, ITW, etc.

Since ITW started, though, it seems like everyone wants to start a writers group for every conceivable niche.

One MWA honcho put it this way: You only get out of it what you put into it.

In the PWA, I'm a reviewer. While I haven't been active in SinC this year, I do plan to step up my activities going forward. And the MWA?

I think as you progress, the MWA acts in some ways like a union. They're not going to call strikes or negotiate better pay for you. That's what agents are for. But they do help out with things like insurance and finding for-hire gigs, that sort of thing. If I wrote full-time, I'd not only exploit it more, but I'd probably be more involved in the politics just to give back a little.

My $.02.

Jim said...

Joe: Obviously Hyperion is sitting up and taking note of the remarkable investment you have made in yourself and in promoting their books. I can't imagine how many cities 500 stores involves but it's obviously huge. No doubt that includes Denver which will be a very good thing for this community. This time, be sure to book the Tattered Cover as well as the mystery shops. TC is a huge indie with 3 store locations. See you when you get here.

Anonymous said...

Hey, if you can on that tour come hit MN, it'd be great to see you at the Mall of America or one of the larger malls. Mpls. also has some great mystery stores, Unlce Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's. Hope to see you around here.


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Anonymous said...

I like your list. I've been a reader of Writer's Digest for years and years and it's great, but sometimes too rosy. Occasionally I wish they would say, "Yes, if you work and persist and have talent you'll probably have some sort of writing career, but in the wacky world of fiction and scriptwriting, persistence, hard work and talent may not be enough to turn it into a career. Luck may be required. Especially for TV writers because so much money is at stake and there are so few positions to fill. In the case of fiction novels, there's relatively low demand and very high supply and even if you wrote a great cop story, all the major publishing houses may already have published 20 great cop stories that year and aren't interested, but chick-lit is hot now, but won't be by the time you try to write one. Hard work and persistence often win the day but not always and the market for fiction is fickle, as is the business that supplies it. Editors change houses, change careers and new editors aren't interested in writers who aren't theirs. Some editors may not like your agent. Your editor may, oddly enough, be incompetent to handle numbers and even if your book goes into a second or third printing, if your editor's promised expectations were higher than what your very successful novel did, your contract may still be dropped. Editorial houses might change directions. Editors/publishers might die or go out of business. You're in the entertainment business now. If you wanted security, be a prison guard or a court reporter."

Mr. Breese said...

Luck is certainly important, but I can't agree with your assertion that talent has very little to do with being published.

I've read one of your novels and several of your short stories and articles. You obviously have talent. Quite frankly, most of the articles in Writers Digest are pretty forgettable. Your two articles were not.

If I wrote something as good as "Silence of the Lambs," I strongly suspect I could get it published, regardless of how lucky I was. If you write something great, I think your chances of publication are pretty decent.

Of course, I may change my mind once I start submitting my own work in a few months. Maybe I'm just naive.

We'll see.

Jim said...

Joe: Sorry for straying off the subject, but I was in B&N today and picked up the latest copy of Mystery Scene Magazine, to see if I was on the cover yet. I wasn't, but I did notice that Bloody Mary got an incredible rave review. Way to go.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I read the Mystery Scene review too. It LOVED Bloody Mary but TRASHED Whiskey Sour. I'm sure Joe had mixed feelings when he read that review!

JA Konrath said...

I love getting reviewed--even the bad ones.

The important thing is getting your name out there.

PJ Parrish said...

Hey Joe,
Why reup with MWA? Well, for starters, if you don't I will hunt you down and kill you. Seriously, it is a legit question and one I, as an MWA chapter prez and board member hear more often than I want to. But for me, it boils down to two things:

1. Before I joined MWA, I had almost no contacts or buds in the writing biz and damn it was lonely. MWA forced me to network and I've gotten some great friends out of it.

2. As Michael Connelly said at one of our meetings a while ago, at some point you have to give something back. I used to be one of those idiots who sat at meetings and bitched about how MWA did nothing for me, it was out of touch, it was a bunch of stale pale males up in NY doing nothing but spending my dues. Then I realized that was petty and dumb. So I got involved. Yeah, it cuts into my writing time. But it has helped my career. And I've had the great satisfaction of watching the organization change for the better.

JA Konrath said...

Hi PJ!

I think networking is a great thing, but I've managed to make quite a few contacts without MWA, and will continue to make more without them.

As for 'giving back'... well... it's possible to give back in other ways, don't you think?

Of course, being hunted down and killed is a pretty persuasive arguement, and I may have to reconsider. Any club that insists I be a memeber seems like a pretty smart club. :)

Anonymous said...

OK, clearly I haven't sold anything to anyone yet, because an ARC is a complete mystery to me. I know what it is, but how the hell do I get one? Especially one of Rusty Nail? I don't work in a library, I don't review books (well, no one cares what I think, let's put it that way), I have no connection to the publishing biz other than the dough I shell out for books. Do I really have to wait for RN to hit the shelves? C'mon, Joe, tell me how to get into the ARC club!