Mark Terry

Friday, August 25, 2006

That New Book Smell

August 25, 2006
I went out for my bike ride yesterday and when I got back, UPS had dropped off a package. This isn't quite as unusual as it is for some people. I'm always getting books and things from publishers, and sometimes they're delivered via UPS or FedEx or whatever the U.S. Post Office's version of fast delivery is these days. It wasn't a huge package so when I noted that it was from my publisher, Midnight Ink, I was sort of puzzled. It didn't seem big enough to be my "author copies."

It did, in fact, contain two copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. One is for me to read through and check for any possible changes and/or corrections to be made should we sell all of our first printing and go into a second printing or reprinting. This is a thought that makes my heart pump a little harder, actually. The other copy is, well, to stick on the shelf. Which I did, after first writing #1 and my name and the date inside it.

Sean, my youngest, picked up the book, looked at it, then held it to his nose and inhaled. "Got that new book smell, doesn't it?" I said. He nodded and went back to what he was doing (which is putting address labels on envelopes for me).

This is my third published book. Getting regularly published somewhere--in magazines, etc., is so commonplace for me now that I'm not much thrilled when I see my name on a magazine article or newspaper piece or whatever. (I still find checks pretty thrilling). But the book thing is still pretty exciting.

But it's complicated. I know when I was just beginning I thought holding a copy of your own book in your hand would be akin to the first time you have sex or winning the lottery and to my mind it doesn't actually come close. (Well, I'll let you know if I ever win the lottery).

Getting a novel published comes weighted with an awful lot of baggage. First of all, you're carrying the history of all your previous efforts--and failures--so you know what went into that book. For me that's a hell of a heavy weight to lift.

Second, I doubt if there's an aspiring novelist out there that hasn't at some time had those fantasies of 6 and 7-figure advances, movie sales and being on Good Morning, America or Oprah. (You haven't? Did your nose just grow? Come on, tell the truth.) So, naturally, the more typically modest advance and the relative lack of interest from the film industry and media (and your family, and readers, and...) can seem like a bit of a let-down.

Third, for me anyway, comes an odd burden of responsibility. I need to earn back this advance, so the book needs to sell a certain minimum copies. (Actually, the sale of French language rights probably already earned my advance back on PITCHFORK, so I feel like I'm on firm ground in this respect). Still, I've got a 4-book contract and I want each book to get better and sell better and make my agent and publisher happy so I can continue to do this thing I love.

Ah, the fourth, right there. Each book can be a bit of a coin into the slot machine, can't it? At one point in my life I thought I had an unlimited number of coins for this particular slot machine. All I needed was my creativity and my energy and I could keep writing novel manuscripts and trying to get them published. And now that I'm getting published, I realize that with the nature of the publishing industry, you either grow or die. You may find yourself selling 50,000 copies, but if your next book and your next don't go to 55,000 or 60,000, not all publishers will continue to publish you. They've got coins they want to drop in the slots, too.

(Is that startling to you? I was on a panel at Magna a couple years ago with novelist Robert Greer, and he writes mysteries and medical thrillers. He commented that the mysteries sold about 15,000 copies and the medical thrillers about 35,000, but that Warner, the publisher of the medical thrillers, really expected the numbers to go from 35,000 to 50,000 to 80,000 and up, and if they didn't, they were likely to drop you. Welcome to reality.)

There are a host of other things. Emotions are complicated and probably never more complicated than when they are at their strongest and when they revolve around things that are the most important to you. Don't mistake me. I'm not whining or complaining. Having a book published is a fabulous thing. I'm delighted with my publisher and the process of turning THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK from thought to manuscript to book has pretty much been a smooth, pleasant journey. But I'm increasingly aware that there's no THERE there, no point at which I go, "Yup, that was it, I nailed it, I'm a success."

I have a sign up in my office that says: Success is a journey, not a destination.

It's an important lesson for me, but not without its drawbacks.

But damn... this book looks and feels (and smells) great.

Mark Terry


Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Actually, I'm hoping for a guest appearance on "24." Maybe I can be a Jack Bauer victim. Then Michelle, who was actually killed last season, will come back to life and weep over my stricken body and smother me with...Oh, sorry, got carried away there. Um, congrats. When I'm pubbed, too, maybe we can do one of those Oxford library shindigs. There was free food last time.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I can empathize with this. One regret I've had with the mystery books Mary and I have had published is that I've never enjoyed the accomplishment as much as I think I should have. I've been too aware of all the problems you point to -- mostly how hard it is to stay published and the necessity for constant improvement.

A lot of people who write think that getting published would work some sort of magic. If only they could get published everything would change, their lives would be different, they'd be happier. And I guess for those few writers who immediately hit the jackpot, it's true that their lives change, although who can say whether they're happier. For most writers though, publication isn't something that changes much of anything else.

I waited too long to get published. By the time I did I knew too much. After failing at something for three decades it's hard to feel like a success. Now, if I'd got a book published when I was twenty I would've been higher than the moon. And my head would'be been bigger than the moon.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Yeah, Eric, I agree. I "amost" had a novel published when I was about 25 or 24. An editor at St. Martin's held on to it forever, and when I finally called about it, the assistant said the editor wanted to publish it, but he showed it to a colleague who talked him out of it. I've often wondered what a monster I might have been published at 24 or 25. It's not like I was rolling in money at that age, so it wouldn't have taken that much money to move me into fulltime novelist, although who knows?

Ah well. If I only...

Oh and Ron, I've done a handful of library talks and I'll tell you a not-so-secret secret about library talks. I love libraries and readers, but most library people aren't book buyers, so these are not great sales venues and I'm always getting hit up by the library to donate a free book when I do. I do them, but you do library talks with the understanding that it's not really about selling books. It's about supporting libraries.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Oh, I WILL be a guest on Good Morning America -- you just wait. :)

Seriously, I know the feeling. Before we're published, we dream of the day. But when it happens, a whole new set of responsibilities hits us. Things we don't even think about before that first sale.

But, hey, who's complaining? Certainly not me...

9:23 PM  

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