Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One Of The Seven Deadly Sins?

March 25, 2008
I have a confession to make. I'm jealous--envious--of a lot of other writers. Many, many, many, when I got right down to thinking about it.

I'm jealous of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer's seven books with an eighth contracted for.

Erica Orloff--sheesh, she's got a great career writing all sorts of books.

Joe Konrath? Oh man, money enough to live off his novels, another one coming out under a pseudonym, and dammit, the guy seems to actually LIKE all the promotion he does.

I did a signing with Marcus Sakey this summer. Highly praised, making a living with his novels, and good looking and charming. Makes ya want to hate the guy.

What motivated all this green-eyed loathing?

Hmmm. Same old shit, probably. My friend Tobias S. Buckell's latest novel, Ragamuffin, was nominated for a Nebula Award (and a couple others). It's a great book and Toby's a great guy. Don't get me wrong. But day-amn! He's young. It's only his second book! (Congrats anyway, Toby).

The announcement of the Thriller Award Nominees didn't help either. For one, I wasn't on the list, although my book, The Serpent's Kiss, was submitted for the award. What sort of got me about the nominees was the inclusion of Jesse Kellerman and Joe Hill. Yeah, Jesse Kellerman's parents are Faye and Jonathan Kellerman and Joe Hill's Dad is Stephen King.

I don't doubt the books are great. In fact, I almost picked up Hill's book, "A Heart-Shaped Box" not just because he's King's son, but because it sounded good. Then I talked myself into waiting for the paperback. ("Ha!" I say. "Take that!")

One thing that got me stewing (okay, maybe just simmering) was the announcement that Lee Child's brother just got a big book contract. Hey, I hear rumors it's a great book. And I don't doubt for a second that it helped that he was Lee Child's brother. But would anybody out there give a damn if he wasn't Lee Child's brother? (Well, at least his middle name isn't Higgins and his last name isn't Clark. Enough of that nonsense, already!)

Now, is it money I'm jealous of? Well, maybe. Success? Well, we all have to define success our own way and not let other people define it for us. I have very little to complain about in my life (knock wood) or in my nonfiction writing career. I'm currently between contracts with fiction, but I expect that'll change in the relatively near future ("relatively" is chosen on purpose). Still, it doesn't make me particularly happy to hear of someone cranking out their first novel (or second, or third, or fifth) and getting scooped up for 6 figures and promoted all over the place by their publisher; all too often I've read those books and thought, "What was all the fuss about? What could possibly make the publishers think this was any better than 98% of the other books out there?" 

I know that public perception and word of mouth is tough to influence by publishers. If it did, they'd do it all the time. As one of my former agents said, "If publishers knew what made a book a bestseller, it's all they'd publish." So when a manuscript gets a lot of buzz by the editors and agents (for whatever subjective and often illogical reasons) and the publisher pays to get the book on front tables and end caps and frontlists the book, and the publisher's publicity department starts sending out hundreds of advanced reading copies and sends the author on a tour and books them on "Fresh Air," I can 100% guarantee you there will be a different outcome than a book where the publisher puts a paragraph somewhere in the middle of their quarterly catalog, puts the book on their website, and sends out 4 advanced reading copies--to Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and the Midwest Review of Books, then turns their attention to the Flavor of the Month.

All of which is a certain amount of sour grapes, admittedly. I'm blessed. But some days I look at the publishing world out there and think, "Some people sure have the luck."

Of course, luck is part of their success. But honestly, I've been poking around in the publishing, authoring biz for a while now and I only recently started to realize that a lot of author's so-called success is a facade, a hazy mirage. I was totally shocked a year or so ago to see a breakdown of bestselling authors' hardcover sales. There were some brand names there that I would have expected to sell a million copies in hardcover, but that were selling about 175,000. (Granted, they probably sell about 4 million in paperback; and 175,000 copies of anything is nothing to sneeze at and go about $2 in royalties per copy, they can still take it to the bank, no doubt...). There are some relatively newbie writers who give the impression they're full-time novelists well on their way to bestsellerdom, but when you get them to talk candidly over a beer or peel back the numbers a little bit, you find they got a $5000 advance and their next novel is very much in question--but they're determined to convince everybody they're "living the life" because there's a "mystique" about being a full-time novelist.

It is, after all, one thing to read that the majority of novels published sell fewer than 2000 copies and quite another to find it's true about all the novelists YOU thought were big sellers (or, for that matter, to find out it's true about your own books). Did you know that tie-ins, like Lee Goldberg's "Monk" books, or the Star Wars books, or CSI books or any others along those lines, have significantly larger sales than most books published in similar genres? And those sales are often along the lines of 30,000 to 50,000 copies?

Okay. This isn't healthy. But it is human.

I'm reading "Black Widow" by Randy Wayne White and I just read this morning a page where the main character, Doc Ford, is talking to his goddaughter's friend, and the friend is being really, really snarky and bitchy to him, and she asks him if he's bitter because as a marine biologist he obviously doesn't make much money. He replies, "No. It saved me on psychiatrists and expensive women."

Ah well. So, am I alone in this? Anybody want to rant on their pet peeves today?

Mark Terry


Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

Oh yes, I am horribly envious of both strangers and friends alike, especially now that I've burned through something like 90 agents and seven months looking for representation. Everything just seems to come so easily to everyone else... especially those without children, who seem to lead charmed lives.

Of course I am well aware that many people wish they had my life, active-but-bored boys and all, but I wish there were a happier medium.

I'm trying to channel all that negative energy into enjoying my work, and I'm looking at small presses now for my first novel and at least one novella I'm working on. We'll see.

In any case, thanks for the post letting me know I'm not the only one with green eyes. I really appreciate it.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The nepotism in the publishing industry (would that be the right term...but you know what I mean) is infuriating, although that does go on everywhere. I suppose it will continue to become more pronounced as publishing becomes more and more about brands and celebrity and less and less about writing and books. And yes, the relatives' books may be terrific, but we who are involved in writing know that most writers who write terrific books are lucky to sell them, to a small publisher, let alone get a big push from a big publisher. That's all down to the NAME.

As for envy...I envy anyone who makes all their money writing fiction. It isn't that writing legal articles is a dreadful way to make a living or something I hate, but all through my life I've had idea after idea for novels but hardly any time to write any of them. Well, damn you world, now I'm gonna take all those great books to the grave with me and then you'll be sorry!!!

I envy you, Mark. You're younger than me. You started selling way younger, and all by yourself, and you've still got plenty of time to hit the big time. You've sold different things to different editors too which suggests you can keep doing that. Mary and I have seven Byzantine mysteries out from Poisoned Pen Press. That means I have had all the fun (well, mostly fun) or going through the long writing process seven times. Got to describe scenes, make up characters, tell a story, knowing there would be an audience, seven times. But then again, we've sold the same idea to the same editor (and at a small press) seven times. Not only would I love to write something different but it kind of suggests that it's just a fluke. That we were lucky enough to run into an editor who shares our tastes. The fact we haven't been able to interest any other editor in any other idea doesn't exactly make me feel like a real, professional novelist!

One important point you mention, though, and something that irks me, is that there are a lot of part time authors who seem to like to give the impression that they are really full-time pros "living the life" as you say. People who are trying to break into the field themselves shouldn't be mislead by the fakers but I think they often are.

7:58 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I consider jealousy to be information. I don't even consider it to be a negative emotion, unless you suppress it. I once read that jealousy tells you what you want. Well, sometimes knowing what I want is a difficult task, LOL. I'm about as indecisive as they come. Jealousy makes that easy.

So mostly I get a good feeling. Usually, just ... I want that! And I embrace it, feel good about it, and start plotting. :-)

Conservatory was pretty competitive, but we were all mostly friends, too. So the result of jealousy was just to get back in the practice room, LOL.

Bitterness is just a pill to swallow, though. I had a hard time, after I cranked out 300,000 words in five months to save one of my epubs necks, when she discovered that some writers will write for a penny a word.

And then I had a hard time, just the other day, when the kink I say won't sell to NY, sold to NY. BUT, she's married to someone big, and she's claiming her novel is literary and not erotica. (Give me a break, for crying out loud. I read it. It's erotica through and through.)

But that's bitterness. I don't want those things, although it would have made my life easier.

So I look to the stuff that gives me that "I want that!" feeling. And I try not to look sideways or backwards, but forward.

PS: You gotta read Erica's The Roofer. I'd send you my copy, but it's a treasure. :-)

9:21 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sounds like I described things other people feel, too. Oh well, that's life, right? Some good, some bad and a lot in between.

I was musing the other day about the Rollin Stones' tune, "You don't always get what you want, but you just might find you get what you need."

And I thought: mostly you just get what you get.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't argue with that!

10:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"is that there are a lot of part time authors who seem to like to give the impression that they are really full-time pros "living the life" as you say. People who are trying to break into the field themselves shouldn't be mislead by the fakers but I think they often are."

Very true, Eric. For some time I thought all authors were either living fulltime as authors or even rich. Then I went to my first real authors con, Magna cum Murder, and started badgering authors to find out if they were making a living as authors. The majority acted like I was from Mars and tried to avoid the subject (as if that didn't tell me), at least until out of earshot of any potential readers, where they then would say, "Not a chance." A couple of them were candid, but the majority won't talk about it, which indicates they weren't.

Now I've done some panels where the audience asks and I can honestly say, "Yes, I make a living as a writer, but most of its from nonfiction." When the audience asks it pointblank a lot of authors try to hem and haw then admit they don't. Some authors do make a living just writing novels. I recently interviewed a bestselling author of nonfiction books who has turned to writing and he told me candidly (but off the record) that he held down a dayjob (as a writer, as it turns out). And I was somewhat surprised when I interviewed bestselling author Steve Berry (twice now) that he still practices law, although the last time I interviewed him he said he was doing less and less law and more and more writing.

10:33 AM  
Blogger J. L. Krueger said...

Once upon a time, I thought I caught lightning in a bottle. I submitted my first fantasy novel to Del Rey Books in early 1989...when they still accepted unagented work. The late great Lester Del Rey, took me on and started editing and mentoring. I thought, wow! I wasn't expecting such luck.

Then he turned the reigns over...and the lightning leaked from the bottle, one editor at a time. Unfortunately, each editor after Lester had a different idea of what would work, so I was whipsawed with changes. The fifth editor after Lester finally said that they were going in a different direction. Lightning gone.

Timing is everything. A year or two earlier? Maybe Lester and I would have gotten the deal done before he turned over the reigns to the "young blood" editors.

Twenty years on and I'm still trying to recapture the lightning. In the meantime I make decent money writing technical stuff...not nearly as fulfilling though.

BTW Mark,
I've lurked and finally finished your series on writing. I most heartily agree with Erica...should be a book!

10:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Thanks, JL.

I would note that you're definitely not alone in that. I had lunch a couple years ago with a local guy who wrote a paperback medical thriller about 12 or 13 years ago, it went out and sold somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 copies, sold out, the publisher dropped the ball on a second or third reprint, the editor changed houses and he hasn't had a book published since.

That definitely sucks as I'm sure he would agree. And I've run into this over and over again.

Hope you run into another bolt of lightning.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Tobias Buckell said...

Hmmm. Same old shit, probably. My friend Tobias S. Buckell's latest novel, Ragamuffin, was nominated for a Nebula Award (and a couple others). It's a great book and Toby's a great guy. Don't get me wrong. But day-amn! He's young. It's only his second book! (Congrats anyway, Toby).

Thanks Mark! Actually, although it's my second novel, I wrote over 100 short stories before selling my first for my apprenticeship period, starting my first one at 15 years old. There's also 15 years of eschewing TV, videogames, parties, social events, spring breaks, and all the other stuff everyone around me was doing LOL. Half my life invested in this.

So yeah, I'm young, but almost 4 hours a night from the ages of 15-25, that writing for a full decade, before my first novel, usually compares in hours to people who've been doing it part time but started later in life than me (I'm peculiarly obsessed). Most of my writer friends started writing in their late 20s or early 30s, so they get jealous :-) Even at 29 I'm still usually always the youngest person in any group at a gathering of writers.

Seems to me that a lot of writers suddenly start getting spooked as they hit their late 20s and realize the big 30 is coming and start trying to realize one of their life goals, being a writer.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know. For me, I didn't really start writing until I was 22, and never did much short story writing, jumping into novel writing. I also had precious little feedback, so my journey to getting any good was pretty slow. I also only spent an hour or so a day doing it.

I note that my son, Ian, who either wants to be a writer, a musician or music teacher, or a history teacher or work as a diplomat or policy wonk, writes at least an hour a day and often more (if we can't find the Acer laptop, hunt down Ian). He's 14, so he's probably already put in as much time at the age of 14 that I put in when I was around 25. Although I have some trepidation about him actually pursuing writing (but I think he should over music simply because he pursues it on his own, versus being nagged to it by his parents like practicing his instruments), I do note that by the time he's 22, if he continues the way he is now, he will have probably written as much or more than I did by the time I was 30.

And congrats again, Tobey--I am SO looking forward to reading SLY MONGOOSE. That first chapter just rocks.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hi Mark:
If you saw my face today, you would not be envious--LOL. But I know you saw my blog.

And I get envious too. I work really hard across genres, and I wish for the "big hit" that would take away some of the pressure.


1:26 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm sure. You just need to climb to the top 1,2, or 3 on the NYTSB and get a hot movie deal starring Sandra Bullock or Cameron Diaz.

Take care of yourself, okay?

2:19 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Jealous is a useless emotion-I ban it from my life!
However I do aspire. Since I found your website I've aspired to be like you.
You make a living writing, published multiple books and have gobs of talent.
You may not be where you want to be, but you are where other's want to be.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Tobias Buckell said...

Good point about your son. But the advantage to starting at that age is they don't have a full time job to hold, a family, etc, so one can focus a bit easier. By blowing off my homework and studies and TV through high school and college and accepting the C averages I got, I was able to do all that.

Had I started at 21 or 22, having to pay bills and student loans, with a wife or family, I would have struggled on bit by bit for a long time.

I have one friend who shelved it all until after retirement...

3:26 PM  
Blogger Melanie Avila said...

So... my aunt has a book coming out in the fall. Should I start the process NOW to change my last name to hers? ;)

I enjoy eavesdropping on all you accomplished writers, even if I don't have much productive to add to the conversation

9:17 PM  
Anonymous How Not To Write said...

Long ago a great sailor taught me how to deal with jealousy: "I am what I am. That's all that I am."

So while I certainly feel the rage at times, it doesn't last.

1:53 PM  
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