Mark Terry

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Writing Fantasy

October 22, 2010
I was inspired to try my hand at writing by an essay by Stephen King called "The Making of a Brand Name." I was in college at the time, struggling my way through a degree in microbiology and public health. I was at least as intrigued by the idea of selling a short story (money was very, very tight for me in college) for $50 or $100 as I was by the fact he received a $400,000 advance for "Carrie" (which had a 50/50 split with Doubleday, which sucked then and would suck now).

So my attempts to break into writing were definitely influenced by the "fantasy of writing," which goes something like this:

You get a great big advance for your book, six-figures at least. Your publisher really pushes your book. There are ads in USA Today and The New York Times. You get great reviews in The New York Times Book Review, maybe on the front page, and Publishers Weekly does an interview with you and even Kirkus, the "Mikey" of the review world, loves your book. You do book signings where hundreds of people show up and enthusiastically buy your book. You do TV interviews, say "Good Morning, America" or "Larry King" or "Oprah." You get movie deals and you get to fly out to California and discuss things with movie execs while you stay at the Hollywood Hilton and get a limo ride in to the studio. Your movie actually gets made and you get to go to the premier and walk on the red carpet and hang out with George Clooney or Nick Cage or Naomi Watts. While the movie is being filmed you get to visit the set, talk to the director and actors, maybe even get a little cameo. All your friends and family will be so impressed and in your city people will say, "Hey, you're that writer!"

In short, your life has changed and there's excitement and glamour and "being an author" is a really, really cool thing.

In reality--at least in my case and I suspect in most novelist's case--it's more like this:

You get a tiny advance that won't even pay a single mortgage payment. Your publisher's idea of pushing your book means listing it in their catalogue and sending out a handful of advanced review copies. The first question they ask you upon or before signing the contract is: "So, what are you going to do to promote your book?" They don't put ads anywhere. Not only don't you get on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, you don't get reviewed by them at all--and in fact, your opus doesn't get reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal or your local big city newspaper. Maybe, if you're lucky, Harriet Klausner reviews it on Amazon. You get some bookstores to reluctantly do book signings, and 7 people talk to you over the course of 3 hours and you sell 3 books (or 1). One of those persons tells you she doesn't like your type of book. Three are aspiring writers who want to tell you about their work. One will say maybe their husband will like it, then wander away. Two will complain to you about how high-priced books are. No TV interviews except maybe for your local Cable Access channel, right between your township board meeting and the replay of last week's high school football game. You do a radio interview with a drive-time program in a different state that lasts 5 minutes and you have no idea if anyone even listened to it, particularly since the DJs barely let you get in a word between their jokes. A film producer tells you how much they love your book, what a great movie it will be, then you never hear from them again and they won't return your or your agent's calls or emails. Your family reads your book but your Dad says there's too much swearing, your Mom wants to know why you made the mother character so creepy, your sister loves it, your brother says he never got around to reading it, your friend's don't mention it at all or say they're waiting for it to come out in paperback, you'll get an article in your local newspaper where they get the title wrong and someone will invariably say, "Hey, I saw that article about you in the paper, I might buy that book someday, do they sell it at Walmart?" Or, "I don't read mysteries (thrillers, romance, SF, fantasy, etc)."

But... you're THAT writer guy.

How about you? How does reality compare to the fantasy?


Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

I probably had two or three books and at least a dozen stories sold before I even realized I was writing. I've always been so focused on piano, that it never occurred to me to do something else. I'm not sure when I decided to make it a career, but honestly... by that time, I was so far in, it was too late to have a writing fantasy that didn't match up with my current writing life.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

In retrospect I wish I'd had more contact with real writers. I would have benefited from a reality check far earlier.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

Really? Why? I mean, what good what it have done, aside from discourage you? I wish I had had at least two or three years more before I joined RWA and learned I wasn't a real writer. It sent me in knots, LOL.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Partly because it was when I finally started meeting writers that I met people who made a living at it and I saw how they did it. That was when I started getting things--mostly nonfiction--published on a regular basis.

It's different now, thanks to the Internet and social media and blogs, etc. There's significantly more advice that you could absorb available now, and a lot of it's BS (but maybe a lot of advice is BS no matter where you find it. Everybody's path is different).

7:15 AM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Being an author is everything I dreamed it wouldn't be.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Stephen--we should talk

9:22 AM  
Blogger Stacie said...

Wait - you mean it DOESN'T work that way? hahahahaha.
Great post, well said.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, it must work that way for somebody...

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Great post. Although I have to say, when I started writing seriously, in my mid-forties, my fantasy was not to about making a fortune, but about making a living. Which turned out to be just about as far fetched.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Linda Pendleton said...

Don't we live in a world of fantasy? Oh, heck, that is only when we are writing...isn't it?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Christine D. said...

Ha! My "writing fantasy" is pumping out 400,000 words of material every year--some of it in ebooks, some of it in print (and most of it in the romance market, 'cuz it sells)--going on blog tours, and hopefully making ends meet with all of that. If I can write fiction and make ends meet, I will be happy--even if I have to hold those ends together to make 'em stick.

Glamor and fame just never occurred to me. :)

10:37 AM  
Blogger C. Michael McGannon said...

Thank you, Terry. That is a really encouraging post. I feel so much better about getting out there and getting those books done. ;)
Actually, a good dose of reality and what we writers are up against is much needed. People who have this get-rich-quick desire but don't have the heart for the craft lack something: Their passion. They need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what it is they're good at and what it is they should do in life. And if they still want to do the same thing, then.... We're all here to help them keep going.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I don't know. I've had some cool moments--multiple options (got $$ even if they didn't make it through pilot season), mentions in US Weekly, Cosmo, national mags . . . some amazing parties and events in NYC. Beautiful covers. Some awesome, packed signings (recent library association one in D.C.) . . . My life hasn't changed to rock star proportions by ANY stretch. I still have to pay the bills and do my own laundry and walk the dogs and mother four kids and . . . and . . .

But there have been flashes of absolute joy, and at the end of the day, I get paid to make stuff up for a living and I am my own boss, and the gig ain't bad.

7:38 AM  
Blogger ssas said...

I guess I'm more a realist than a lot of people are. You have to build every career. Few leap off the ground. So the idea I spend some time in the trenches doesn't bug me too much. Every year I seem to advance my career a little more. I would like to publish a paper book before they go away entirely though. :)

3:33 PM  

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