Monday, May 30, 2005

How 5 = 13: A Few Comments on Writing, and Other Observations about the New (Publishing) Math

Herewith, the fifth and final report derived from the "Baker's Dozen" of Mad Max author surveys conducted long ago...As regular visitors to this space know already: In the very early days of BookAngst101, I asked writers to share with me their publication histories. Thanks, once again, to the 13 — Elliot, Jesse, Mary, Keith, Kitty, Allison, Lynn, Rachel, Calvin, Richard, Willa, Carla and Patrick—who replied in such frank detail.

[The clever watch-dogs among you are already working calculators with one hand as you draft a "rant" with the other. After all: even publishers have to admit that 5≠13...right?]

No, there haven't been 13 reports. Despite the fact that I've used the contents of those surveys numerous times in one way or another, most didn't lend themselves to a sustained narrative. But I went back through the material one last time, and found a few gems that every writer will want to post in a prominent place.

"The only dependable maxim I know of in publishing is 'Drunks buy books.' Thus, I always set aside some cash in the marketing budget for booze at readings."

"I've had some success marketing to libraries. Always be nice to librarians."

"Bookstore signings are about as effective as standing in an alley and sellling books from beneath an overcoat."

"Always carry a couple of copies of your book in your backpack or briefcase. I once made a sale in a parking lot to a Fed Ex driver."

"Beware publishers who boast of their marketing capabilities, and use it as a justification of their meager advances."


Survey Question #9: Based on your own experience, what one or two things have had the most impact on the succeses you've achieved so far?

"My ability to hang on to a day job."

"My own dogged determination & thick skin. Also a sense of humor."

"Big hats." [From an author who dresses in period costume for book signings]

"The fine-tuning of my own bullshit detector."


#12: Final Comments?

"My heart remains set on making the most beautiful, potent stories I can create, not on 'being an author.' "

"For me, it's always been about the writing, and that's what has saved me in the end."

"Do it because you love it.... Write because you can't imagine not writing.... What matters most is writing a really good book, a book that can't be ignored."

16 comments:

Sam said...

Thanks for posting this Max - and thanks for the blog.

Bella Stander said...

Those are indeed timeless gems. I'm going to pass them along (with a link, of course).

I add to the heartfelt thanks for your blog. Too bad that pesky day job keeps you from posting more often.

Ania said...

"Gems" indeed. Thanks again, Max!

TLG said...

My favorite had to be "The only dependable maxim I know of in publishing is 'Drunks buy books.' Thus, I always set aside some cash in the marketing budget for booze at readings."

Because it's so-o-o true. People buy some... interesting things when they're under the influence.

(I was also told in college when in doubt, your character's motivation is sex. That also hasn't let me down.)

zornhau said...

>"Big hats." [From an author who
>dresses in period costume for
>book signings]

So, would this make my plate armour tax deductable?

Katharine Weber said...

MadMax, is it true you will appear at Bookexpo in costume?

Your blog has been a wonderful and important contribution to the conversation.

TLG said...

Zornhau...

EVERYTHING's tax deductable. If you try hard enough. Creative accounting and creative writing require the same amounts of truth mixed with fibs.

Ami said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ami said...

Here's a photo of Max from EdRants Return of the Reluctant Blog
http://www.edrants.com/reluctant/002110.html

Mary Stella said...

Note to self: Ask booksellers for wine, cheese and chocolate at next booksigning. Heck, I'll even bring the chocolate.

It's also helpful at mall booksignings to predetermine the location of the nearest public restrooms so that you can point shoppers in the right direction when asked. *g*

Anonymous said...

"What matters most is writing a really good book, a book that can't be ignored"

I hate comments like that. They tell you that if you are not a big success (i.e., if you are ignored), then your book sure isn't really good, and you aren't worth a damn, not only as a commercial writer, but as an author too. It may not sound like that, but if you trace the inner logic of the statement, it does.
If you write a really good book, you'll be noticed. So what about all of us who got published but went down the drain? Why should literary quality be so tightly linked to commercial success?

chantal said...

Listen, Max: you may be mad but -- as you know -- the world of books is as sane as hell. The only math with any relevance to publishing is the equation that pans out as "1 editor/agent/publisher = 28,946 writers", one third of whom are plotting, another third scheming, and the last third bristling with devilish intent. The question for editors/agents/publishers is: which third is the most driven?

Chantal.

"I Was Hitler's Wet Nurse"

http:iwashitlerswetnurse.blogspot.com.

chantal said...

Listen, Max: you may be mad but -- as you know -- the world of books is as sane as hell. The only math with any relevance to publishing is the equation that pans out as "one editor/agent/publisher equals 28,946 writers", one third of whom are plotting, another third scheming, and the last third bristling with devilish intent. The question for editors/agents/publishers is: which third is the most driven?

Chantal.

"I Was Hitler's Wet Nurse"

http://iwashitlerswetnurse.blogspot.com.

TLG said...

*tap tap* ...max...buddy, pal... come back to us. It's been... one, two, three... well, a bunch of days.

Mary Stella said...

Max! We miss you!

Patry Francis said...

One of the most instructive pieces about agents that I've ever read.

A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."


PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]

"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."


PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]

"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."