A Writer's Dream
By Jerry D. Simmons,
Author and former executive with The Time Warner Book Group
Jerry D. Simmons
Michael Smith had a dream: he wanted to be
a writer. Writing had always been a hobby that he now wanted to turn into a
career. He'd been writing stories since high school and finally decided it
was time to get serious. Life was passing him by and he did not want to end
up wondering, "What if?" So he began to take the craft seriously. He
attended workshops, joined a couple of writing groups, and began sharing his
stories with an online critique group.
When his confidence and skill level reached
the point where he was beginning to see real progress, he decided it was
time to search for an agent. He began asking questions and soon discovered
that the query letter could be as daunting as the novel itself. Eventually
he conquered the concept and found an agent who believed in him and his
writing. He was on his way. After three long, hard years of constant
writing, attending seminars, and regular meetings with his writing groups,
he was confident he was on the verge of becoming a published author.
But, had he done everything he could have?
Was he ready for what was ahead? He'd spent countless hours in front of his
computer; he'd completed three novels and was in the middle of the fourth;
the feedback from his critique group was encouraging and he found an agent
he trusted. The first part of his job was over. He'd worked hard to improve
his craft to the point where an agent felt he had what it took to land a
contract. So what else was there? You're about to find out!
After a dozen or so rejections, Michael's
agent landed a one-book contract with an option for a second. He was
ecstatic! He was going to become a published writer! The advance wasn't
enough to allow him to quit his full-time job, but he was confident. His
writing began to consume him, it became more important than ever, and his
goal was within reach. He soon received a phone call from his editor. They
enjoyed a rather lengthy conversation and he was relieved to discover that
his manuscript needed only a few revisions. When he hung up, he knew he'd
made it! Life was good.
Several months had gone by since he'd
spoken to his editor and Michael continued to crank out more writing. He
made a couple of phone calls to his publisher but was never able to speak
directly to his editor. He exchanged emails and was assured his book would
be published soon. Michael wasn't worried; he had complete faith. His job
was to continue to write, which he did with such enthusiasm that he was
certain he'd be able to quit his day job and write full-time. Dreams do come
Finally, he received an email telling him
that his book was about to be published. Within a few days he received a
copy of his book in the mail with a note telling him that he could find
copies on store shelves in a few days. He sat down and looked his book over
closely. There it was, what he had worked so hard to accomplish. It had been
almost five years, but he achieved his dream of being an author. Now he was
ready to sell his other completed manuscripts, which was up to number eight,
quit his job, and do something he really truly wanted to do with the rest of
his life. Write.
The next morning he was first in line when
the bookstore opened. But he couldn't find his book! He asked at the service
desk and they told him it would be arriving the following Tuesday. Finally,
when the day rolled around, he rushed back to the store and found two copies
on the shelf. Not much, but a big first step. He wanted everyone in the
store to know this was his name on the cover, his first published book, but
instead of shouting it to the world, he walked quietly out of the store with
a big smile on his face. Confident he was on his way to becoming a best
selling author when he got home he called his agent to inform him that there
were seven more completed manuscripts ready to be sold.
Michael went back to the store every day
for a week, sometimes twice a day. He was disappointed to find both copies
still sitting on the shelf each time he visited. After a week he was even
more discouraged, but then it dawned on him. The book was selling and those
were replacement copies! Of course! However, that wasn't the case. Those two
copies sat on the shelves for about two weeks, then one day they were gone.
Michael inquired at the service desk and was told there were no copies
available, but they could order one if he liked. There was no other
He phoned his editor and was told he could
leave a message. A few days went by and the editor didn't call back. Michael
sent emails and, after a few more days, received a reply. The book wasn't
doing very well and more information would be forthcoming. But information
was never sent. After several more calls to no avail, the bomb was dropped.
He received a letter stating that the publisher was not interested in
picking up his option for a second book. His heart sank!
His agent assured him not to worry; he'd
try to get to the bottom of the situation, but whatever the result, there
were plenty of publishers. Confidence shaken and enthusiasm dampened,
Michael returned to his writing and waited for word. It never came. Now even
his agent stopped returning phone calls and was only communicating via
email. The messages were all the same: your second manuscript is still being
shopped. Every effort is being made to find you another publisher.
The hardest part was never knowing what
happened to his book and why. It had been published, he found it in the
bookstores, then suddenly it was gone and that was it. At that point Michael
faced the tough questions of what do now and where to go from here. Was his
short-lived dream career abruptly over?
The person in my story does not exist.
Michael Smith is a fictional character. However, the facts surrounding the
story are true. This happens to hundreds of authors on a regular basis, and
they all ask the same question: how can I find out what happened to my
The answer is, unfortunately, it's too late
to find out what happened. Michael Smith and the hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of writers like him will never know because they didn't take the
steps to become involved in the process when they could have had a chance of
knowing what was happening to their books, when, and why. Publishing is a
multi-faceted process. Books and authors come and go, and there are too many
stories like Michael's to ever uncover all the nuances to the situations
that led to his book's seeming failure. However,
the character in this story did what every other author being published by
the larger trade companies do, and that is to put on blinders and turn
everything over to the publisher once that contract is signed.
There are two very dramatically different
requirements to being a successfully published author. The first is
improving your craft to the point where you can get your work published. The
second is the one 99% of writers ignore, and that is learning the basics of
the publishing business. Authors need to know what is going on behind the
scenes and how they can have a positive impact on the decisions surrounding
the publication of their book. Without that knowledge you have only a
slightly better chance of being successful than you do of winning the
Publishers produce tens of thousands of
books a year and there is virtually an unlimited supply of new authors and
titles available at any given time. It's unrealistic to expect publishers to
spend time on every single title that is published. If you feel your book
deserves time because it's better than everyone else's, then your feelings
match those of every other writer. The truth is, publishers have the same
twenty-four hours in a day that everyone else does, and they try to manage
that time to the best of their ability, just like everyone else. Expecting
them to rearrange their schedules to spend more time on your book just isn't
Publishing is the business of producing
books to ship to booksellers in quantities as large as possible, to generate
as much billing as possible, in hopes of selling more books than last year
and the year before that. Publishers are not lazy. All employees of a
publishing house have a limited amount of time and resources to complete the
necessary work for the authors and books
that generate the most money for the company. The remaining titles on the
seasonal list get minimal resources devoted to their success.
Why would any writer spend time, resources,
energy, and hope on becoming a successful author without learning something
about the business of publishing? Michael Smith's book was a victim
of the process and his own lack of understanding of what goes on behind the
scenes of the largest publishers in the world. It's very important for
writers to seek out information about the business and begin to learn the
secrets of becoming a successfully published author. Failure to take this
important lesson to heart will affect your career as a writer and will put
you in the same place as Michael, looking for answers after the fact,
when it's already too late. Michael Smith had a dream.
If you would like to learn more
information on how to avoid the mistakes that Michael Smith made,
visit Jerry Simmons' website:http://www.writersreaders.com.