Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

A Writer's Dream

By Jerry D. Simmons,
Author and former executive with The Time Warner Book Group

2006,
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 true.

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 information.

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 book?     

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 lottery.

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 realistic. 

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.