A while ago, my writing buddy (and fellow former junkie pal) Tom Pitts had a great line about a day in the life of a modern writer: waiting for good news from the e-mailman. So much of what we do relies on what others think. You write a book, a book you think is really good—you have it beta tested and deemed ready for the world … and then the real process begins.
The question I get asked most in interviews is a variation on “What is the best/worst writing advice you ever received,” and while the “best” can change depending on my mood and strength of coffee (current brand: Death Wish), the worst advice is always the same: write for yourself.
You hear this one a lot, and it gets echoed constantly, from amateur to pro alike. The former champions it as a version of why they can write whatever the hell they want and any pandering to audience is tantamount to selling out and if they don’t get published it’s because the reading public are morons unable to appreciate their genius (I used to be one). But the pros, even though they’ve cracked the gatekeeper’s door, also fall prey. Though their take is a little different, more subdued, e.g., can’t be concerned with what sells, etc. And of course a large chunk of that is true. You can’t concern solely yourself with what is hot and trending or whatever the kids call it today. Trying to catch a wave (“Have you considered putting “Girl” in the title?)? Thing is already crashing the shore by the time you are paddling out (to go with a surfing motif because why not?).
All that said, you have to be aware of audience. And that is a big word. There’s the general audience, your reader at large. But to get there … you need to get published first. I’ve had around a dozen books published, either already out, soon-to-be, or contracted. This includes a couple I’ve edited. There was a time, right out of grad school, where all I wanted was to get one book published. Man, I thought, if I can have that? I’ll be the happiest guy in the world.
I have that.
I am not the happiest guy in the world.
Personal therapy aside, to paraphrase Mr. Brownstone, Used to take a little. Now the little takes a fucklot more.
I can get my new book published tomorrow. Or rather I could get someone to agree to publish it. And, like Jesus and King Missile, that is way cool. But I’m also at a point where mid-list, few thousand sold, grateful for the opportunity, won’t cut it anymore.
In short, I need a hit. I feel like I’ve written that hit with my new novel, THE LAKEHOUSE COVENANT. At least this morning I do. But it’s not really up to me. What I think doesn’t matter, period. The worth of my opinion? It rests somewhere between the right of the stump (the title of my upcoming autobiography) and Brad the three-fingered janitor at the old Berlin Community Center who was missing a thumb and ogled the high school girls. Holds no sway, and may be somewhat offensive. It’s what the agents think, then hopefully the publishers, editors, critics, and book-buying public at large.
Right now the book has started making its rounds in the world. And as much as I would love a short trip? Long-term success in this business is contingent on packing for the long-haul. Overnight hits do happen. More often than not it’s a game of last-man standing. So if you need me, I’ll be over here, waiting for my man.