Friday, September 13, 2013

Fame & Fortune? Fugetaboutit!

I was invited for Chinese food by a friend. He brought along a stranger who he introduced as someone with a “work in progress.” (Stop me if you've heard this one before.)

When asked what he was working on, the stranger replied, “I'm writing a self-help book based on my experiences.” Since he was barely 30, I really wondered what kind of expertise he might have had that would give him credentials to write such a book. He answered my question before I had a chance to ask. “I was abused as a child.”

(Pause. Why is it that some people believe it is perfectly acceptable to bring their most uncomfortable personal experiences into the conversation within ten minutes of meeting? “Hi, I'm Ramona and I was raped at fifteen.” “Greetings, I'm Tom. I've attempted suicide three times.” These are not great opening lines. Save it for the shrink.)

He proceeded to explain the premise of the book in great, convoluted detail. I listened, I really did, but none of it made a bit of sense. The words were self-helpish, all the right phrases and psychological terms inserted. Sentences knotted within themselves and came out as gibberish. I cut to the chase.
“How do you plan to market the book?”

Blank stare. I'd used the dirty “M” word. “I don't plan to market it. I'm going to write it and it will find a market.” I countered with “You'll need to market it in order to sell the book.” His reply? “Oh, I don't want to make money.”

(Pause. Money is another dirty “M” word. This newbie is out to save the world by contributing his unique experiences for the rest of us to learn from. He is the voice crying in the wilderness. No false profits here.)

I quickly assured him he wouldn't make money on the project—why should he be any different than the rest of us writers? I pointed out that a publisher would want to make a bit of cash from it. He seemed stunned that a publishing house wouldn't jump at the chance to get their hands on his unique work. I listed the costs of producing a book: editing, cover art, layout, printing, distribution. Books don't just appear out of nowhere. All of this takes money. While it's very altruistic on his part, a publisher has bills to pay.

“I'm sure it will get published and people will want to read it,” he assured me. Then he added, “I don't expect to become famous.”

(Pause. Anytime someone brings up fame, even to say they realize it won't happen, it indicates that they have thought about it, dreamed about it and hummed “Fame” when driving alone in their car. In fact, they totally expect the spotlight of fame to fall upon them. They are just trying to be humble by telling the rest of us it hasn't crossed their mind.)

I might be wrong. This person may have all the answers of the universe, he may change life as we know it by sharing all of his innermost thoughts with the rest of us. Maybe he's Gandhi reincarnated. Maybe I'm too cynical. Maybe going in blind and deaf to the world of publishing will bring him dumb luck. All I know is I've heard this many times before from too many wannabe writers. Illusions of what publishing a book is all about, delusions of what it means to be a published author.

I let him chatter on and concentrated instead on chow mein and orange chicken. I had a feeling the fortune cookie contained as much worthwhile advice as the self-help book he was writing. I should have kept that slip of paper.



18 comments:

C.L. Swinney said...

Someone has to let these folks down gently. I equate it to the folks who are sure they have a beautiful voice on American Idol. Then they open their mouth... It's good advice Sunny.

Holli said...

I also think the same crazy expectations often exist with writers who have a great product and don't understand why it actually gets good reviews but doesn't sell. The best book in the world isn't going to sell if the writer isn't as invested in selling it as he or she was in writing it. It may sound gauche, but it's what we do. Writers have to be sales people.

Augie said...

Sunny, you were kind and direct with the information you gave, many people would have tuned him out. You are a great teacher no matter the venue or occasion. Thank you for sharing. Augie

Sunny Frazier said...

Gang,
It's so hard sometimes to reel myself in when faced with this situation. That's why I blog about it instead. I'm not out to discourage anyone, but I can't take time with people who have preconceived notions of how the industry works without anything to back it. If they honestly wanted info, they would pick my brain and LISTEN. But, you know, pearls before swine and all that.

Cindy Sample said...

I've been there and listened to that. You were very kind and I loved that last fortune cookie line! So true.

Lesley Diehl said...

And you could write a self-help book entitled, "Gentle truths for those who have works in progress." You grabbed a teaching moment, helped him and had a great lunch.

Amy Reade said...

Sometimes it's hard to hear the truth, but that's exactly what writers need to know if they want to get anywhere. Thanks for always telling the truth!

Amy

Anonymous said...

Agree with you 200%. Sunny, hope you are ok - I was concerned a while back re your emails to all of us... Thelma in Manhattan

Jim Callan said...

Ignorance is bliss - or at least postpones the pain. You have put the truth in front of him, but you can't make him partake - sort of like the horse. Good post, Sunny.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Been there, heard that many, many times. I'm not as nice anymore. Too old and cranky. And I'm not rich or famous and work my you know what off.

Sunny Frazier said...

I was waiting for someone to slap me for being rude. But, I see you've all experienced what I'm talking about.

The thing is, writers who go in blind get more crushed and discouraged than those who understand the mountain they are about to climb. And no, none of us are rich or famous, but are we enjoying the journey? Absolutely! The rewards go far beyond FAME and $ortune.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ahh the naive optimism of the new writer. I hardly remember it anymore. I think I had it.

William Doonan said...

Reminds me of myself before the weight of the world crushed by spirit!

Liane Spicer said...

I think we all start off with dreams and starry eyes. Then we get in there and learn... and learn... In my experience, some newbies don't want the truth. I've almost injured two friendships with my publishing reality checks.

Nowadays I leave people to their dreams--unless they specifically ask for my input.

marja said...

When I started out I said I just wanted to entertain people (still a major goal). When I saw my first royalty check I thought it was a joke, but I also decided I wanted to make a little money. Fame never entered the equation except for thinking it might earn me money. So I make a VERY little money now, but I've also learned how much work is involved. It's a rocky road and I'm glad you don't mince words.
Marja McGraw

Jewel Amethyst said...

Oh the innocent dreams of the unpublished! Even in the dark realities of writing and publishing it is good to dream and to have hope. I think that's what the young man had ... hope.

Yes hope should be tempered by reality and when it is not, the reality strikes often with bitter disappointment. But let the man have his dream even while you're laying out the harsh realities. Who knows, maybe he'll get it published and it would be made into a movie and life would be bliss for that aspiring writer at least for a while.

Sunny Frazier said...

Wouldn't it be great if reality WERE our dreams? I mean, what's so hard with knowing you have to work on more than just writing? I love coming up with marketing strategies and engaging with fans.

Too many people are operating on the old dynamic (agent, advance, publisher)and rolling the dice that it will happen. I love it that we have control in our hands to make or break our careers. I also think that many writers want someone else to handle the selling and they just collect the money. Even big name authors know there's more to it.

Eileen Obser said...

I agree about the old dynamic and that so many wannabe writers are still thinking it will work this way. I hear it, too, and try to just listen, verbally wish them well, and encourage them to keep writing. Who knows what is in their futures, dreamers or non-dreamers? Thanks for the topic, Sunny.