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.