I assume that at some point in the past, writers who became authors could also remain writers. The thought isn’t as convoluted as one might initially think.
In “the old days” (just a few years ago), authors got published by large houses, those houses threw themselves into promotion and the author could sit at home and watch himself on Phil Donahue (whatever happened to that guy?). Radio, print and TV interviews were conducted, the publishers mailed out review copies and the author would have a fun little book signing at an eccentric bookshop in his hometown and occasionally chat, say, with Charlie Rose or at least the religion editor for the Dallas Morning News.
Not too taxing. And fun. Once the interview cycle had run its course and promotion slowed down, the author could then really devote himself to being a writer, sip some exotic tea, and peck at the typewriter while watching seagulls mate on a New England beach.
Those days are gone.
In the rough-and-tumble world of book publishing, circa 2009, a writer hoping to become an author can either commit to hurl himself upstream with the other salmon or become bear food. No one can even think in terms of someone else (hint: the publisher) doing real promotion on the book. Real publicity, which yields real sales, comes primarily from the author.
Now, let me say at this point that I’ve talked to hundreds of aspiring and published authors. They all want the same thing: fame and fortune. And because competition and the economy are your enemies in your pursuit of writing immortality – or a decent royalty check – you must decide to A) get in the game and hustle or, B) scrapbook and sip exotic tea.
By the way, either option is fine; this is somewhat of a secret in publishing. It’s okay to go robber baron on your competition and simply will yourself to the top. It’s also okay to decide that the brutality and sheer ghastliness of book publishing is too … barbarian. It’s okay not to try.
I’ve seen so many frustrated writers. Once, a fellow sat across from my desk and we chatted for quite awhile about various things. Then, with perspiration popping on his forehead, he leaned forward and got to the heart of the matter:
“I just want to be published so bad.”
We were both uncomfortable. He was because he had bared his soul. I was uncomfortable because I was willing to admit what so many narcissistic editors (often frustrated authors themselves) won’t: no one is the gatekeeper to your writing dreams but you.
No one can really help you get published until you help yourself get published. That can mean evening writing classes, painful critique sessions in a semicircle of writing misfits at a local community college or a horrific writing schedule while working your day job as the night manager of a convenience store.
Now, for the good news. If you decide that you are going to roll up your sleeves and grind it out until your books are everywhere, and Oprah really does want to interview you … take note that one of your most important tasks will be to promote yourself. The Internet, social networking sites and advanced printing technologies have produced conditions that can enable you to realize your writing dreams.
It is a law of nature that every aspiring writer starts out as a nobody. If you want to see publishing success, you must realize that you are a nobody who can become somebody, but you can’t forget that you’re a nobody. Got it?
Maintaining a nice balance between outright arrogance (writing a book is one of the purest forms of narcissism, because the very idea presupposes that large numbers of people want to read your wisdom) and humbleness is vital.
When my series on college football was launched by Regnery in 2008, the lead-off book was my own creation, an ode to my beloved Oklahoma Sooners: “The Diehard Fan’s Guide to Sooner Football.”
Now, one of my first interviews took place with the late, great quarterback, Jack Mildren. When I called Jack for the first time, he was a true gentleman.
“What connection do you have with the University?” he asked.
“N-none,” I stammered.
I finally spat out that I was just a fan; I was nine years old when he played in the “Game of the Century” against Nebraska.
He laughed and set me at ease. A similar pattern was repeated with many football legends that I subsequently interviewed, including Barry Switzer, Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles. I forced myself to be engaging enough to secure needed interviews. Remember, I had no credibility. I had once written an article for the Daily Oklahoman sports page.
But I thought I could put together a compelling book, and that’s what I set out to do. For example, rather than rely on a phone interview, I traveled to Austin, Texas, to interview Emory Bellard. The man who had created the fabled Wishbone offense, run with delicious precision by Oklahoma for two decades, sketched plays on graph paper, called me “pardner” a lot and gave me plenty of color for that section of the book.
I worked at it.
The publisher actually did a very nice job of promotion, but I began to cast about to find opportunities. Perhaps – no, definitely – my greatest achievement was reached several weeks ago. You see, one of my favorite interviews for the book took place with Claude Arnold, OU’s first national championship quarterback (1950). Claude had appeared at a book signing with me at Barnes & Noble, and it had been so successful, I realized I should try to repeat it.
So I called Claude. Sure, he’d do another one.
Well, with that success, I began to think crazy. What if I contacted Jimmy Harris, the legendary quarterback who never lost a game at OU? Harris said he’d do it if Claude was in. That led to me taking a deep breath and asking Steve Davis, another legend. Yes, if Claude Arnold and Jimmy Harris were in, so was he. And on it went until Jamelle Holieway and Josh Heupel agreed to appear.
So I had all five of Oklahoma’s national champion quarterbacks together in the same place. I knew this was special for fans, and suspected it could be big when Oklahoma City sports writers inquired.
To make a long story short, 500 fans showed up on a Sunday afternoon. The players were beyond gracious, signing for four solid hours. It was a landmark day in OU football history, it’s safe to say.
The point is, I decided to try. I decided to screw up my courage and ask a favor of several men who were my heroes. They didn’t need me or my book or the signing. But they were nice men who did something extraordinary for the fans.
The whole convergence made for a memorable event, and helped me promote my book in a big way. I tell the story to give you an idea of the lengths you’ll have to go in promoting your book and making it stand out from the many hundreds of thousands out there.
Because the salmon are running wild, man, and the bears are hungry.
Next week: more on the critical nature of author promotion.