Thursday, May 9, 2013

31 Years & 19 Best Sellers: Some of What I've Learned



By Michael Palmer
BE FEARLESS


Before I get started, let me explain the way I write when I am communicating with friends...

It’s like this—thoughts with no particular syntax or attention to punctuation...lots of ellipses...One of the reasons for doing this is that I can only type with 2 fingers...think of it—19 books with all the rewrites…20 if you count the one that has never been published in English (6 foreign translations, though) and all of it done with these two fingers...my first 2 books were done on a manual Olivetti, the third on an electric smith corona, and the next two on a Kay-Pro, the 30 pound “portable” 9” green screen so-called writer’s computer…After that it’s been Mac all the way…I go for easy… 

No wonder I needed to have a carpal tunnel release 2 years ago…great operation, by the way, for anyone who needs it…write me for the name of my doc at MGH… 

There is more than laziness to my blogging this way…this is how I write when I’m figuring things out or am trying to break my way out of creator’s block…writing is easy—making up what to write, not so easy…so I call it creator’s block, and writing like this is the way I handle it. 

So, here are some rambling thoughts for you as they pop into my head—thoughts accumulated over 34 years (I first tried my hand at this in November, 1978 and sold my first book as an 80-page outline in 1980 for what was at the time, the largest advance ever paid to a fiction writer who had never published a book -- $250,000… amazing) …for some of my writing story, check out the bio on www.michaelpalmerbooks.com) … 

My two guiding principles in this business are never to forget that (1) THIS IS HARD and (2) BE FEARLESS… 

It is so hard that I can never believe how many authors actually finish books—good or stinky, published or not…I don’t think I ever would have tried if I didn’t have a nice fall-back job behind me—namely: physician…talk about a safety net…my two biggest assets are my always wild imagination, and my discipline…

Wanna know if you have the discipline it takes to write a novel?—take organic chemistry…as for the second guiding principal, that’s what it’s all about—you (me) must get rid of the fear of sounding stupid and also of being rejected…write first, worry later…

And be careful about reading your stuff over when you are tired…not much of anything reads un-stupid when you’re exhausted…of course, we’re all always exhausted, so the state is relative…any questions, read your stuff out loud (I do that all the time, and when I’ve finished a book, I actually pay my son Daniel (a terrific writer, now finishing his 4th thriller, and doing well with STOLEN, his third) to read it out loud with me… 

I write almost every chance I get…usually I write six days a week with a goal of like three to five pages a day…

HOWEVER, perhaps the third guiding principle is never to be too hard on myself…if I do two hours and only one page and can’t do any more for whatever reason, then I walk away…

But remember what I wrote about discipline…discipline is doing it when you don’t want to…you must know yourself to know when it’s time to stop…I used to be driven to do another hour in organic by seeing other pre-meds sitting there in the library with their noses in that humongous to me…I just now put on some music for a while…anything to make it easier…I love the 150 or so tunes on my iTunes and know them so well, they are like white noise most of the time…at the moment it’s Richard Cory by S&G…what a great song…

Brings up my 4th guiding principle…never if you can help it, I mean NEVER go around comparing your insides (or writing) to other people’s outsides…it takes practice and reminders, but it will make a hell of a difference in your writing and your life…need reinforcement about this, get Richard Cory from the sounds of silence album and put it on your iTunes…

Everyone wants to be an overnight wonder in this business…I never even thought about that and damn if I didn’t luck out with The Sisterhood…but life and the book business was different then…it was more personal and less crowded, it moved slower and there were amazingly talented and imaginative people in the publishing world whose job it was to make me a success…there are still such people, but the industry can’t pay enough to keep them…

Now I watch what son Daniel is going through and I ache for him…he’s good—really good, actually…but there are just so many people writing, and so many publishers throwing books up against the wall searching for the next girl with the dragon tattoo, and then deserting the author when the book doesn’t immediately make it…computer-generated sales figures are the enemy in that regard…

There are e-books flooding the market, and amazon, and nook, and blogs and conferences and speaking opportunities from organizations looking for “free” entertainment and program fillers…you can’t imagine how many ARCs I get every month searching for blurbs…believe it or not, Daniel’s older brother Matthew just got a great 6-figure, 2-book deal from Putnam…he’s got a great “fall-back” job as I did…so I don’t ache for what he’s in for as much as I do for the full-time writers who have no other source of income… 

That brings me to the last thought I want to blog about here…publicity and marketing…new writers often ask me: okay, my book is coming out next march, now what can I do to get people to read it?? …they never like my answer, which is that the most effective thing they can do is to write another book…

It wasn’t like that in the old days…I was on good morning America and today and Larry King (several times) and many other shows…I had reviews in tons of newspapers (some of those papers still exist and some of those actually still review books—but a continuously shrinking number) …I did dozens and dozens of my favorite media—talk radio, and dozens of shows like good morning Cleveland and good morning Pittsburgh, many of which if not most have gone the way of the dodo bird…

So what’s left? …here’s sort of an amalgam of what I’ve learned from my experience and Daniel’s and others and what I will be passing on to Matthew (who is too busy working for the state department to go out and hock his book anyway) …

First of all, get a web site and keep it up…get lots of business cards made that are eye-catching and list your site (www.VISTAprint.com)…..give one to whoever will take it…make it informative and imaginative…people love the writers’ tips on my web site, even though I don’t have time to update them…TV and radio appearances probably help…TV lots…newspaper ads—who knows? …no one really seems to know about ads, even big ones like the full pagers I have had in the NY Times…

Social media may actually help, but only if you really work at it…contests, frequent postings, Facebook ads to increase numbers on your “fan page” …what about hiring a pro?? I REALLY DON’T KNOW…

I would go social media pro rather than media unless you have a real hook that would appeal to TV or Glenn Beck or someone…Daniel does social media himself, but he spends time on it, and of course when you’re doing anything that isn’t writing, you’re not writing…make that guiding principal #6 or whatever number I’m on… 

Speaking of which, even though this is fun and relaxing and easy for me, as well as being gratifying because I love to help new writers, while I’m doing it, I’m not working on my new book, RESISTANT … so… 

POLITICAL SUICIDE:
Dr. Lou Welcome, from Palmer's bestselling Oath of Office, is back. A desperate phone call embroils Lou in scandal and murder involving Dr. Gary McHugh, known around the Capital as the “society doc.” Lou has been supervising McHugh, formerly a black-out drinker, through his work with the Physician Wellness Office.  McHugh has been very cavalier about his recovery, barely attending AA and refusing a sponsor. But Lou sees progress, and the two men are becoming friends. Now, McHugh has been found unconscious in his wrecked car after visiting a patient of his, the powerful Congressman Elias Colston, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Soon after McHugh awakens in the hospital ER, Colston's wife returns home to find her husband shot dead in their garage. She then admits to the police that she had just broken off a long-standing affair with McHugh. Something about McHugh's story has Lou believing he is telling the truth, that the Congressman was dead when he arrived and before he blacked out. Lou agrees to look into matters, but when he encounters motive, method and opportunity he is hard pressed to believe in his friend—that is until a deadly high-level conspiracy begins to unravel, and Lou acquires information that makes him the next target.


BIO:  Michael Palmer is the author of seventeen novels of medical suspense, all international bestsellers, and an associate director of the Massachusetts Medical Society Physical Health Services, devoted to helping physicians sidelined by mental illness, physical illness, behavioral issues, and chemical dependency. His books have been translated into thirty-five languages. He lives in eastern Massachusetts. Visit him at www.michaelpalmerbooks.com.

4 comments:

Richard Mabry said...

Michael, Great post and great advice. The mantra used to be BIC, with success sure to follow if you keep your posterior firmly in the chair and write. You know, persistence would pay. But now there are too many other factors.
The acid test--try to stop writing. If you can, you're not a writer. If you can't...well, Heaven help you, you're a writer and you'll have the same struggles described here. But they're worth it.
Thanks for sharing.

DonnaGalanti said...

Michael, thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight!

This especially stuck with me: write first, worry later.

It's really the basic foundation of how books get written, otherwise we can get bogged down in the fear of rejection before we even write THE END.

Funny, as at ThrillerFest 2012 R.L. Stine talked about how he types all his books with one finger - so he has you beat :). Perhaps a match is called for? Still, quite an accomplishment to write all of your books with two fingers and having suffered carpal tunnel.

Wishing you success with POLITICAL SUICIDE!

AmyShojai said...

Thanks so much as always for your insights, Michael. It's hard to let go of the nagging worry. I'm using music now, too, for white noise-icity and concentration help (no words or I sing along!). See you at Tfest!

Andrea Valerio said...

I guess your comments fit not only writing but living as well...
Thank you for all the helpful advice.