Writing my debut novel? Exhilarating. It’s what I’d wanted to do for years. Navigating the byzantine world of the publishing business? Not exhilarating, but I’ve practiced entertainment law for some time, so those arcane agency and publishing contracts weren’t all that daunting. Trolling for blurbs? Scary, but eventually some generous, talented authors said yes.
Only when my book was actually launched into that vast sea of published print did I discover that I’d harbored some misconceptions.
Surprise No. 1: Not everyone you know is going to want to buy your book, even your friends. Because I’ve always loved books and admired authors, I assumed that everyone else does, too—or at least that they’d admire me for writing one. Not necessarily. There are the nonreaders—more and more lately—who simply aren’t so impressed with your accomplishment. Others think they’re doing you a favor by reading your novel—not buying it, reading it. I heard this more than once (and I’m not talking family or close friends): “You wrote a book? Cool. Send me a copy.” Depending on my mood, I’d either smile or say, “It’s available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.” Then there was the friend, an aspiring writer himself, who graciously bought my book, but later reported, “I’ve lent my copy to five friends, and they all loved it.” “How nice,” I replied, while clenching my jaw and thinking, Why didn’t you tell them it’s available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon?
Surprise No. 2: Posting on social media doesn’t automatically mean massive sales. My social-media-savvy son warned me. Maybe it was an age thing, but I’d hoped that all my Facebook friends would share my release date, that they’d tell their friends, and they’d tell their friends, and … Corrupt Practices goes viral. Nope. Many Facebook friends and Twitter followers are also authors, hawking their own books. And those friends and followers who aren’t writers didn’t necessarily buy my book (see Surprise No. 1).
Surprise No. 3: You might not draw big crowds at your book signings. You will if you’re the next Lee Child or Gillian Flynn, but most of us aren’t. Bookstores expect you to bring your own crowd. My first reading was well attended, but not by strangers—kind of a second Bar Mitzvah (“Friends and family, today I am an author.”) Another reading/signing took place on a Sunday afternoon so sweltering that the city streets were empty. At the tiny bookstore were my then wife, my son, my sister, my niece, and my eighty-eighty-year-old mother. In answer to my question about their most successful events, the bookstore manager said, “Michael Connelly. Lines out the door and down the block.”
I asked for it.
I drank wine, bought books, and read to my family. Strangely, it was relaxed, serene, all about the words and not about impressing an audience—ultimately, my most gratifying appearance. That wonderful day was a reminder of why I became a writer in the first place.
Robert Rotstein is a writer and attorney who’s represented many celebrities and all the major motion picture studios. He’s the author of Reckless Disregard (Seventh Street Books, June 3, 2014), about Parker Stern, an L.A.-based attorney, who takes on a dangerous case for a mysterious video game designer against a powerful movie mogul. Reckless Disregard has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. His debut novel, Corrupt Practices (Seventh Street Books), was published in 2013. Visit Robert at www.robertrotstein.com
And then there are those of us who bought your book who didn't know you at all. And who loved the book and who can't wait to read the next one.
All three of your points are too true. But it's also true that sometimes someone you don't know buys your book and writes you an email telling you how much they enjoyed it. And sometimes someone in social media adopts you as their pet project and makes it their business to talk about your books. And sometimes you get a few surprise people at your readings.
The consistent thrill is in the writing.
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