Heading home from BEA with an armload of catalogs representing an embarrassment of riches–each page bristling with promise and laudatory prose–I spotted this article in Publishing Perspectives from novelist Lisa Tucker on the arc of a novelist’s career.
While it’s true that many of the readers of this blog are looking to break into publishing, veteran authors like Tucker know that getting even a long sought-after deal is not, in most cases, the happily-ever-after ending that it can appear when trying to place a book or find an agent. BEA is a particularly poignant time to reflect on this, because it is a show built around great expectations, only some of which can be realized. In the author signing center, vast bullpens full of writers autograph galleys, making way every half an hour or so for or a new group of aspiring future bestsellers to come in. Articles and blog posts speculate on the fair’s “big books,” amplifying and in some cases creating the buzz on which they report. BEA exists, in part, to write a self-fulfilling prophecy. Namely: these books are exciting and worthy, these books will sell. (BEA may also exist as an experiment in seeing how much people will pay for a mediocre sandwich, but that’s fodder for another post.) But we all know that even those books with great expectations, those selected by their publishers to receive what Tucker calls “the Big Love” don’t always succeed, and if an author plans to have a second and third and fourth act—as most of you probably do—it’s worthwhile to think of publishing as an endurance run, and gird yourselves accordingly.
I’ve learned that keeping a career going as a writer requires flexibility and a willingness to keep trying whatever I can to get my book in the hands of readers. And so my advice to any new writer is simply this: get in the game. Make friends with your coworkers at the publishers’ office and out in the field. Go to your local bookstores and offer to come for a reading, or even offer to run a writing group. Buy a book or two from the stores you want to sell your books. Read as much as you write, if not more…
For those of you out there with one or more books to your credit, what are your strategies for staying in the race?