So, I have a book deal. It isn’t with a Big six publisher (are there six of them left?). It is with a well respected mediumish sized house. They gave me an advance. I won’t be retiring on it. In fact, on a dollars per hour ratio, this is the poorest paying job I’ve ever had. That includes when my mother would pay me a penny per weed I pulled in the back yard. But! Somebody paid me for my book. I’ve sold some stories for a couple bucks here and there. I was once paid with a bottle of shitty wine. In this case, someone gave me more than that and had the faith to incur all the costs associated with putting my novel on the market.
This is part two of how I got a book deal. If you were not among the couple hundred humans who read part one, I’ll sum up: learn to write.
I’ll emphasize here that this is how I got a book deal. I don’t know if it is indicative or common. I assume there are better ways I don’t know about. This is certainly not prescriptive. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Write a story you have to tell. That’s it. That’s part dos.
However, I’ve learned people like it when I expound. Every story has been written. All stories can be boiled down to man versus man, man versus nature, or man versus himself (gender pronoun used only for simplicity there.) Yet, there are compelling, enticing, engaging, fresh stories written all the time. Why? My non-researched, non-academic speculation is they were stories the writer needed to write. As such, they received that writer’s loving, nurturing, very best application of craft.
There is a scene in “Walk the Line” where Johnny Cash is trying to get a recording deal. He is playing some derivative gospel crap, and the producer stops him. The producer asks him what is the one song he would play before dying. Cash responds with “Folsom Prison Blues.”
So, until your bullpen can get you there, go with your ace. Much better writers than I can clock in, write, clock out, and sell it. I’m not that good, and I know it. I went with my Nolan Ryan, my Folsom Prison Blues.
Over the past few years, in no particular order, I experienced the death of a child, an aggressive degenerative disease, mental illness, a couple suicide attempts, loss of a very lucrative career, alienation from my remaining children, a bitter (and still very expensive) divorce, and multiple moves to different states. If you’ve ever taken one of those stress tests, I won the super sized prize. In fact, the test might be named after me now.
In that time, I also met the love of my life, went to graduate school, and hiked the Appalachian Trail. What I saw, amid all the good and bad, was that I had a story to tell. I had a story I needed to tell. I wrote a novel, a work of fiction, but much of it is based on biographical events. I reopened wounds and bled on the page for three years. Around this time next year, readers and critics can decide if I wrote it well, but I know I wrote it well enough to sell it.
Like I said previously, my story is not prescriptive. Many people have more horrific experiences than I. For those who don’t, I hope you never will. All this is not to say you have to experience pain and loss to sell a story. I am suggesting you must have emotional investment in your work. If you, the writer, don’t, why should the reader? Are you a good enough writer to fake it? Many are. I know I’m not.
So, D.R.’s guide to selling your book…
Step one: don’t suck, and work really hard
Step two: write your Folsom Prison Blues
Step three to come as soon as I think it through and figure out what it is.