Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not cramping up yet...

I have a friend who recently ran a half marathon and he said he was plagued by a persistent cramp under his ribcage for much of the race. But he finished--and that's about 9 more miles than I'll be running anytime soon.

The new book, however, is just about halfway done (at least according to my hastily thrown-together outline). So excuse me for not blogging, but I had me some real writin' to do! It's feeling better and better, and it's gotten a good response from my writers' group. I have another 6 or so chapters to submit to them, which will take them through the first half of the story. Hardest thing has been finding time, because I don't know about you, but I can't write for 15 minutes here and there. If I don't have at least an hour cleared, preferably two, there's pretty much no point.

No news on the first book, which is most definitely not good news. I think one editor still has a sample or possibly the whole MS, but my (former) agent told me it was a small house and therefore ultra-slow. Hoping for a more receptive response with this book. First of all, it's shorter (well, duh, it's only halfway done). I'm projecting 100K or fewer words, which is about 7K shorter than the first book ever was. Remember, it started out as 185K. Discipline, thy name is outline. Also, I've been doing more research and reading a few more "how to" books (thought I got my fill of those last time around), and I've picked up quite a few pointers on how to keep things moving and how to keep the word count down in the process.

My wife's been reading it as I go and so far, her major criticism is that I give my characters "weird" names. I guess I can live with that. I just don't feel like writing about "John," "Liz" and "Bob." I prefer names with character built-in. Is that cheating? I named the villain in my last book "Wally" because I wanted something totally non-threatening and even innocuous, to contrast with the diabolical scheme he came up with. It's not like I'm calling people "Snake" or "Codsworth" or making names up. Hopefully, that will be he worst thing she has to say about the book:)

Now all I need is 12 more chapters and a title.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Just When I Think I'm Out...

...I get a pleasantly surprising email!

This is a good thing: my agent and I parted on good terms, and technically still have a few days left in our formal agreement. But naturally, anything that was undertaken before we agreed to go our separate ways is still covered by our previous arrangement. So guess what? Someone he queried quite awhile ago has expressed interest in seeing the entire MS. Yay, me. It would be amazing if this works out after all--lord knows I'd rather be writing my new book than finding another agent.

Submitted for Your Approval.

Well, not your approval, exactly, but that of my writer's group. Last night I surrendered all that exists of my novel-in-progress, "Mother Sucker" (working title): six chapters and about 25K words. I'd been working on it since March, but when my turn came up to submit, I only had about three chapters, which was hardly worth it, so I switched slots with a friend whose novel was already completed and used the intervening time to jam out three more chapters.

Part of the problem, if not ALL of the problem, is that I'm working without an outline. I can see maybe one chapter ahead, but beyond that, I'm groping. I may just use the time while they're reading the first installment to rough something out. I was giving the "no outline" (or "blank page," as Carolyn Wheat, author of "How to Write Killer Fiction," calls it) approach after my last outline resulted in a 185K word book. Too much planning=too much writing. But now I'm hitting block after block because I can't see far enough ahead.

What's the consensus out there: outline or blank page?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No Matter What Happens...I Must Not Cry.

After much agonizing, deliberation and advice-seeking, I have decided to release my agent from further representation of "Ring of Fire." Not only that, I've decided to retitle it and give it a thorough once-over. I'm working with "Dead Ringer" for now, even though I know the publisher has the final word over titles and cover art, etc. I like the juxtaposition of a serious, ominous-sounding title with whimsical cover art. Think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. The cover tells you it's not a hard-boiled suspense.

Of course, according to my (former) agent and the editors he's contacted, my book isn't a suspense novel, anyway. It has elements of suspense, yes, but it also has a love story (ick!) and humor (double ick!), qualifying it as "mainstream" or "commercial." I don't mind at all, but apparently, selling a mainstream/commercial book by a first-time author in today's market is a fool's errand.

So what's next? Try to stay positive, keep working on Book #2 and start searching for my next, agent. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The End of the End?

Actually, that's a song from Paul McCartney's new CD. There was a time when a new Paul McCartney CD meant a mandatory "album release party" (beer, pizza and all attention riveted towards my stereo speakers). After his last two CDs were so disappointing that the only thing that got me through the "party" was the beer, I opted to download and preview his latest, "Memory Almost Full," in quiet anonymity, on my iPod while I ran. Glad to say it's a step up from his last, critically acclaimed CD, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard." All it took was for Paul to stop writing catchy, disposable pop songs for the critics to finally take him seriously. Of course, catchy, disposable pop songs are what I like most about him to begin with. Quick, which Beatles song would you rather have stuck in your head: "Penny Lane" or "Wild Honey Pie?"

The improperly-placed second to last song is called "The End of the End," and it's a nice little ballad, almost on a par with his better solo ballad work, albeit with better lyrics. It's got me thinking about my first book (I can call it that now, since I've started on my second). It's finally sinking in that it may not, in fact, sell. Or at best, be the second book in a two-book deal. My agent said he was optimistic that he would run into a bunch of promising contacts at Book Expo America in New York last week, the end-all, be-all yearly publishing event for agents, publishers, authors and booksellers. But when he got back, he said it was mainly throngs of people (mainly book fans) milling around, getting books signed and looking for free stuff. He said he made one contact, but other than that, he was going to concentrate on his list of small presses and see where that gets us.

He keeps saying the market is depressed and a mainstream book by a first-time author is a particularly hard sell these days, and I believe him. Things like podcasts, downloadable content, YouTube, NetFlix and...even...blogs are competing with the almighty book for people's attention spans these days. So as I type this, I'm undermining myself. And not working on my second book, which may one day be my first book, as far as the reading public is concerned.

Better get busy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing Hard, or Hardly Writing?

Am I the ultimate hypocrite or what? I start a blog to chronicle my first novel's (eventual?) path to publication, update it sporadically, whine about what a tedious process it is, hint at starting another book...and then doing everything possible to avoid it.

As his career was on the downslide, long after he had peaked with "Sports" and "Fore," Huey Lewis put out a CD called "Hard at Play." Keep in mind it had been at least four years since his last flop, "Small World." The first single from the new CD was called "Couple Days Off." From a working man's perspective, it talked about how hard he was working, how he needed to "catch his breath," etc. The first thing that struck me was, "Dude, you had
four years to put out this CD, and you're asking for a vacation??" Same here.

So as of today, I'm going to (try) to buckle down and not only update this thing more frequently, but actually do some freaking writing. When my blog posts are outweighing my actual fiction, something's wrong. I don't aspire to be a professional blogger. But "novelist," that's a job description I could get used to.

To that end, I wrote one page yesterday. It's not even very good, but it's done. And it can't be revised until it's been written in the first place.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Results Are In...

Got the critique back from my writer's group, and I was none too nervous about it. After all, it was the first time anyone truly objective (other than my agent) has read the entire MS. By and large, it was well-received and enthusiastically praised. A big "whew" there.

Several people did have significant bones to pick with it, and rarely were they the same bone, so it will be tough to pick and choose what I should address.
Some parts I had always had misgivings about were confirmed--the misgivings were justified. Those will be the easy parts to fix/remove. Other parts I was totally in love with were also called into question--not so easy. I've heard people say "cut out the thing you love most" and "without fail, you will end up throwing out your first chapter." Needless to say, neither of those two pieces of advice are particularly uplifting, particularly now, as I face the first chapter of my next novel.

But I'll have to say, both of them have come to pass. I threw out a scene long ago that I loved for comedic purposes, but it did nothing to further the story. And regarding my first chapter, it's been cut by about 75%, so it basically has been "thrown out."
One final sub-plot, and what I was leaning on as the protagonist's motivation throughout the book, was deemed unnecessary.

Secretly, I was wondering if I could dial back on this or take it out altogether, but feared the rest of the book collapsing in on itself. "If the hero doesn't feel A, then why on earth would he do B?" kind of stuff. My group steered me out of what looked like a dead-end street, at least in theory. Now comes the re-write.

The good news is I'll undoubtedly reduce my word count--never a bad thing. The bad news is, once again, the novel's not "done." Anything to stall jumping into the next one!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


My writers' group did some revolutionary "re-writing of its by-laws" recently. (Translation: we all stood around the kitchen eating brownies and complaining how long it took to get a full novel critiqued) Now, instead of submitting a novel piecemeal, three chapters or so at a time, over the course of a year and a half or more, members with completed novels (or just a big-ass chunk) are now permitted to submit the entire MS for immediate critique. Two consecutive sessions are devoted exclusively to one novel. Then everyone brushes their hands together in satisfaction and the critiqued author goes away for another six months or so.

Lucky me, I was the first to benefit from this new process. Everyone agreed that not only is it more helpful to the author to receive a critique on the book as a whole, it's more insightful and just plain more fun to read the book all at once versus three chapters here and there. Imagine watching one episode of "Lost" every three months and trying to make sense of it.

Shockingly, this was the first time my writer's group had read "Ring of Fire" in its entirety. I had gotten their invaluable input on problematic sections in the past (notably the backstory-riddled first few chapters, when the damn thing was still 184K words), but this was to be the true test of if my book merited agent representation or not. No matter that I already had an agent--if my group trashed the book, I had some revising to do.

Last night, I got their feedback on the
first half of the rest of the book. They liked it. Cue swelling violins/relief music. Sure, they pointed out a few things that stuck out, didn't flow, etc., but nothing egregious plot-wise, character-wise, or structurally.

At least not in the first half. Next session, they tackle the rest of the book, through the end. Not out of the woods yet...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Getting the Word Out

How do you market something that doesn't exist? Hell, I'm in advertising, so if you count the "benefits" of the various products I've shilled through the years, it should be second nature for me. But when my agent asked me to put together a "marketing plan" so he could submit my novel to a smaller press, I froze up. I wrote a novel, for cryin' out loud, isn't that enough? Apparently not for some smaller publishers, who actually require a marketing plan as part of a submissions package. My agent said sometimes that can be the deciding factor between two books of roughly equal caliber.

So I rolled up my advertising sleeves, sharpened my pencil and immediately emailed the only published author I know personally to ask him what he did. Springboarding off some of his brilliant/shrewd tactics (he just secured his place in the acknowledgments), I augmented and free-formed the rest of it and sent it along to my agent--just a Word doc that ticks off one by one the "ideas" I have to hype my book and get my face out there. Doesn't mean any of it will actually happen, but it shows I'm eager to participate in the process.

Ideas I left off the list:

1. Skywriting
2. Printing "Ring of Fire" on Simon's, Randy's and Paula's drink cups
3. Stalking Oprah

No response yet. But as usual, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Dog-Shaped Hole

Take it from me--when you bring home your 3-month-old Golden Retriever, the last thing on your mind is where you're going to scatter her ashes. Yet one day, there you are.

Not so long ago--not quite 10 years--our lives were turned upside down by the excitedly anticipated arrival of our newest family member. Kids were still a couple years off and she was the perfect addition to our new house, carpeted entirely in off-white berber.

To this day, I maintain that raising kids--twins, even--was made more bearable by weathering the chaos that comes with training a puppy. What was changing a couple of diapers at once after you've mopped up massive pools of you-know-what from your previously off-white berber? And no toddlers could wreak havoc on our landscaping like Hayley when she put her mind to it. She dug up azalea after azalea like Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel.

When the boys came home, the jealousy was apparent. But she was our first "baby," and only girl, so we were careful to keep her included whenever possible. And she returned the favor by shredding the occasional baby toy. But not once did we fear for our children. She never raised a cross paw to anyone, ever. And I've never heard a dog bark less. It's true--they do make lousy watchdogs. But that's not why we got her.

We got her to enrich our lives, and that she did, beyond all expectations. She appeared in our Christmas cards, took our family vacations with us, attended nearly every party we threw (including a one-year blowout for her) and even found her way onto the nursery wall, where I rendered her in acrylic paint above each of our boy's cribs.

She was, above all, a trooper. She could ride ten, twelve hours in the minivan to Florida or New York and never utter a peep. She'd take her bathroom break at McDonald's with the rest of us and you wouldn't hear from her the rest of the trip. Ear infections, pancreatitis, tail-pulling, being ridden horsey-style, little yappy dogs barking at her through picket fences--she took it all in stride.

Even the hip dysplasia. She was probably hurting a lot worse than we ever knew before we figured it out. But with therapy and meds, she bounced back from that as best she could.

But something finally caught up with her that she couldn't shrug off, try as she might. Every day, her breaths came harder and faster. The vet told us four to six weeks. A mere four days later, we said our goodbyes years ahead of our schedule. We weren't ready to let go, but she was.

I'm picking up her ashes from the vet today. Since she loved digging in the yard so much, it makes sense to put some of her there. The rest of her might end up at the beach, because that was truly her favorite place on earth.

The healing will come, eventually.

But until then, there you are, with a dog-shaped hole in your heart.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Show Me the Indifference!

Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? But after my initial euphoria of securing an agent wore off, we got down to the true business of getting published.

At least if you're not Nicholas Sparks, who, according to
his website, mailed out about three meticulously researched queries, got an agent the next morning and a million dollar advance before dinner. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

I thought editors would be snapping up my book, reading a couple pages and immediately launch into a bidding war, complete with movie rights.

But that ain't how it happens--after you spend all that time querying to get an agent, what does he have to do to attract the interest of an editor? He
queries! No freaking way! Yep, that's the process. But he generously sought my input in constructing the query, advising me that no, my novel was not a "contemporary suspense," but in fact a "commercial mainstream" (which actually translates into a larger audience). Fine by me, but if I had gone into with the intention of writing a commercial mainstream novel, it might have come out differently. Whatever!

So we get the query down to where we like it, and he gets some bites right away, from big time editors at Kensington, HarperCollins, Penguin, Viking, etc. Several ask to see sample chaps, several more ask to see the whole MS. I'm stoked beyond belief. This all happens within a couple weeks in early November, by the way.

Then December hit, and my agent told me the industry pretty much shuts down until January. Lotta shopping to do, apparently. I try to forget about it. January rolls around and the two editors who have been sitting on the MS for months both come back in the same week with praise-filled rejections. Hopes dashed. Beer consumed.

So we start again. Meanwhile, I'm mapping out...Book #2.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Break Out the Cheap Champagne.

And save the good stuff for publication.

Even as I edited from 184K, I continued to submit to agents, burning bridge after bridge and racking up form rejection after form rejection (over 100 in all, by my best guess).

In some query letters I spoke of my 140K word novel. A little while later, I was hawking a 135K word novel, and eventually, a 120K word novel. Somewhere in the 120-135K range, I started getting serious bites. Lots of agents asked for sample chaps. Several agents asked to see the whole MS--from big houses, too, like Writer's House, Nicholas Ellison and Curtis Brown.

One agent asked to see the whole MS based on the query alone. He requested "a fortnight's exclusive look." Although I had no way of shipping my book back to 18th century England, I sent it to him anyway. He rejected it.

One by one, they all turned me down, although very graciously and with helpful feedback. No one mentioned sheer length, though I knew it was still an issue. But in addressing the things they did mention (no one mentioned the same thing, by the way), I would end up cutting word count in the process.

Finally, I had it down to 109K. How, I still can't remember. Words are not the precious things I once considered them to be. I saved every cut in a separate, disjointed Word doc that I may drag out for readings some day--like a "deleted scenes" feature on a DVD.

Somewhere along the way, I wrote a prologue to set up the first chapter and cut the first chapter by 50-75% (all backstory). I had also rewritten my query for the third time. I had two versions I was test marketing. The only difference was the opening paragraph.

On August 11, I sent an equery to Robert Brown at Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency, the first line of which read as follows:

“People are so desperate to save a quarter on a cantaloupe, they’d give a urine sample at the checkout.”

Five days later, I had a request for sample chaps. Two days after that, a request for the whole MS.

And one month later, I had an agent. Nearly five years to the day I started outlining the novel and more than a year and a half since I thought I had "finished" it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ask and ye shall receive.

I'm in advertising, and we have a phrase that became painfully relevant to me after I attended my first writer's group meeting: "If it's on the rail, it's for sale."

In my day job, that means if you take a TV storyboard/print ad layout/logo, etc. into the conference room, put it up on the "rail" (a small shelf running the entire length of the wall), it's fair game to be praised, derided, bought or trashed. Every once in awhile, we'd throw in a decoy idea--one that was so laughably lame that the client couldn't help but see how superior the recommended idea was. Naturally, they'd buy the lame one, and when we protested, they said, "then why did you show it to us?"

Same principle here. I crammed my book with lots of hilarious backstory, pages of tangential anecdotes and entire scenes of throwaway comedy. My writer's group had the effrontery to point all this out to me. They'd seize on some inconsequential detail buried in the backstory and go on and on about how it didn't make sense, that the taillights on a 1966 Mustang pointed
out, not in as I described, and so on. Meanwhile, I'd be thinking, "Why are you so fixated on THAT? That doesn't even matter to the story!"

But if I didn't want them to comment on it, why was it in the book? And if it didn't matter to the story,
why was it in the book?

And that, my friends, is how I was able to take a 184K word novel down to 109K words. I'm not saying it wasn't painful. And I'm not saying it happened overnight.

But I am saying that until I did it, I didn't get an agent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Speaking of Fiction...

Check out this take on getting published, courtesy of Lynn Johnston, Canadian creator of the long-running comic strip/sap opera "For Better or For Worse." FBOFW is one of the few strips that actually acknowledges the passage of time, so kids get older, men go bald, pets die, etc. You know, typical funny paper hijinks.

Also typical of comic strips is their tendency to stretch out a few days worth of action into months and months of material. How much can you cram into something that takes about ten seconds to read, after all?

Still, I was caught off guard when the novel that Michael Patterson was writing was suddenly picked up for publication. Very few references were made to him actually writing it, although there was one strip devoted to the day he finished it. (Note to Lynn Johnston--the day after you finish your first novel is not the day you start shopping it).

We've never seen anyone actually read this novel, but one day, after the only copy of the mansucript is rescued from his burning apartment, he gets a letter--
a letter--with a contract, offering him a $25K advance on his genreless, titleless tome. (Of course, keep in mind that $25K Canadian is like twelve bucks.) To my knowledge, this guy never wrote a single query letter, never received one form rejection from an agent, never attended a writer's conference and never joined a writer's group.

So congratulations, Michael Patterson, on the sale of your book to Mephistopheles Press.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Those agents can be so elusive...

Armed with a copy of The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market 2005, (purchased from Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents (library copy) and a bookmarked link to, I was on my way.

At first, my approach was alphabetical. Just go through the books A-Z, pick out the agents looking for my kind of book ("ungodly long" was not a genre I found listed--anywhere) and send off the ol' query letter.

Ah, the query letter. More unheeded advice, here. I probably spent an hour or two refining it, and when I was done, it was very demographically targeted. I was giving the agent more of a reason why it would sell and who it would sell to instead of a reason why he or she would want to read it in the first place.

Nonetheless, my first round of queries resulted in three requests to see some sample chaps (remember, the book is still 184K words at this point--I was not budging on this. Every word was GOLD, GOLD I TELL YOU! Wait a minute...aren't some false idols made of gold?). In hindsight, I have to seriously question the sanity of these agents (who, despite my gratitude at the time, shall go unnamed here). Naturally, all three politely declined after reading my opening chapter, which consisted entirely of backstory.

I plugged away like this for six months or so before one agent had the courtesy to point out that my length might be an issue (insert own joke here).

In the meantime, I joined a writer's group after attending a reading from a local published author David Terrenoire. Couldn't hurt, I thought. Might be nice to get some affirmation on those words 'o gold I was refusing to cut.

Yeah, right. 'Cause that's what writer's groups are for--ego-stroking.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Use the force, Luke. Or the 'delete' key.

I was watching a "making of" feature on one of the "Star Wars" DVDs with my son recently and discovered that George Lucas' original script for the first movie alone comprised about six hours of screen time.

Turns out it wasn't conceived as a trilogy after all--the script was just too darn long. He shot the first third and called it "Episode IV." (Where he got his system of numbering was not addressed).

Does "War and Peace"
need to be 1,400 pages? Maybe. But did the first draft of "Ring of Fire," my contemporary suspense (or so I thought at the time) novel need to be 184,000 words? Most decidedly not. But coming from someone who consistently writes 34-second TV spots (note: industry standard is 30 seconds. Always has been. Always will be), it was hardly surprising. The frustrating part is I spent nearly six months just planning the book: character outlines, chapter-by-chapter analyses of books I was trying to emulate, a chapter-by-chapter outline of my own book, and so on. And still I filled it with things that I needed to know but my reader did not.

With my less-than-stellar publishing history, I decided I wasn't going to tell my wife about this book--just in case I never finished it. So how did I write it? You've heard of the "lunch hour novel?" There was some of that. A little bit after work, too. But mostly at home, late at night or during times when Susan was out with friends or otherwise occupied.

Ultimately, it took about two-and-a half-years to "finish" it. And when I presented it to Susan, in December 2004, I couldn't have been prouder. I had finished my first novel, and I actually thought it was pretty good.
So confident was I, that I gave it to a few friends and relatives to be "test readers" for me. Not one of them took me to task over the sheer length of it, but my mild-mannered mother-in-law demurely asked "Does it have to be so...detailed?"

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I decided to revisit it. I had heard others say "when you think you're finished, put it away for a month or two and then come back to it." Easier said than done, but oh, so true.

Meanwhile, having learned not to approach publishers directly, I began my search in earnest for an agent. I began shopping my
184K-word manuscript to agents. More on this quixotic endeavor later.

Friday, February 02, 2007

By George, I think he's got it!

Maybe it was 9/11, I don't know. But in the fall of 2001 I started getting restless to work on another book. After all, it had been a couple years since my last resounding thud--I had almost completely forgotten how useless and unfulfilling creating for its own sake could be.

But now, I'm kidding. Actually, after a dozen or more years of writing occasionally-inspired-but-mostly-insipid radio and TV spots, print ads and direct mail, I felt the urge to create something more "important." I had kids now, and if they were going through the box of my life in the attic decades in the future, I didn't want them to find nothing but literally unplayable audiocassettes and VHS tapes of McDonald's commercials.

And I finally had an idea that seemed like it could sustain itself for more than 30 seconds. Ironically, or maybe not, it involved advertising. In that sense, I was going to "write what I knew." But everything else would be made up.

I couldn't wait to start procrastinating, so the first thing I did was read a bunch of books about how to write a book.
I found Stephen King's "On Writing" and Anne LaMott's "Bird by Bird" to be the most down-to-earth and practical ones out there at the time. Since then, I've also read Larry Beinhart's "How to Write a Mystery" and Carolyn Wheat's "How to Write Killer Fiction," both good as well. John Gardner's books are incredibly dense and valuable, I'm sure, but he made me feel like I lacked the requisite elbow patches that would make me worthy of being a bonafide "author." Let's face it, my ambitions weren't all that high--I just hoped to finish it eventually.

The last fiction I had written (aside from advertising--zing!) was in college, and those were only short stories and first written in longhand. How could I possibly sit down at a computer and crank out tens of thousands of words?

One word came to mind: outline.

If at first you don't succeed...

Fail, fail again. My first book was self-published, which at least has the word “published” in it. My second book technically wasn’t even a book, just a bunch of sample chapters with a cleverly designed (if I do say so myself) cover.

My first attempt at non-fiction was inspired by my wife’s pregnancy with our twin boys. While she read the epic “What to Expect While You’re Expecting” (if you’re stuck on an icy road without snow tires, make sure you have a few copies of this in your trunk) I was at a loss for a guy-friendly read. Most of what I found was deadly dull and clinical or went too far in the other direction, turning the whole pregnancy into a big joke. I needed something in the middle—a splash of the medical, a dollop of humor—I needed “info-tainment” (complete with cartoons, naturally).

This time, I did several things wrong. Before I did any market research or looked into how to sell a non-fiction book, I wrote the damn thing, or at least a lot of it. Turns out, most agents and publishers don’t want a finished non-fiction book, just a book proposal. I could have saved myself a hell of a lot of procrastinating, and some actual writing and drawing time to boot.

Not only that, for about a year, I submitted directly to publishers. I sent a cover letter and a spiral-bound copy of my sample chapters, complete with a laminated, color cover. The height of unprofessionalism. One publisher gently told me the majority of pregnancy books are bought by women, so my strategy of appealing directly to men was…”misguided.”

After awhile, I went the agent route--which I recommend. Quite a few publishers won't even bother looking at "unagented" material. The most promising response I got was “Well, if no one else wants to represent you, call me back.”

How could I refuse? Yet I did. And that’s the story of Book #2.

Self-publishing doesn't count

Eragon is the exception, not the rule.

Having given up my dream of becoming a syndicated comic strip artist, I nonetheless undertook the arduous task of compiling all the comic strips I published in The Daily Tar Heel while at the University of North Carolina and self-published it on the 10th anniversary of my graduation. I soon discovered that some college memories fade fast, and the fans I had in college were no longer breathlessly awaiting my characters’ next moves. And it was extremely hard to market. If I had sold the damn thing DURING graduation weekend, while everyone was still in Chapel Hill, I bet it would have been snapped up like a quarter draft. Wait a decade or so, and my entire fanbase was scattered all over the country. An obscenely expensive ad in the alumni magazine generated a little interest—barely enough to pay for itself.

In the end, “UNC•ology, The Man from UNCle 1984-1988” sold in the hundreds. Which was hundreds less than I had printed. Someone astutely pointed out later that I probably shouldn’t have included “1984-1988” in the title, potentially alienating readers who didn’t actually attend UNC during those years. Probably right, I said, as I stared at the boxes upon boxes of freshly minted books.
But I stand by the work itself—it’s not very timely, so it doesn’t matter if you went to UNC in 1984, 1974 or 2004. Most of it isn’t even directly related to UNC, just the universal college experience.

Interested? For you, I make very good deal.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Great Minds Drink Alike.

Normally, I'm pretty happy with my life. I have a beautiful wife, two insane-but-adorable kids, a pretty cool job and no major health issues.

But damn, would I love to be Jimmy Buffett.

For a guy who just wanted to hang around Key West and write songs using three, maybe four chords about drinking and goofing off, he's done pretty well for himself. He's created an empire out of a lifestyle that he left long ago. And I totally buy into it. A couple of years ago, my hometown paper, The Raleigh News & Observer, ran contest to pick the area's biggest "Parrothead" (i.e. Buffett fan). Seeing it as more of a writing contest than anything, I opted in. My essay, titled "JB, You Complete Me," won me a spot on the front page (along with the photo of my boys and me) and the grand prize (a $50 gift card to Bahama Breeze).

Since I'm no musician, (karaoke doesn't count, and that's another story entirely) I can emulate other pursuits of JB. For example, did you know he was also a novelist? The picture above was taken at a book signing in Chicago to promote his so-so novel "Where is Joe Merchant?" And if he can write a book, why can't I?

So I did.