By Warren Adler
“It’s so easy to become an author of novels. Others have done it, why not me?”
In writing a novel, all you have to do is follow the formula. Classes abound that teach the formulas. Hell, you probably believe you can imagine and create stories as good as any of them. You have things to say, stories to tell, fantastic ideas floating around in your imagination that deserve to be communicated to a vast army of readers. You’ve been validated by your teachers and peers. Maybe a publisher took a chance on your first novel. Okay you didn’t sell that much but the publisher didn’t promote it and you know in your gut it is a great piece of work. It is a prize worth pursuing. You burn to write stories and novels. It is in your genes. You thirst to see your work converted to the big or little screen. And the money? Lots of money rolling in. You’d be lionized at book parties. People would line up for your autograph. You know in your heart you can be the next Hemingway, the next Faulkner, the next Fitzgerald. Your talent deserves the celebrity and prestige of authordom, the shot at immortality.
However, you’ve submitted your ideas to agents and publishers and they barely read a single page. Alright then, you have tried all the traditional ways of getting published. Agents have ignored you. The traditional publishing business is faltering anyhow. Barnes and Noble is going south.
Hire an editor and submit again? Maybe. Or you could find a business created expressly to increase book sales, get it on television, into the movies, adapted for the stage, getting discovered. You go to conferences on digital publishing, get the real skinny from speakers who tell you about how to make it, how they made it. Advice for the self-published author is coming at you from people who tout their expertise, who know how its done, who can offer you the magic ladder that will get you into the stratosphere.
So you do it yourself, go the Amazon way, make it on your own. You could sit at home and enjoy the fruits of fame and fortune; Amazon has come to your rescue. You can now take your manuscript and convert it to a book with your name on the cover without having to rely on a traditional publisher. Imagine, Amazon can do it all for you, soup to nuts and shazam, there’s your book. No more stigma of the vanity self-publisher. You’re up there with Stephen King or Stuart Woods or Nicolas Sparks and Nora Roberts.
You take the plunge. Amazon welcomes you into their book-selling machine and for all intents and purposes you are what you always dreamed you would be: an author. You are an author, a bona fide author. Your friends and family are proud of you. You receive their plaudits, their congratulations.
Okay, so you don’t quit your day job, but for some, just being published is worth the journey. You are an author, sainted by experience, up there with Dickens, Tolstoy, Balzac, et al.
Now what? Why aren’t the readers stampeding to the cash register to buy your book? Try it at $9.99, then $5.99, then $2.99, then .99 cents. Finally, for free. Imagine the irony of becoming a best seller for free. Hell, you can get all the great sets of classic writers for peanuts as well. You can’t blame Amazon. They made your dream come true; indeed, they have made the dream come true for millions.
You might think I’m putting you on, satirizing the author’s dilemma. I’m not. I’ve been at it for many years, analyzing the process, studying it, experimenting. There is no magic bullet. Call this little exercise a cautionary tale. Better yet, a reality check.
You will, of course, soon discover that you are in a very, very crowded pond, in the company of millions of authors and over three million books on sale. How could readers find you? Oh, they might take a chance for free, or pack you into their Kindle to read some day. Maybe.
Now the “How to Succeed” boys will get you, drag you into their conferences for a price, show you how to stand out from the mix. They will promise you speaking gigs, publicity, discoverability, and on and on. They will tell you to get off your butt and blog like all get out, social network like crazy, create a massive circle of “friends,” network like hell. Cultivate your “friends.” They yearn for communication. Personalize yourself. Tell them your life story. Bond with them. Keep them engaged. It’s hard, time-consuming work. Maybe some of them are actually readers. And finally, push these “friends” to buy your books and, above all, to read them. Stop promoting yourself for just a minute and they will quickly forget you. Getting your name burned into the public conscious is a task requiring all your ingenuity and time. The net is like a bullet train, passing people at warp speed. Getting their attention for any length of time is a paramount. Keeping their attention is a small miracle.
In no way do I wish to dampen one’s great expectation to become an author. Go for it. Some, with social network skills, optimism, energy, and luck might develop a following. In the end the work will tell. In fact, it’s all about the work. Are your stories worth the effort? Do they engage, connect, inspire, hit the magic gong? If you stay the course, the sales, recognition, celebrity, and fame you crave and hope for will be yours.
In the end, talent and Lady Luck might bring you that great grand prize. As they say, it takes two to tango and, after all, someone does win the lottery.
Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses which was made into a hit film and will debut on Broadway this year. His newest thriller, Treadmill, is available.