Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Why Salinger wouldn't make it nowadays

My friend Ken sent me an interesting link today to a Wall Street Journal article, about what happens when an author gets out in public to push her book vs the author who remains anonymous.

By now, you have heard the story of John Twelve Hawks whose "debut" novel "The Traveler" got all sorts of press -- mainly because Mr. Hawks, who purports to "live off the grid," refused to identify himself even to his editor. Word is, he is a moribund midlist toiler who is reinventing himself thru a this ruse and a grandiose pen name, but we will reserve judgement.

Then there is the story of "The Historian," a vampire tale written by an engaging college prof who apparently has charmed audiences on her first national tour. "The Historian," the WSJ points out, has almost 1 million copies in print. "The Traveler" has a "mere" 200,000 in print. But given the big push and huge expectations by both books' publishers, "The Traveler" didn't travel far enough -- as least for Doubleday's bean-counters.

So what do we peon authors take away from this? In a nutshell, to quote the WSJ article: "Only 'The Historian' has emerged as a breakaway hit, and their differing fortunes show how relatively small differences -- the personality of an author, for example -- can have a big impact on the bottom line for publishers trying to create a best seller. It also demonstrates the new marketing challenges in a segment of publishing that has the power to spawn sequels, movies and other spinoffs...

"...Publishers say it is hard to over-emphasize the publicity value of a writer who also is an accomplished speaker. Best-selling authors such as John Irving, Janet Evanovich, and David McCullough all sparkle on book tours, retailers say."

I guess it doesn't matter how big or little you are, you gotta get your act together and take it on the road. Problem is, not all of us are good at that sort of thing. I have an author friend -- won a major awards, starred reviews in PW, goodlooking chap -- who hates the very idea of public appearances. Ironically, when you get him talking about his craft, he is marvelous. But he just isn't that comfortable in front of a crowd. Then there is my friend Joe Konrath, an admitted self-promotion nut (you don't believe me? Go read his over at the left there). Joe could sell New Jersey swampland -- and would probably throw in a couple Jets end zone tickets to boot. Both guys write good books. But we all know, great books go unnoticed every day.

More on that to come...I gotta go find a Toastmasters class or print out some bookmarks or something. Or maybe work on my chapter. Geez, now there's a real time-waster.


Anonymous Mark Terry said...

Gee, I knew there was a reason I got up early enough to do a 7:00 AM radio interview this morning....

I've certainly heard enough about Ten Hawks, and I'm certainly skeptical, because, what, the publisher is paying him with cash? Direct deposit to a numbered account in the Bahamas? They write a check to his agent, who sends him a money order or a Fed Ex envelope filled with 20 dollar bills? Such nonsense. Or takes his $200,000 check to the Check Cashing business in the inner city and takes a 15% loss on it, assuming they could cough up that kind of money. Let the freakin' buyer beware.

It all leads into the "pretty author" syndrome, which is maddening. Every publisher wishes their author looked like Sebastian Junger (I wish I looked like Sebastian Junger; hell, my wife probably wishes I WAS Sebastian Junger). But we're not. So then what?

A-ha! The Professional Author Double!

Wanted: Attractive, articulate individual to pose for book jacket, go on book tours and pretend to be me. Must be able to look good while on a 20-book tour, speak vivaciously and not appear the least bit depressed or even sad when only one person shows up for your signing or talk. Must be able to have high-energy, fascinating anecdotes available--or memorized--when asked: Where do you get your ideas? How do I get an agent? Where is the bathroom? Where are the diet books? You don't look like your author photograph? You will be tested prior to committing to position. Must be between the ages of 17 and 35, not be drug dependent, co-dependent or wear Depends. Pay commensurate with ability to sell books. This is a commission-based position. To apply, e-mail high-resolution PDFs of headshots and full-body 360-degree nude and fully clothed photographs wearing "authorly" attire, ie., for men, blue jeans, orange silk T-shirts or beige turtlenecks, and a blue or tan sport coat; for women, a long skirt, silk blouse and silk blazer or long, flower-print skirt and cowel-necked sweater. Ugly people need not apply.

Well, don't let the SAG know.

Mark Terry

3:43 PM  
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