The startling tenth step, Gentle Reader, involves what our old friend Kafka might call “Metamorphosis.” Or even, as our old friend Ovid would have it, “Metamorphoses.”
The difference between the two—one letter—decided the question on a recent Jeopardy! answer.
But I digress.
What I mean is: Signing a book contract—the very definition of success in the literary game—changes you instantly into A New Thing Altogether.
As a HUGE FAN of this blog, you must surely have noticed that Your New Favorite Writer did set forth for the benefit of all, in public, beginning 4 August 2020, Six Simple Steps to Literary Lionhood. Those steps were, in order:
Step One—Cut the line. Go ahead and become a literary lion from the start, before you have a speck of achievement to point to.
Step Two—Write. Actually put something down on paper. To be a writer, one must write.
Step Three—Get feedback. Show your work to somebody and consider using their response to help you improve that work.
Step Four—Associate. To soften the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer, you must find your tribe.
Step Five—Submit. You must offer your work to the only judges who really count: Publishers.
Step Six—Build your platform. Gather about you, on social media and elsewhere, an army of friends who will help you sell your book.
In outlining these six steps, I cautioned repeatedly that although they are simple, they are not easy. Each step requires courage, cunning, and purity of purpose. If they were easy, everyone would be J. K. Rowling, or maybe Barbara Cartland.
Having set forth the Six Simple Steps, I smiled with satisfaction, knowing I had done a good work—even though I, myself, had as yet no published book to my name.
As to that . . .
. . . the beast remained elusive. Having applied the Six Simple Steps to my own case, I began to come close to publication. I could smell it. I could amost taste it.
I was offered a contract on my debut historical novel, but had to turn it down! Can you believe that? It was gut-wrenching. But this turned out to be a necessary first step to getting a good, fair contract with a publisher I could work with.
It was my good fortune that a couple of publishers who did not want to publish my novel took the time to write very helpful notes of rejection. Ever note, Dear Reader: A helpful rejection is better than a harmful acceptance.
I added a Seventh Step to the Six Simple Steps. Step Seven was the same as Step Two: Write. Or to put it more precisely, Rewrite. The two explanatory rejections told me that the book wasn’t good enough yet. This was a hard pill to swallow, but as Donald Maass observed, “At some point attention must be paid to the writing.”
Steps Eight and Nine were just like Step Seven, only more so. Write, write, write. I plunged in and spent a year rewriting the book, from tooth to tail with the help of stellar book coach Christine De Smet.
This rewrite was radical. It gave me, at last, a book worth publishing. One of my two rejectors agreed to look at it again, and bought it.
The Next Step
This brings us back to where we started, and my discovery of Step Ten in the Six Simple Steps to Literary Lionhood. You may as well prepare for it now, as it involves metamorphosis.
The instant you sign a book publication contract, you change from a writer into a salesman. All your waking thoughts are questions you never asked yourself before. How can I maximize pre-publication sales? Where are book clubs that would like to read my book? How can I get a celebrity to interview me? Do I need to buy a weather-proof canopy for outdoor book fairs? How does that Square thing work? Should I wear an ascot to signings, or just my regular bib overalls?
I kid you not.
It’s no good saying, “It won’t happen to me. I’ll remain an artist, above the fray.” No. You will not find that possible.
It’s no good cursing the book industry for forcing you into this commercial role. The publisher did not do it to you. The bookstores did not do it to you. You volunteered by hard, persistent literary work. You did it to yourself.
To begin with, you wrote the damn thing. You poured yourself into it, day by day, for years. You wrote, you rewrote, you cut the line, you got feedback, you found your tribe, you hammered away at your platform. And you kept writing.
By the time you had a book good enough to attract somebody’s notice, you were so deeply involved that you could not bear to think that nobody, or only a few loyal friends, would read it.
You can’t help wanting more. If you don’t get at least a respectable level of sales, you’ll be disappointed. So you plunge into the prospecting, the interviewing, the personal appearances, the social media, and hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.
A good friend of mine—a wonderful author with a powerful book—got so absorbed in the commercial end of things that he didn’t write a word of new material for two years. He’s writing again now, but he says it’s like pulling teeth to get started again.
I count myself lucky. I’m still writing a bit of new material, in the odd moments.
But don’t think I’m not absorbed in my new occupation of selling books. I just can’t help myself.
By the way, there’s still time for you to pre-order Price of Passage at a 30 percent discount. Just go to https://www.dxvaros.com/price-of-passage-preorders. But don’t delay. After 22 August, the price is full retail ($19.95 paperback; $4.99 e-book).
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)