Monday, November 23, 2009
I supposed I asked for it.
My book How to Catch and Keep a Vampire is starting to raise questions like this one, and I realized it would be handy to have a blog post that addressed it, so I’d have a spot to refer those inquiring along these lines. For example, a fan of the book recently asked me, “I want to meet a vampire, but I’m too shy to approach one, especially since they are so attractive...what can I do to get over my shyness?”
So let me start by saying, I have an aversion to being a buzzkill, especially when the “buzz” involves being imaginative. For example, let’s say you’re talking to fellow fans of a TV series. Let’s work with the example of “True Blood.” Everyone is going off about how much they’d love to date Bill, how cool it would be to talk to him about Civil War days, how dreamy his eyes are, etc. I’m not going to be the one to say, “Look guys, there is no Bill, and I doubt that Stephen Moyer knows anything special about the Civil War.” Au contraire, I’m going to be the one saying, “If Bill came to Milwaukee, I wonder where I’d take him on a first date.”
Recently at one of my book signing appearances, an obviously very intelligent and mature teen girl asked me, “Have you had imaginary friends?” I said (with total honesty), “Only like dozens! I have them right now, several of them.” And this girl proceeded to tell me about her imaginary friend with wonderful enthusiasm, very much as if he were real. Maybe someone not like me would have said to her, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” But think about it a minute: she said “imaginary friend.” It’s not like she’s deceiving herself that the guy is real, in a flesh-and-blood way. It’s just that she’s clever enough to take him just as seriously as her flesh-and-blood friends. And in my opinion, she should.
So, if you really must have me say it in black-and-white: No, I have not dated any real vampires. No, I am not in my book offering tips for finding real vampires and going out with them. But what fun is it to dwell on that?
The fact is, I (and millions of other people) have hung out with vampires in our imaginations. As well as with pirates, space aliens, satyrs, etc. Well, fewer with the satyrs I’m sure. Our inner, imaginative lives mean a lot to us. We’d like to understand them, know how to handle them, realize ways of making them more interesting and helpful. And that, if you must know, is why I wrote my book.
Now if you know anything about effective fantasizing, you know Rule #1 is to set aside reality. At the climax of the play, the villain is not going to turn to the audience, “breaking the fourth wall” as they say, and tell them “You do realize I’m not really going to kill the hero in this scene--we’re just acting.” Just as you get to the moment of the hot love scene in your bedtime fantasy, you do not tell yourself “I must keep in mind I’m not really Hugh Jackman’s girlfriend.”
On the contrary, effective pretending is enhanced by anything you can do to make it seem more real. Why do you think so many people get a charge out of seeing there’s a Web site for Oceanic Airlines? Or buying a four-pack of TruBlood from the HBO Store? Or following Dexter on Twitter? Of course you know you can’t buy tickets on an Oceanic flight to get to the Lost island. You know there’s soda, not synthetic blood, in those bottles. And you know some marketing person is posting as Dexter. But what fun is it to dwell on those facts?
I suppose in the interest of full disclosure and so I don’t get sued by someone, I have to go on record in this regard. But it’s not like I’m enjoying having to write this post.
The way I truly prefer to reply to the girl asking about her shyness problem is this: Don’t worry...the happy thing is that vampires, with their mind-control talents, can simply hypnotize you into not being so shy. Just walk up to the vampire in question, showing off the red satin ribbon on your wrist, and he’ll be happy to solve the problem for you.
That’s my “story,” and I’m sticking to it. Get it? Good.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
As I occasionally mention, I don’t usually write too much about the doings in my little world on this blog. But a couple people have suggested that readers might actually find it interesting to hear what its like when you experience the success of publishing a book in wide release. So, I thought it might be fun to reflect upon what has happened to me in that regard.
Fun? Yes. Exhausting? Yes! Satisfying? Well, considering I’ve been working towards this goal since I was in grade school, definitely yes.
As a little kid I’m sure I thought there could be nothing so thrilling as publishing a book. But, blame it on human nature, there’s a negative side to everything. I want to save the good stuff till later, so let’s get that out of the way.
The negative side to my experience can pretty much be blamed totally upon myself and my own attitude. Much to my amazement, I found that when I saw my book on the shelf of my neighborhood Border’s store, my prevailing emotion was, “No one will ever find it! Why can’t it be in a big display?”
[By the way, if you are confused about the back story--like why it is that although I had eleven books in print already, this book was such a big deal--you can read the story of my publishing house here.]
Ironically, I remember quite clearly countless other occasions in bookstores when I looked wistfully at the books on the shelves and sighed, “If only my books were in stores everywhere, instead of just for sale on the Web! Will it ever happen?” Wait, let’s back up a couple more steps: There was a time, just a few years ago, when I was blown away seeing my book covers on Amazon, and a time, a decade ago, when I was thrilled just to hold a printed book with my name on it in my hand.
Ah, humans...we are our own worst enemies, are we not?
And this was a lot of my problem during this experience. Whatever I achieved, it always seemed that my brain set the bar of “true success” as higher. My book is the #5 vampire humor book sold by Borders; I wanted it at #1, or better still, somewhere on the New York Times Bestsellers List. To date, reviews are running 35 to 3 as enthusiastically favorable, but those three bad ones made me think--against all reason--that I had failed a little. I got to appear on local radio; but TV wasn’t interested, and my shot at being on CBS didn’t pan out.
One thing authors really need to do to judge their success reasonably is to set aside the completely preposterous picture so many people have of the opportunities in publishing. Even I, who have been freelancing for decades, forget to be realistic.
Sure, some authors become true celebrities, but even the most famous are not like celebrities in other fields. Neil Gaiman is a rock star in the writing field, but 75% of the time I bring him up to someone, they haven’t heard of him. Literally hundreds of thousands of books get published each year--and that many people simply can’t become famous. Did you know that selling over 5,000 copies of a book is consider decent? Did you know you can sell fewer than 100,000 copies of a book and it could be on the NYT Bestsellers List? Doesn’t seem like much, and having 100,000 people know you does not make you much of a celebrity, in the grand scheme of things.
When I signed my book contract, a lot of people said, “Now you’re going to quit your day job and write full time, right?” Well, I’ll put it to you this way: That super successful author who sold 100,000 copies of his book got substantially less money for it than my day job salary pays me. It would be a fairly comfortable living...but only if you knew for sure you could repeat it once a year, every year!
So I guess I’m not completely to blame for feeling unsuccessful. My friends’ idea of success was that I had it made and now could be a full time author, and that didn’t happen. The thing is, it’s pretty rare that even successful, multi-published authors can live on their royalties alone...at least not in any fashion we spoiled Americans call living well! LOL
But now I come to a good transition point. Let’s talk about the upside of all this, and I will say now that if a person has a good job and the royalties are just bonus, then YES, the money is indeed a wonderful thing! Not only as money, but also as validation. Writers, even successful ones, spend a lot of hours in their lives writing for absolutely nothing. To receive the remuneration your talent and hard work merit is a wonderful thing.
And while this experience is not going to make “Diana Laurence” a household name, nor even make my other eleven paperbacks sell ten times more than before, it is still wonderful to have bathed a little in limelight. My publisher is very successful and has been for years; to be the top-selling author in their history, which it seems I will be, is definitely something to be grateful about.
So, that’s the deal regarding fame and fortune, the two things by which so many of us measure success. But in fact, the best things about this experience are in other categories. So let me share with you the things that brought me the most joy.
1. There were certainly many moments of excitement, possibilities that even though they didn’t pan out (so far) were great fun to contemplate. In this category: talk of pitching the book to Hollywood, the possibility of being on the CBS Morning Show, and the chance of having Charlaine Harris read the book and provide a quote. Fortunately I recognized these were all long shots, so I was more pleased that they were serious possibilities at all than disappointed that they didn’t happen.
2. Other things happened that truly were fantastically cool. Getting in Glamour magazine next to Charlaine Harris was awfully thrilling. There were other examples of when big media treated the book like something famous, like Publishers Weekly and Sugarscape.com. (And here’s a tip for you: “being treated like something famous” is actually what fame is, usually!)
3. Those 35 good reviews did not suck. Even though I tend to give negative reviews way too much weight, I really ought to recognize that appealing to over 90% of reviewers and averaging 4 stars out of 5 cannot be considered failure. Without doubt, some of the greatest moments of this experience were when one reader or another really grasped what I was trying to do with the book, or reacted with joy or laughter or enlightenment. Seriously, that’s pretty much the best thing about being an author.
4. While no one started up a fan site like the Twilight fans so often do, on a smaller scale a lot of people were lovely enough to treat me like a rock star. Most gratifying was the support and response of my Facebook friends, most of whom friended me because of this book or my other writing, and have never met me face to face. Without doubt my friend/fan CC Rogers made me blissfully happy by doing gorgeous portraits of all the vampires in the book, as well as making me a charm bracelet from them. So many people were genuinely thrilled by my good fortune, it was amazing.
5. It was so fun seeing word of my book spread to various corners of the world (real and virtual). I found that a random person had tweeted “The author’s a Maven, a great read!” Wow, how did that happen? My publisher reported crazy sales to countries like Trinidad and Tobago, and Lebanon. The book appeared on retailers lists, like Chapters/Indigo’s Top Five Vampire, Werewolf and Zombie Guides. Who picked it? Huh! I saw (via WorldCat) countless copies appearing in libraries all over the U.S....and being reserved! Crazy. Most incredible of all was walking into a random tiny bookstore in a small town and actually finding copies on the shelf. Man, was it everywhere?
6. I am addicted to “True Blood,” and it was so amazing encountering mutual fans who loved my book, via reviews and interviews on TrueBloodNet and TrueBlood-Online. Just being associated with something so successful was very cool.
7. It was a blast sharing my experiences with my family and [non-Web-only] friends. Doing my author appearance presentation for a crew of them at a bookstore was incredibly fun. And what could top going with my 83-year-old dad to a couple bookstores where I would be speaking, and having him see the book displays and posters of his daughter? Everyone was so happy for me and so encouraging, I’ll never forget it. My own husband made me feel so important, too! And he certainly was a true Personal Assistant that I couldn’t have done without.
8. While my bookstore appearances were not overrun with people (truth be told, book signings seldom are), I loved being in the environment of those lovely stores and meeting the people who work at them. Without exception my hosts were kind and informative and really loved everything I did. My radio appearance also went really well and my host was charming and urged me to do it again soon. My appearance on a trolley for Halloween was a huge success; the people aboard laughed at every tiny thing I said--and that’s always a great time, for sure! I did not feel like a star doing any of these things, but I definitely enjoyed the positive, delighted response of all who heard or saw me. And that rocked!
9. And possibly best of all, I met all kinds of wonderful people. The people I worked with at my publisher acted like true friends throughout the process. The new fans I made online have been amazing. And I met one fabulous family of four women (three generations) who loved my presentation and the book so much, I need never make another fan and my work will have been worthwhile! I know some of these new relationships will last a lifetime, all because of this book.
10. And yes, it is patently awesome to publish a book. When I got my first [four-figure] advance check, it seemed like a miracle. When I heard (and saw the photo) that my book was on a display table at the Madison Square Garden Borders, I thought I was dreaming. When I saw myself on a huge poster (in full color! LOL) at Books-a-Million in downtown Chicago, I could barely believe it. And when I learned my book will be in Target stores soon and will be a Recommended Read in January, I thought, “This is not happening!” (I still don’t think I’ll believe it till I see it!)
So to wrap up this huge tome, I am not nor ever will be famous or rich. My book will not be touted by Oprah, or make any bestseller lists. I won’t be doing a cameo on “True Blood.” My book will not be made into a movie and there will not be action figures of my vampire friends (which is a shame, hey?). In fact, in two or three years my book will probably pretty much be forgotten, except by the people that it really touched in a significant way.
But really, those people are the reason I do this. And the best thing about this book deal was how many more of them there will be now than before.