“This bounty hunter is my kind of scum: fearless and inventive.” – Jabba the Hutt, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
Book Stalking (the last in my Talking Her Down series)
Plan to take the first day that your writer friend’s book hits the stands off. Completely off. Mark it on the company calendar as resolutely as you would for brain surgery. Call the in-laws to come get your kids and dog for the day. Have a mound of one-handed snack foods ready the night before: cheese and apple slices, celery sticks and peanut butter, ham sandwiches with real mayonnaise (you’ll need the calories). Go for the carb and protein combo to keep your energy up. This is not the time for dainty little cucumber sandwiches with the edges cut off! Make plans to get the significant other out of the house for the entire day. What? They work from home? Introduce them to the reality of Wi-Fi down at the local coffee shop. You’re going to need full use of the house, all phone lines, the computer, the car, and the fridge for at least the next 16 hours.
Make sure you have the following supplies on hand:
- A cell phone, backup battery and a charger that allows you talk while it’s charging.
- Telephone books for a 40 mile radius, with all relevant bookstores flagged. You’ll be using them to check and make sure friend’s book is available and in stock.
- A map of the area with all the aforementioned bookstore locations circled in red.
- A bright blue highlighter
- A bright pink highlighter
You will be spending the morning calling all the relevant bookstores in your area to see who is carrying your friend’s book and who (gasp!) is not. If, heaven forbid, you find a store that does not have your friend’s book available, you will sound SHOCKED that they are not carrying this modern masterpiece. You will announce in a dismayed, and somewhat incredulous, voice that, “No, I don’t want to wait another minute to get my hands on this book.” You will breezily let them know that ABC Bookstore on the other end of town is carrying it and you just wanted to save yourself a few minutes picking it up. You will highlight that bookstore in blue to remind you to call them back in 2-3 days to ask about availability again. And again. And again. Until they have it in stock.
Bookstores that do have your friend’s book in stock during the morning call-fest will be highlighted in bright pink. The afternoon will be spent going from one pink-highlighted book seller to another. At each store, you will move quickly but quietly to the location of your writer friend’s book. Depending on the love that his publisher has shown him, by buying or not buying premium in-store placement, his book will be displayed either on an end cap, a table, face-out on the shelf or, horror upon horrors, spine-out on the shelf – unloved and unnoticeable.
We have already discussed the luck that your writer friend generally has, so you’re going to be moving that book from spine out to to at least face-out on the shelf. If possible, you’re going to find an empty, but lovely, spot nearby where a tasteful pile will catch the eyes of all passers-by. To do this, you may have to go to the customer service desk and request a few copies of the book from the back storeroom. There may not be enough copies on the shelf to do your display justice. A simple, “Hi. I see that you’ve sold out of that new book by Simon Bookseller, Buy My Book and I’ll Love You Forever. Could you please get me two from the back? I told my sister I’d pick one up for her too,” will work just fine.
Count Dooku: The force is with us, Master Sidious.
Darth Sidious: Welcome home Lord Tyranus. You have done well.
Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
“Welcome to Borders. Buy my book.”
The first obstacle to your writer friend’s success on a book tour is her publicist. The publisher will assign one of the resident publicists to your writer friend. This is a major crapshoot. Many, nee most, resident publicists will be truly interested in bending over backwards to get your writer friend successfully out into the book buying world as often, as quickly and as successfully as possible. There is no guarantee, however, that your writer friend’s publicist will be one of these people. Indeed, knowing your friend the way you do, there’s probably a good chance that your writer friend is going to get a publicist that can hardly remember that he IS a publicist, let alone her publicist.
Because her publicist will inevitably be a boob, your writer friend may ask you to help her out by doing some of the groundwork for the eventual book tour. Working together, you’ll need to get a couple bottles of wine, her lucky pen and a pad of paper. Following the sip, write, sip method, you will begin to write down all the places with which she has had some remote had connection. These places will be the backbone of the upcoming book tour.
Where does her extended family live: parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, second cousins twice removed by marriage? Where was she born? Where did she grow up? Did she ever move as a child? Perfect! Her options have just increased incrementally. Where do the friends she had growing up, the friends she had in college and the friends she made at summer camp live? Are any of these small towns, medium sized cities or large metropolitan areas? If so, that’s just perfect.
Any bookstore, large or small, where a decent number of people can reasonably be pressed into converging, and therefore buying, is fine. Is there a morning radio or television show that might interview your writer friend the morning of the reading and book signing? Well, that’s a delightful town, city or metro area to consider too. Eventually, the wine bottles will run dry, the list will run long and the expectations will overflow. Or you’ll both pass out drunk. Either way, you’ll have quelled the rising panic in your writer friend for a few hours. And, sometimes, that is gift enough.
Next will come the realization that, unless your writer friend is already relatively famous, she is not going to be getting a blank check to cover the book tour expenses. Hell, there might not even be a check. Yes, alas, now comes the raging realization that your writer friend will need to run the numbers to make her book tour a reality. To be blunt, this comes down to one simple question, “Who can I bunk with?”
Luke Skywalker: “If I don’t make it back, you’re the only hope for the Alliance.”
Princess Leia: ”Luke, don’t talk that way. You have a power I don’t understand and could never have.”
Luke Skywalker: “You’re wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have. The Force runs strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. And… my sister has it. Yes. It’s you, Leia.”
Princess Leia: ”I know. Somehow, I’ve always known.”
Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
It’s Really Happening
Hopefully all your writer friend’s efforts will eventually come to fruition. Seventy-five thousand words or more will get laid down. A literary agent will love it; a publisher will buy it. Revision after revision and edit after edit will be made. Author blurbs will be received, fawned over and prominently displayed for maximum exposure. The title will be agreed upon and the cover art will be set. Everything is ready to go. WARNING, avertissement, precaución and Achtung Baby: this process may run through several times before the final, final product hits the shelves. But, with determination, talent and a strong bit of luck, at some point the prints will run. Months and years of waiting will come to an end and your writer friend’s book will be here, offered up to the world. Now the real fun, a sometimes going-to-meet-the-parents kind of fun, is about to begin.
Immediately after receiving a publication date, your writer is going to want to set up a book launch party. This is his first serious moment in the sun, one of his first steps out into the real world as a bona fide writer, his Sally Fields “you like me; you really like me” moment. It’s also a prime opportunity for your writer friend to completely flip out. There are so many things to consider, worry over, daydream about, ruminate upon and all but bleed internally regarding, that you will have no fear of loneliness or boredom for the foreseeable future.
He’s going to fret over the date and time. It cannot be too close to the publication date in case the stores don’t have copies yet or if there’s a delay in shipping but not so late that he’s missed the “golden period” of a book’s newness. He will try to avoid the opening night of anything and everything and will, therefore, spend hours online trying to find the events calendar for every professional sporting event, social shindig and cultural happening within two months of the publication date. He will have the joy of debating with everyone within earshot about the merits of holding it on a weeknight versus on the weekend and during the day versus at night.
He’s going to fuss about the weather. Depending on his location, he’ll have the luxury of worrying about the effect that hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, drought, ice storms, wildfires, flash floods, hail, thunderstorms and 100 year rains may have on the event’s turnout. Further, depending on the location, he may also have the joy of considering the natural disasters of earthquakes, landslides, avalanches and plagues of locusts descending to throw a real wrench in the works.
He’ll wrangle with himself, you, and the mailman about the venue. Should he have it at the lovely local bookstore that he’s haunted over the years? That second home that has encouraged his writing, supported his writing, and (conveniently enough) sold him boxes of books over the years to help him improve and expand his writing. Will it be large enough to accommodate the hordes that are most certainly going to be begging for an invite? Will it appear too crowded and turn people off after just a few minutes? How about holding it at the large, national bookseller near the mall? Is he more likely to pull in a large, deep pocketed crowd there? Conversely, will it be too large and leave him, you, a guy that wandered in off the street and the small but steady stream of people who have come to celebrate looking like waifs in a storm? After about twenty-two days of such back and forth confab, you may need to begin leaving your telephone off the hook from the hours of 5 a.m. to 12 midnight.
In the end, he’ll get seriously agitated about the guest list. Including the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, he’s going to debate with himself (and really that means with you) about whether or not to invite everyone that he’s ever met. Your role here is easy, “Invite those who have supported you, made your writing process go more smoothly and that you love deeply.” Everyone else that he’s ever met, and everyone he is about to meet can, and should, be invited to the upcoming book signings.
“A communications disruption could mean only one thing: invasion.” – Governor Sio Bibble, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
The blog is the daily torture, joy and cleaned up journal of your writer. Pick any day; it’ll fit into one of those three categories. It’s one of the ways that he and his fellow writers keep their skills current, play the PR game, and let off a bit of steam while they wait for their books to be published. They practice at being profound while witty and generally pretend to live normal lives. Your writer’s blog will not be openly catty about friends or family although co-workers will often be considered fair game. Topics regarding the soul-sucking nature of the writing profession, crazy childhood pranks and pets are de rigueur. His blog will be an outlet for his fears, frustrations, hopes, dreams and even his neuroses, but they will be more polished, prettied up and pulled together than when you first hear about them. He needs to appear like a rational, pulled together professional, which he’s not, and he’s going to need your support on that front.
The blog will be fun to read and should be followed closely. As the writer’s close personal friend (which will earn you absolutely no credibility with his more writerly followers), you have an obligation to read the blog daily and comment often. Now, don’t go starting to fret about the time commitment. This is a quick and easy obligation, especially since it will be fun to see your creative writer friend in his element. The only thing you are absolutely required to do is keep all of those humiliating fraternity, bar and dating stories about your writer friend, the ones that you’ve had rolling around just behind your right eyeball for the past seven years – the ones that are just itching to get out – to yourself. If you don’t, and he goes big, he’ll later deny that he ever met you when he’s chatting up the staff on Oprah.
Whenever possible (meaning always), you should encourage your non-writer friends, and even mere acquaintances, to read your friend’s blog, as you will later be strongly encouraging them to buy his book and attend his book signing. It’s best that they know a little about him before hand, don’t you think? Oh, one more thing about comments, remember that wry humor and sarcasm are hard to pull off in print (ask any writer), so keep your comments friendly and light. At all costs, avoid over-using those little smiley faces, but that’s mostly just because I tend to hate them.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
War. The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere. …
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
Editors are not actually out to kill your friend or drive her insane. It will only seem that way. First, it will start small. In putting together the book deal, as the literary agent is finalizing the advance and royalty details, the editor will innocently ask, “How attached is the writer to the book’s title?” Not wanting to bring the process to a screaming halt (the agent’s commission being dependant on keeping the publisher happy and deep-pocketed), the agent will say something along the lines of, “The writer is certainly open to a few changes in the book.”
Later that day, your writer will mention that the publishing house wants to change the title of the book. What do they have in mind? “Well,” your writer says with nary a twitch, “they’re going to get back to me with some ideas.” This is the point where you should start stock-piling Valium and Friandises chocolates directly from the source in Maastricht. The editor will now begin the process of ignoring your writer for days, weeks, even months at a time. Eventually, several titles will be tossed around with everyone from your writer, to her agent, to the editor and the people down in maintenance getting a say. Everyone will have an opinion, nothing will be decided and your writer will move into full-tilt spasms.
To get through this time, you must understand that editors and the publishing houses that they work for do not actually care about your writer’s idea of a reasonable timeline. They can and will put off sending out final edits for your writer to proof for several months, only to FedEx a copy on Friday afternoon with a sticky note demanding that they be back on the editor’s desk no later than 3 p.m. the next Monday. And your writer will do it. She will cancel your annual ski trip to Banff. She will send her visiting parents out on the town by themselves. She will pack the kids off to a friend’s house for the weekend. In short, she will cloister herself in the front hall closet with a red pen and a flashlight if need be to get the job done. As the writer’s friend, your job will be to ski happily without her, to treat her parents to dinner and a movie, or beg for the right to entertain her children for the weekend.
Han Solo: ”Who are you?”
Princess Leia: “Someone who loves you.”
Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
Finding an Agent
This is first of an infinite number of “most agonizing” parts of the writing process for a new writer and a new writer’s friend. Sending out a query letter and the first three chapters of her baby to a literary agent is somewhat analogous to sending a note up the middle aisle in math class to the most popular boy in school with the words,
Will you go out with me? YES NO
scrawled across the back of a homework assignment in dark blue ink. While your writer knows, intellectually, that rejection of her query letter is probable, it is never really expected (she’s envisioned their witty and mutually effusing telephone conversation in her head the minute the letter slid into the mailbox or her finger hit the Send button) and it is never, ever painless.
Yet, rejection is most likely what she’s going to get for a while. Days and weeks will go by only to receive a form letter stating, “No, thank you.” And still, like a Dachshund digging away at a badger, she is going to read up on agents to find the types of books they represent, their preferred methods for queries and submissions, their current authors and, most importantly, as much as she can about their personalities to determine if she and the agent would be a good fit. Letter after letter, she will ply her talent and her pages from the agent of her wildest dreams on down, until she decides to either: a) pack it in and concentrate on her day job; b) rework her query letter and/or book for a while; c) start over from scratch or; d) she gets picked by an agent. You get to play the essential role of cheerleader and sanity saver, dangling reason in front of your writer like a rainbow from heaven. “What does she know?” “Boy, are they going to regret passing you by while you’re on the New York Times bestseller list for the 35th consecutive week!” “Let’s start a ‘No’ folder and burn it when you get your big break.”
The acceptance, likewise, while always secretly expected, will hit her like a cold shower and a welcome relief. Now she can get down to the business of selling her book, making a quick six figures between the advance, royalties and movie rights, and figuring out what to wear on Good Morning America. But most importantly, your job is to encourage her to walk away from any agent that doesn’t love her writing style or her work. She’s going to need someone who really loves her work to get it into, possibly even push it into, the right publisher’s hands.
Your friend is likely going to worship her agent and will want to appear cool, professional and “pulled together” when talking to her agent. She will, therefore, store up all her freaky, writer ticks for when the two of you are together. You already know that she’s a basketcase about her writing three days out of four. You actually read the first, painful draft of the book and know about her tendency to change the color of the heroine’s eyes, the model of the car across the street and the type of fruit spilled across the floor from one line to the next. Granted, her agent knows that she’s a nutcase too. She deals with writers all her waking hours, but it’s easier to let the writers think she is blissfully unaware of their neuroses. Even is she’s a founding member of American Atheists, she probably still says a prayer of thanks every night before going to bed for all friends of writers.
Now, your writer is not going to be able to keep this “pulled together” game with her agent going for much more a couple of weeks, two months tops. Right around the time that her book has sat on a publisher’s To Read pile for longer than a fortnight, your writer is likely going to snap. Snap. This is when you, too, will begin to worship her agent. Think of her as your assistant in talking her down. She’s going to earn her 15% commission. This is going to be a big plus, especially initially, but you have to remember that she will never be able to focus solely your writer and her emotional needs. She has dozens of crazy writers who all have her number on speed dial and she’s going to have to deal with them in their turn. This means that most of the talking her off the ledge stuff is going to fall to you.
“I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!” – Queen Amidala, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
Eventually, your writer’s shelves, counter tops, pantry, medicine cabinet and all other horizontal surfaces will ooze tattered copies of The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Writer’s Digest and other writerly magazines. Piles of “how to” books on character development, plot pacing and sneaking past writer’s block will reach from the floor, creating paper-pulp stalagmites. Most noticeable will be a current copy of Writer’s Market Guide, the holy bible of writer markets, just waiting for your writer’s submissions, vomiting sticky notes, loose pieces of paper, and fliers from writer’s conferences. “What’s that?” you ask. “Writer’s have conferences? Aren’t they always afraid of having other writers steal their ideas?” Oh, my dear writer’s friend, it’s time for you to grab the alcohol-based or hyper-caffeinated beverage of your choice, for you have a lot to learn.
Gone are the days of bohemian writers sitting lonely in unheated cabins, of sitting in obscurity absorbing angst, or spending long evenings drinking endless cups of coffee in the neighborhood cafés with other writerly types. Your writer is most likely taking writing classes or, at the very least, is part of a local writing group. And, for the early bird discounted price of $625.00, plus travel, food and lodging expenses, she will be given the opportunity to listen to published writers talk about writing, agents talk about getting an agent, and editors talk about the editing process. She will be able to trot her story past a few agents and meet a handful of published writers, fawning over them in what (hopefully) is an appropriate manner. Specifically, she will attempt to avoid looking like a maniacal stalker. This alone will command all of her mental resources and may require a somewhat incoherent call to you, immediately afterwards and from inside a stall in the restroom, to release some of her exploding excitement.
Having discussed the upcoming conference, ad nauseum, online with other budding authors, she will find ample opportunity to just miss meeting her online buddies at the morning buffet table, around the box lunch vendor hall, during the evening’s cash bar mixer and in the standing-room only session titled, “How to quit your job and still keep paying the bills.”
“Yes,” you nod understandingly, “but what do I, the writer’s friend, need to do?” Early on, after the check has been sent and the unexpectedly high power bill has arrived, you will reiterate how this is, indeed, money well spent. If she’s itemizing, you will remind her that it’s a business expense. You will listen to the entire conference speaker line up and sound perfectly entranced to hear that Mr. SuperStar WriterMan is the keynote speaker, even though you have never in your life heard of Mr. SuperStar WriterMan. You will also win Best Friend Forever status by calling her mobile after the first day of the conference and asking how the conference is going. She is going to be pushing some serious crazies, surrounded by that many writers, and will need to pour all her hopes, fears and new-found realizations past you before she can get to sleep.