If you work hard your authorial dreams will come true! Or maybe not! Only way way to find out... ⤺ Tweet This!
I only know Erik via Facebook, where I’m plugged into an almost depressingly vast network of talented authors. Never met him in person. All I know is that his first novel Nothing Short of Dying, set in his native (and beloved) Colorado, is already widely acclaimed. He’s come a long way since working as a ranch hand and wilderness guide. His trip down primrose lane wasn’t as speedy as it seems, though.
Besides his own website, he also has his own promotional page on the Simon & Schuster website. Normally a traditional publisher won’t sink a lot of time and money into promoting new authors. If their work doesn’t perform well right out of the gate, it’s mid-listed and their option for a second book dropped. So most authors wind up doing most of their publicity anyway.
In Erik’s case, his debut novel is a runaway hit, thanks to glowing advance reviews and praise from industry giants like Lee Child, author of the mega-popular Jack Reacher series.
But as recounted in this article by noted author William Dietrich, Erik’s “overnight success” only happened because he kept polishing and re-submitting the manuscript after multiple rejections from agents that failed to see its potential (all of whom are currently kicking themselves, I imagine).
The wise agent that finally accepted it also represents Lee Child.
Brian is someone else I only know from Facebook, and his story is similar to Erik’s in that both enjoyed smashing success with their debut novels, both of which happened to be crime stories with rural settings, dealing with dope, mostly meth. That seems to be a particularly lucrative topic in contemporary crime fiction, so if you’re looking to break into the crowded field, make a note of that…
Brian’s positively thunderous debut novel Bull Mountain is an epic “hillbilly noir” saga spanning generations in the lives of North Georgia outlaw clan, and it has elicited kudos from major authors like James Ellroy, John Connolly and James Grady, and even been favorably compared to The Godfather and the works of John Steinbeck. TV and movie rights rumors are rampant. More details on his website.
Not bad for a modest family man that spent most of his life as a fireman and struggling musician.
Joe is someone I happen to know personally (and he was also a struggling musician). He lives in the East Bay, my former longtime home, but I actually met him via Facebook as well, when he contacted me out of the blue about republishing my novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, since he is an acquisitions editor for a reputable small press called Gutter Books.
The novel had been out of print for years, but at the time I was working with actor Christian Slater to develop it into a feature film, which he would direct and also star in as the protagonist, San Francisco P.I. Vic Valentine. Our screenplay, however, was set in Miami, where I had visited Slater to do location scouting in June, 2012. I had a contract, we had a producer, and it seemed like we were all set to finally make it to the screen, after his dozen-year option of the material.
That’s when Joe contacted me, and in 2013, Gutter reissued the novel with a new cover by storyboard artist Matt Brown, depicting Slater a Vic. Gutter just recently published the new Vic Valentine novel, Hard-boiled Heart, which is directly influenced by my experiences trying to get that movie made.
Meanwhile, Joe’s own career as an author was quickly heating up. Though he’d published a collection of short stories called Choice Cuts and a novel nobody read called Wake the Undertaker (still my favorite of his), it was his fictionalized memoir Junkie Love, a modern day On the Road creatively recounting his days as a homeless addict surviving on the mean streets of San Francisco, that really made his reputation rise so rapidly, pulling him out of the quicksand of obscurity, which sadly sinks so many of our peers.
Fast forward a few years: Joe just finished his third book in a successful series about a Northeastern insurance agent/blue collar investigator named Jay Porter, following the first, Lamentation, and the second, December Boys, all published by Oceanview Press.
Joe is a ubiquitous presence in the literary convention circuit, posts regularly on his own blog, and works tirelessly to promote his work on Facebook, where he maintains a very congenial presence. Now, thanks to his formal education, his supportive agent Elizabeth Kracht, but mostly his own great talent and tenacity, he doesn’t have to push so hard anymore. He has an ongoing contract with Oceanview, and even though he is still peddling some other manuscripts, his journey from the gutter (so to speak) to glory is one of determination and inspiration.
If you check out this Southern author’s website, you’ll see that he has a number of books out there featuring a private eye named Harry Starke, which is apparently a very successful, self-published series. I’d never heard of the author or these books before, but I read about them in another article I randomly came across online.
There are dozens of similar success stories if you do your own research.
I’m just not one of them. Yet. Though it’s been a rather long “yet.”
Honestly, I shouldn’t be admitting as much in this blog, which is devoted to inspiring aspiring authors to keep pursuing their dreams of becoming a published author. Of course, I am a published author, and have been for some time. I am just not a commercially successful one.
After three and half decades, I’ve never written a bestseller. I’ve never won any awards. I have received my fair share of publicity, but a lot of that is due to my own previous background as a publicist for a popular movie theater, which provided me with plenty of media savvy to work the system.
I was also fortunate to have a pre-existing public platform and persona, thanks to my former identity as a B movie lounge lizard known as “Will the Thrill,” so I parlayed my established brand name, “Thrillville,” into the creation of my own imprint, with mixed results.
In effect, I’m actually more fortunate than most indie authors. But I also suffer the stigma and struggles of my stubborn independence.
Though the movie was benched right at the goal line, at least I had one of my novels optioned, which is a relative rarity. I was courted by celebrity editor Judith Regan for two years, back in the early ‘90s. But, like the movie deal, this apparent "break" didn’t bear any practical fruit. These are still major opportunities most other authors would kill for. They just didn’t pan out for me personally, and are relegated to the realm of anecdotal irrelevance. I’m not a has-been, just an almost-was.
Part of that is my fault. While luck is always a factor in any arts-based career, given the public’s fickle tastes when it comes to entertainment, so is strategy. If you want your mission reaffirmed by the outside world, you may have to readjust your mission statement.
Where There's a Will, There's Not Always a Way
The fact is, the four authors mentioned above consciously produce material that is much more viable with mainstream audiences (while staying true to their own artistic vision and integrity) than my own idiosyncratic “gonzo pulp.” I am rebelliously individualistic. While there are creative rewards for this attitude, the downside is that you probably won’t reach a very wide audience. At least I haven’t.
But where there’s a downside, there’s also an upside. Whenever I’m feeling down, something unexpected will cheer me up. Like I’ll get a fan letter out of the blue from a total stranger. Or an invitation to conduct workshops at a writer’s retreat in Costa Rica. Or an email from a French publisher expressing interest in my work. Not enough to compensate for my perceived failures, but enough to give me hope, at least enough to keep going. For now.
The point of this post is not to throw a public self-pity party. (I save that for Facebook.) It’s to offer you, the aspiring author, a realistic assessment of your chances and prospects. Even if you write your heart out over years and in my case, decades, you may never “make it,” at least not by conventional standards.
But then again, you just might. You won’t know unless you try. Just ask Erik, Brian, Joe or that other dude. They are the flipsides to that fickle coin.
So don’t toss out your dreams. Toss that coin instead. No matter how heroic or stoic your efforts, the world does not owe you anything. But you do owe it to yourself.
PHOTO: ROBBIE BILLER