An interesting article has been causing quite a buzz in the publishing circles. Not any circles I stand in, mind you, but I’ve heard about it while loitering on the fringes.
It’s titled “How To Lose A Third Of A Million Dollars Without Trying.” Written by author Heather Demetrios, it chronicles how she managed to squander two huge advances in a short time and wound up nearly bankrupt.
I had to look up the word “advance” because in my publishing experience it’s been mostly “reverse.” Instead of people paying me to publish my books, I’ve been paying them. “Sure, we’ll take that book off your hands … for $10,000.”
Anyway, Ms. Demetrios signed one book contract for $100,000 and a second for $250,000.
She starts off her piece with the following:
“If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come.”
Here’s how it works on my side of the fence.
“If just one person had sat me down when I wrote my first book and explained I might have to beg anyone not named Williams to read my books, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions and become a professional dog food taster.”
Ms. Demetrios rightly thought that after those first two advances that she was now “one of the chosen few,” and, as such, she was free to move into an expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn, order pricey meals and cocktails when dining out and generally not worrying if she would have enough in the bank account to pay the water bill.
(Sidebar: After the Kent State shootings, my friend Scott introduced me to James Michener, he of “Tales of the South Pacific” fame, who was in the area to write a book about the tragedy. Waiting several minutes after we knocked on his door, we finally saw the room curtains part slightly and a single eyeball, seemingly floating in midair, peer out at us. Minutes more passed before Michener, dressed in an undershirt and baggy boxers that showed way too much of his skinny legs, opened the door and Scott, who was doing research for the famous author, introduced us. “Oh,” said Michener, “I thought you were the water guy from back home here to collect,” and I thought, “James Michener is worried about paying his water bill?”)
Back to Ms. Demetrios. After her much praised novels failed to sell as many copies as publishers had hoped for, the royalties got smaller and smaller, at one point dipping as low as, EGADS, $20,000!
I’m here to tell you that if I ever, ever, ever get a $20,000 advance, every single penny is going into the savings account.
Until I can sneak out of the house and put money down on a new Porsche.
Now there are some things I can agree on with Ms. Demetrios. You’ve got to pretty much be your own marketer these days, even if you are signing six-figure advances. You need to stay on top of social media, like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, which takes time away from your writing.
And that’s why I don’t update my blog every day. Yeah, that’s why. I’m busy writing. Other stuff. Book stuff. I sometimes write, one or two sentences a day. I can’t be bothered with all that bloggy, Facebooky, Twittery stuff. The French have a word for how I market my books. L’azee.
But enough about that. As I say, my writing career is kinda in reverse. Ms. Demetrios complains that some of her foreign rights were sold for as little as $2,000. At last check, I think my royalties totaled $10.98.
I wish I had made much sounder and creative decisions about that money, but I blew it all – without really trying – on a full Chick-fil-a meal. I could have gone for just a sandwich, but those waffle fries are so darn tasty I can’t say no.
Now you might be asking yourself, “Why in the world does ol’ E. E. continue to toil in obscurity and the edge of financial insolvency?”
Because one of these days, if I keep at it, those publishers that keep ignoring me are going to pay me big, big bucks.
Just to go away.
E. E. Williams’ latest novel is “My Grave Is Deep.” Buy it and help him afford a Diet Coke with his next Chick-fil-a meal.