On Making a Career
Next Wednesday, I'm flying to Seattle for a book signing and interview session. This got me thinking about my career to date, where it's gone thus far, and where I want it to be.
I'm excited to for my trip to Seattle. I've spent very little time on the West coast, and have never been to Seattle in particular. It's always nice to see a city, especially such a prominent one, for the first time. Though I'll only be there for one night (try the veal), it should be a blast.
Of course there's a lot about this trip that I see as a small microcosm of my career to this point. I figured I'd break it into two parts.
Things I'm thankful for:
--I just published my second book.
--That my publisher had enough faith in me after a relatively short period of time to extend my original contract, so that I now have seven novels under contract. Additionally, I feel their promotional support has been outstanding.
--That I'm fortunate enough to be in a position--financially and with a supportive spouse--to be able to write full time.
--That the critical and reader response to my books has been, for the most part, very positive.
I'm grateful for all of these things. Yet at the same time, I want to grow as a writer. Both in terms of my ability and in terms of exposure. Listed below are the main issues I'm struggling with right now. Please refrain from playing the world's smallest violin. These are not complaints--again I am grateful--but in order to take the next step some, if not all of the following bridges must be crossed. Some must be crossed sooner, some will take time.
Issues that must be addressed:
--As of right now, my books are being published as paperback originals. While this has permitted terrific distribution and a likely far greater print run than I would have seen publishing in hardcover to date, there is a stigma attached to PBOs, both critically and commercially. Especially in the crime genre.
--It is very, and I mean very difficult, outside of trade magazines and websites, to get reviews for my books. I've made it into a few smaller places, but those have come more from being in the right place at the right time (one newspaper reviewer requested a galley via MySpace, one I met at a conference, etc...). I have a publicist for THE GUILTY who's lined up a bunch of cool stuff, including my first radio interviews, but the publicity and review issue is a big one.
--It is very hard to set up book signings for PBOs. The simple economics of publishing make it hard for stores to profit off of mass market signings unless the author is a major name or has a large enough following in the area. I tried to set up a signing at a favorite indie store in my hometown, but was told they couldn't unless I guaranteed 75 copies sold. While I do have friends and family in NYC, I didn't feel comfortable 'guaranteeing' that kind of turnout.
--I have never officially toured. Though I have a signing and interview lined up in Seattle, and will be going to the UK in June to promote my release there, in both cases I'm traveling on my own dime. Barring Ichiro promoting my Seattle signing, there's no way in hell I'm going to sell enough copies to cover the cost of that trip. I'm ok with this. I understand that you have to spend money to make money, and I'm more than happy to plant some seeds in the hopes that in the future that will bear fruit. The same goes for various conferences I'm scheduled to attend, where travel, hotel and bar tabs eat up a pretty penny.
--The long-term goal, of course, is for my books to be published in hardcover. My publisher, I believe, is making a smart choice publishing me in paperback first. Having worked in the industry, I've seen too many first novels come out in hardcover to a mediocre sell-through, from which the author's career might never recover. Starting the other way around, establishing a base readership who will (hopefully) follow my books into hardcover when the time is right seems a safer long-term option. The flip side is that there's a lot more money in hardcover than paperback (royalties are about $2.50-$3.75 on a $25 hardcover, versus $.64 on a $7.99 paperback). Again, I'm a younger guy with no children (unless you include Wilson), so I'm willing to take the slow, steady approach and hope it keeps me in the race longer. I look at other authors who've achieved success with this model (Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Jim Butcher), and hope the same happens here. I want to be writing as long as I'm alive, and whatever it takes to achieve that, I'm willing to do.
(so if anyone needs a kidney...drop me a line)