When your book finds commercial print, don’t go to sleep. A cautionary tale.

I wrote a blog for The Big Thrill in ITW’s magazine about what can go wrong when your work finds commercial print and how to prevent it the next time. Thought it might interest some readers here:

In the beginning of my writing career I’ll admit to overplaying the right to call myself “author”—as in no longer just a “writer.” When my agent sold my first ms. to Simon & Schuster for a “nice price” and then put together an auction for the paperback and also selling it to Japan, I rather sat back on my laurels, thinking, “Oh yeah, I’m on my way.”

Things had looked promising from the start. A few years earlier I had mass-mailed 85 queries to mostly NY agencies, and a full 15 responded with offers to represent me/the novel. It was an enticing query (had a given audience), and granted as well back then—in the late-’80s—some editors still nurtured their writers, as mine at S&S would do over the next two years. Agents knew that so they were also patronizing and nurturing to new, promising clients.

I was on a roll.

Didn’t have to worry about those pesky details of metadata, copy editing, proof reading, printing, getting a professional cover, blurbs, etc., as authors now have to do self-publishing a book. S&S had a gaggle of Radcliffe and Vassar girls for most of that stuff. All I had to do was merely approve or not. (Mind you I did put in a dozen years writing that first book, adding, deleting as if slicing off fingers and whole hands, this over and over and over …) Seemed like I got important overnight FedEx envelopes a couple times a week. And they did a gorgeous job on the hardback itself—Tom Clancy-large with art inside, beautiful font, sewn bound and printed on cream paper. Tops. Soon the pre-notices began to roll in, not one negative and several starred. Talk about the proverbial sliver spoon. It was mine.

I had this nonchalant attitude and naive concept that the big house would take care of publicity with the promised $10k advertising budget—Well, certainly you might understand how I let myself get the big head.

But then, with no notice, the curtain fell and it fell hard. Everything died; the paper auction, no review appeared in the NYTimes or any other major and my editor and agent both grew silent. What happened? I begged to learn. “Your book got lost in the abyss,” was Publicity’s response. “Sorry, s— happens.” My editor’s. That promised advertising was hijacked, most likely for some other promising writer’s novel. My editor, having first option on the next novel, a few years later rejected the next one, calling it a monstrosity, or such, when the real reason had been that I was now a dreaded “midlister,” so they didn’t want to take a gamble on me again.

My NY agent dropped me as well.

But what actually happened to bring things to such a sudden halt? The following is your answer: I held only two local book signings and gave one interview in the LATimes. I turned down the San Diego paper’s interviewer because of a personality difference—just didn’t like the guy’s manners. My bad on that one. So it was my lack of serious participation in the book’s publicity, I have learned over the years, that was the main reason the one time admired novel fell from grace.

With a loss of confidence and gun-shy of publicity, I wrote and published only three novels over the next 20 years. During that time I solicited 70-90 agencies with each new novel. Over those decades I gained thick files of rejections, and a few near hooks here and there, which kept me going. Those mss. collected dust for a long time inbetween.

It took a few more years of self-publishing to learn that basic lesson of novel publishing: You cannot count on anyone but yourself to advance it.

It has only been recently that a small publisher took me on—no monetary advance, no free publicity. I didn’t care. I’m just happy to finally get back into print. Now I must sell them, and myself, if they’re to be sold.

So take this cautionary tale to heart if you are newly published, be it self-pub or picked up by any sized house, and thinking the attention is going to roll in because you finally have a really great book in print, because you are now author. It won’t be a winner unless you make it so. You must throw yourself wholeheartedly into that side of the business called publicity without taking a rest to smell the daisies. You must: blog, keep an active website, join online everything such like writers’ groups, as many as you can handle and still offer and gain something from; become your own ad agency and spend money advertising to your market, and on and on. All is available out there on the Web. So … Go get ’em, tigers.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Ron Argo.

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