Monday, October 6, 2008

In Which I Examine My Grapes to Make Sure They Aren't Sour

After an exhausting last week - mostly just because nothing about the week was routine - I am taking time today to get caught up and back on track.

So what am I doing?

Sending out ten more queries (yes! TEN!) and curling up to finish a fantastic book called "Possum Summer," coming soon to a bookstore near you! One of the very best things about writing groups, aside from the great banter and friendships and the imaginary drinks at the imaginary beach house, is getting to read some amazing writing... before everyone else gets to read them!

On a totally different topic...

Entertainment Weekly magazine has a story this week on Nicholas Sparks. I've actually read almost every book he wrote (I am obsessive that way... I hoard an entire author's collection and read them one after another). I haven't read his latest, and I will say I found some of his books to be much better than others, and all of them light, airy readings. My favorite actually is his memoir, Three Weeks With My Brother.

I think I liked it best because it gave me such insight in his real life, and becoming a writer, and what it is like to have a dream but have a real life that takes precedence. And because, for the entire book, I kept thinking, "How in the world did he and his brother ever survive childhood??!!"

Much has been written about Sparks, and said about his books, and not all nice things. But what always surprises me about articles like the Entertainment Weekly one is that it leaves out what is, for me, the largest piece of the puzzle. The article gushes over his dedication to writing and the numerous movies made of his books, and the fact that he has written fourteen books in fourteen years, and isn't that something? No wonder he's so famous!

And yet, he was famous after only one book.

As a writer, the question I want to know is: how does an unknown person write a book that becomes a bestseller immediately, and go on to become a household name with a seemingly endless line of books and movies to follow? What makes him different than, say, me?

The answer my friends? MEDIA!

After Sparks had an agent, the CBS news show 48 Hours decided to do a story called The Making of a Bestseller. They followed Sparks around, sat in on his meetings, filmed his promotional dinners and, in general, created a huge marketing blitz for Sparks that was completely free. Before Sparks first novel The Notebook even hit shelves, the American public was introduced to him and the book in a way most authors couldn't even dream. Primetime TV folks.

I'm not one to ever downplay anyone's success as a writer. There's no question that Sparks works hard, is committed to writing every day and has a very loyal following. But when you read articles like this week's EW, it makes you think this is possible for anyone, anyone with a good story and a dedication to writing 2,000 words a day.

There is a certain amount of randomness in this business. One that we as authors have no control over.

I'm not complaining about it. I just think, when columnists write about how successful an author is, there should be some nod given to the cosmic circumstances that brought that author to the forefront of the American attention. Because I can guarantee, more times than not, it's not the amount of people reading the books.


  1. This was a great post, Heidi (finish reading that book and let me know what you think! ROFL)

    I wonder about that too...with all the hubbub, how do you get that word of mouth? Or that elusive tv or radio slot, that just happens to get you into the media at the right time?

    While I'm home I'm thinking about that, day in and day out. That link I sent you (Donald Maass' book) lists ten things that really famous writers do that the regulars don't do...and one of the list was "doesn't aggressively court the media and/or publicity."

    How does one get from where we are to where they are? I haven't figured it out..and suspect a little too that it's 50% good book and 55% pure random luck. What do you think?

  2. I downloaded the Donald's book, but I haven't read it yet. Yours first!

    I think an awful lot of it is luck. Not to say there isn't a whole lot of hard work that goes into it all too, but the luck of timing, and who happens to read it, and what magazines and new shows and tabloids and Border's are looking for at the moment, or what political topic just got hot, or ....

    the list goes on and on. I think there are things authors can do to get noticed, but to some extent, people like Nicholas Sparks get famous more by luck of the timing.

    I know he got a huge advance for The Notebook, but I do wonder if he hadn't had all that media coverage at the beginning, would he ever have gotten so big?

    My tendency is to think not.

    Now, off to send more queries. My internet is doing awful things lately and is totally RANDOMLY going out on me. YUCK!

    Hope you are feeling better!

  3. great post.

    I get crazy(er) when I read about writers (or musicians) who start off in the old grody apartment, and like, eating KD every day, and then they SIGN THE DEAL.

    And I'm reading it going, "Huh wha? When how? Did I miss part of the story there?"

    I think articles like these skip over a lot. The average person doesn't want to know about months of querying, the meetings, phone calls, waiting, waiting waiting. Not glamorous. First novel, huge seller, now that's glamorous. Problem is, the average person isn't even aware of the amount of work from the unseen people who had their hands on the project. Including the boost from the media!

    I don't know the answer, and I don't know how long, if ever, it'll take me to figure it out, but I agree. There does seem to be an element of luck involved. I kinda hate that. But it is what it is.