|Publishers Weekly map of New York publishers|
by Gayle Lynds
Congratulations, my friend and fellow author! You’ve just gotten your first book contract. You’re well on your way to completing your dream to publish a novel. By now you know that many go down this path, but few complete it. Why?
A dear friend who’s a novelist once said to me, “You know how people keep saying writing a book isn’t brain surgery? Well, I’m a brain surgeon, and writing a book is more difficult!” (He really is a brain surgeon.)
Years ago, as I worked hard to become a better and better writer, I was feeling beset by problems — day job, money, debt, housework, children, parental obligations, all the things one juggles in life. One evening as I was driving to my weekly Adult Ed writing class, I saw clearly how exhausted I was. Overwhelmed. I longed to write many novels. In fact, to be a full-time novelist.
And that’s when I had a brainstorm. Why not have the problems of being published? I knew there had to be problems, but I didn’t know exactly what they’d be. Still, I figured they must be better than the problems of being unpublished, and once I was published I’d be more cheerful about dealing with the rest of my life.
I redoubled my writing efforts and found a new literary agent who had more clout than my earlier one. He also was able to give me ideas to improve the spy thriller I’d been working on for four years. I deleted the first 150 pages. I added a new subplot. I threw out the last 150 pages and wrote a new ending. Long story short, my agent sold the novel. It was called Masquerade, and long story short again, it actually became a New York Times bestseller.
Since then I’ve written nine more, sold overseas in 30 languages, and won some prizes. More important, my children have grown up, and I have grandchildren now. My parents passed away, and I miss them. My husband at the time passed away, and I miss him, too, but I’ve remarried a wonderful man, John, an attorney and former judge, whom I’ve inveigled into writing short stories with me.
As you can see, life goes on with the usual ups and downs, but all things being equal, I made the right decision for me — to discover the problems of publishing.
But oh, to have known then what I know now. This month the Rogues are going to be talking about advice for the new novelist. What’s important for a new novelist to consider?
My number one piece of advice is to meet your editor. Sound bone-head basic? Maybe, but most writers don’t live in New York City, while that’s where most book editors work. On the other hand, maybe you’re published by someone close by. No matter where you live, and he or she works, send an email or make a phone call and invite your editor out to lunch. More than likely, he or she will end up paying for it.
Why didn’t I do this? Because I lived in California, and although my advance was good, it wasn’t great, and we were in debt, and I had children living at home who’d grown accustomed to regular meals. And at the same time, I was terribly shy. I couldn’t understand why an editor would even want to talk to me. My job was to write books; their’s was to publish. Right?
Wrong. Fred Klein, a wise man who’d retired as vice president of Bantam, kept telling me to go, but I’d been poor a long time, and I didn’t understand the cost benefit. To this day, I regret not taking his advice.
Massive shifts occurred in Doubleday, my publisher, before my book came out. Steve Rubin, the president, got promoted and flew off to London. He’d been the one who bought my book and was the mastermind behind a big campaign to get out the word about Masquerade. A woman was brought in to replace him. She had no personal investment in Masquerade, and we had no relationship at all, which was far from unusual with an executive that high up in a publishing house. But by not going, by not making the effort to establish some kind of rapport, by not understanding what she was interested in, and what I could do to help her to achieve her goals, I was becoming less and less visible.
In the end, it wasn’t Doubleday that turned Masquerade into a bestseller, in hardcover, which was Steve Rubin’s plan. It was Phyllis Grann at Penguin Putnam who did it, in paperback.
Since those days, I’ve always advised new writers to gather their money and their courage, and find a way to meet their editor. Many have taken my advice. All of them have been grateful. Just by showing up, you’re showing you care so much about your book that you want to help the publishing process. If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. There’s a reason a cliché is a cliché, and that’s because it’s often true.
Don’t be invisible. Show your face. Smile. Ask to meet the marketing and publicity team who’ll be working with your book. Talk intelligently. Ask what you can do to help. You’re likely to get extra help in return.
Entering a new industry can be daunting, but also exciting. What advice would you give a new author?